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Why Black History Should be Taught Starting in Elementary School

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By Idrissa N. Snider

The real story of African people, being stripped from their native civilizations, cultural customs and practices to build the wealth flowing in America through the most egregious form of systemic economic and social abuse, is nearly non-existent in the American classroom.

With the recent deaths of Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, and George Floyd maybe it’s time to look at how African American history is taught in our educational system to help some understand why blacks are feeling frustrated and outraged.

Black and white students alike, go through elementary school, high school, and in many cases college and their graduate studies with recycled and refashioned accounts of African American history. Honorable, romanticized versions about Civil Rights leaders Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King Jr. show up briefly in February during Black History Month then fade away. Ultimately many black students are left feeling ignored, and inadequately prepared to convey the systemic nature of the challenges African Americans face.

Likewise, most white, and even some people of color are unfamiliar with the extent to which African Americans battle to gain their rightful place in society. It’s not the black community’s responsibility to teach white America or other groups about our history, struggles, or achievements –but it is the duty of the educational system to inform and to prepare all of its students for the world by providing a comprehensive and authentic look at how the U.S. was established and continues to function.

The election of President Barack Obama in 2008 was thought by some to represent a post-racial society. In addition to electing the first ever person of African descent to the White House, black Americans make an invaluable contribution in every sector. However, the names and stories of abolitionists and once enslaved individuals like Mary Prince and Olauda Equiano, whose narratives serve to document the black experience of individuals forced into servitude, or the philosophical tenets of W.E.B. Du Bois and Otto Klineberg, who were instrumental in disrupting racially biased sociological beliefs of their time aren’t as widely highlighted like lessons on Abraham Lincoln or Robert E. Lee.

Schoolchildren are required to learn foreign languages and to stay abreast with the latest technology, but they are not learning how to appreciate and value differences. As an educator at the collegiate level, I witness students from all walks of life and racial backgrounds struggle to absorb and sift through centuries of racial history and discrimination. If we do not teach all children the truth about America’s past, we will not be able to make sense of the present or make the changes that a balanced education will help us to produce.

If you want to see African American history be taught in your child’s class, contact your local Board of Education.

Idrissa N. Snider, Ph.D is a womanist scholar, educator, and artist. For more info visit www.IdrissaNSnider.com.