By now you are aware that we are under attack. Conservatives across the nation have declared war on all things "American"; from religious freedom, to gun ownership, to capitalism, to our country's right to exploit a foreign country for its natural resources, our "core values" are being targeted by devilish actors, hell-bent on destroying our way of life. Everybody... PANIC.
One "war on American values" that you won't find Republicans declaring is the "War on Education" that has quietly been waged right here, in our own country, for nearly two decades. Since the Bush Administration, the education of our future has committed to a Kamikaze-like nose dive, led by Red-State legislatures nationwide, however the most troubling devolution of the American school system has come within the last two years. A cooperative effort to rewrite American History has commenced, led by conservative state legislatures. It all began in Colorado, where "exceptionalist" politicians vowed to change the perception of our nations history in an effort to discourage "civil disorder, social strife, or disregard for the law". The result was a revision of history that "promotes patriotism, essentials and benefits of the free market system, and respect for authority". Oklahoma followed by imposing a ban on AP American History courses because rather than focusing on "American Exceptionalism", they emphasized what was wrong with America. Since then, States like Georgia, South Carolina, North Carolina, and Texas have all pushed through legislation that has done everything from make Moses (yes, THAT Moses) a FOUNDING FATHER of America, to suggest slavery was "voluntary servitude" and "a side issue to the Civil War" as well as completely omitting Jim Crow Segregation, the KKK, and much of the Civil Rights Movement from its text books.
So why wouldn't states want their children to know about the dark past of American History? What's the problem with opening their eyes to entire periods of history that shaped this nation like, oh, you know, slavery, the slaughter of 90% of Native Americans, Jim Crow Segregation, the Civil Rights Movement, and events like the Trail of Tears, Japanese Internment Camps, and Tuskegee Experiment? It's quite simple. If you don't teach them about it, you can eventually convince them that it never existed. The desire to promote the concept of "America the Beautify" ultimately, in some circles, means the ugly has to be covered up or erased, despite the fact that it was that dark past that makes our nation what it is today. Now, more than ever, it is the responsibility of the Black parent in America to pull back the curtain on the facade of an education that their children are receiving in many states across the country.
1. monitor your child's curriculum
Unfortunately, the circumstance that plagues the education system, ESPECIALLY in majority-minority community schools, is the lack of parent involvement at every level of the process. Far too often, the most contact that a parent has with their child's teacher is the parent night at the beginning of the school year, and periodic parent conferences when a student has failed to live up to their potential.
The easiest way to ensure that the education system is not failing your child is to constantly monitor your child's curriculum. This is much more than checking to see if he or she has acceptable grades. Keep in constant contact with your child's teachers through scheduled conferences and periodic emails. Most school districts have gone away from issuing take-home text books, therefor don't just rely on the "class sets". If you question the validity of your child's textbooks, request to check out a copy of that book from an administrator, at the beginning of the year, for your own keeping. Doing so will allow you to oversee daily lessons, coordinate them with the in-class notes the student takes, and determine in what subject areas your child is being undereducated. Take it one step past the classroom; know what the states require that standardized tests assess and the exact wording of the concepts that they are choosing to measure to determine if there is any questionable agenda present. Monitoring what schools are teaching your children is the first step in understanding what they are NOT teaching them.
2. supplement learning with visual stimulation
I remember being a member of the local NAACP youth council in my home town. Every time we would pile on a charter bus and go on a road trip across county, we would all get excited to watch a movie. People would bring collections of comedies, dramas, and sports movies, but no matter what, we would always have to lead off the trip with the same movie... EVERY TIME. "Eyes On the Prize". By the time I was a teenager, I knew the entire six-hour PBS documentary by heart. The old negro spiritual for which the series was named after served as the title music on every episode, and even when I tried to sleep through it, I would dream of marchers walking down the street singing the song in unison. As an adult, the one memory that is most vividly embedded in my mind from all those trips is being forced to watch that documentary... over, and over, and over, and over again. And I am thankful for that.
It is for that reason that I am not reliant on the education system to paint a picture of my history, I can see it unfold in real time. I was able to put faces to names. I was able to watch speeches as if I was sitting in the front pew of hot church, or among the multitudes of Americans at the Million Man March. I could watch police unload water hoses and sick K-9 dogs on peaceful marchers, and witness the brutal attack on the Pettus Bridge in Selma. I learned about a 14 year old child named Emmett Till, and how he was savagely murdered by two hate-filled people. I watched his mother stand strong in in real time as she demanded an open-casket funeral and proclaim her reasoning, "so the world can see what they did to my baby", and I was shocked to see the once hansom young man be transformed into a hideously mutilated corpse. I was able to witness, with my own eyes, segregated buses, lunch counters, and schools, and ultimately the fight for their integration. I was able to actually experience my history, rather than hope that my teacher would squeeze it in, somewhere in the two weeks that they actually covered "black history".
In a time where are youth are so consumed with visual stimulation, I recommend that EVERY black parent should not only own the series, but substitute it for one of the reality shows, cartoons, or any other nonsense that your child may be addicted to. Watch it with them as a family. Discuss the ramifications of those times and why it relates to today. Watch them grow.
3. go on a black history road trip
Now that your child has visualized the events that may (or may not) have been covered in their classroom, turn these stories into tangible experiences by taking them on a road trip of historical black sites across the county. Allow them to walk across the Pettus Bridge, and stand on the steps of the Montgomery capitol. Then take the drive to Birmingham and stand in the exact spot were four young girls were tragically killed in the 16th Street Baptist Church bombing. Visit the King Center in Atlanta to see the birthplace of Dr. Martin Luther King and then the National Civil Rights Museum in Memphis to lay eyes on the place where he met his demise. Watch history become alive right before their eyes.
4. Take your child on a black college tour
One of the forgotten treasures in American education is the system of Historically Black Colleges and Universities that have thrived for over a century. Once your child becomes of age provide them with the experience of visiting one, or many of those campuses to understand what life is like on those historical campuses. Explain to them that many of the most prominent and productive citizens were products of HBCU educations. Tell them about the engineering school at Prairie View A&M, or the premier Law Schools at Howard and Texas Southern University. Show them what a great honor it is to be a Morehouse Man or a Spelman Woman. Provide them with something to aspire to by exposing them viable options across the country in higher education such as Fisk University, Morgan State, Florida A&M, and Tuskegee University that have all shown a great commitment to educating Black youth.
If you cannot take them yourself, there are several organizations in virtually every major metropolitan area that organize HBCU tours during major school vacations that can be found with a simple google search. In addition, many schools provide students with the opportunity to partake in these tours as a district sanctioned event.
5. make black history a year round experience
Let's take a closer look at "Black History Month". If there are 28 days in February, usually eight of them are weekends. One day, President's Day, is designated a national holiday. That leaves with no more than 19 class days that schools are "committed" to educating our youth on the black experience in America. If the average student is in their history class for an hour a day, that gives you 19 hours to learn about more than 300 years of Black History. So in those 19 hours you have to fit slavery, emancipation, Jim Crow, segregation, Harlem Renaissance, military segregation and WWI (Tuskegee Airmen), Brown v. BOE, bus boycotts, marches, beatings, marches, beatings, THE March, the Voting Rights Act... and that's just the EVENTS. We still have the people. We still haven't covered the pioneers, the inventors, the artists, and the innovators. Nor have we covered the Panthers or the Nation of Islam.
Needless to say, it is impossible to cover Black History in the 19 hours that the schools have allocated to teach the Black experience in America, and that's assuming that each and every school actually commits to teaching black history throughout Black History Month. With the emphasis on standardized testing and arbitrary deadlines, you would be hard pressed to find a district that spends more than two weeks on the entirety of black history. Relying on schools to be the sole provider of education on our culture would be asinine. The parent can reinforce the learning of black culture at home through the use of videos, games, and quizzes. The next time you reach a stop light, or use an ironing board, or see a train, or shoot a Super Soaker, ask them who invented that. Play the tunes of Duke Ellington and John Coltrane at random moments in time. Encourage them to read the works of Langston Hughes, Countee Cullen, and D.L. Lawrence. Send them on a musical scavenger hunt to locate the original melody that their favorite rap songs sampled. Point out that Black History IS AMERICAN HISTORY by explaining things that they learned from our perspective. If we were to do simple things like this with children, those 19 hours in February would be rendered unnecessary.
6. relate current events to the past
In case you have been in some sort of cryogenic sleep for the past five years, our country has provided us with a multitude of reminders of our past, all of which could be used as teachable moments with a child. When the Supreme Court demolished the Voting Rights Act, that was an opportunity to travel back to 1965 and explain to them why the act was necessary, show them video of the marches that took place for the right to march, and show how since then certain states have waged constant war against the right for minorities to cast ballots. When Trayvon Martin was murdered, the could easily be reminded of the trial that resulted, where the two killers sat in front of an all-White jury in Mississippi, was acquitted of the crime, and then confessed to killing him days later. Every time another unarmed African American is killed at the hands of the police, show them pictures of police violence on Blacks during the Civil Rights Movement. When the media rages on about the threat of terrorism, remind them of the time police in Philadelphia dropped a bomb on a black neighborhood or raging racists in Tulsa destroyed Black Wall Street. Once the child understands that life is cyclical, they will gain a greater appreciation for the history that will ultimately repeat itself.
7. Educate yourself
The most important thing that a Black parent can do to counter the whitewashing of American history in the school system is to continue to educate themselves. Each of the above recommendations can be used not only as teachable moment for the child, but as a opportunity for the parent to learn at the same time. The more often and openly you display a sense of joy and ownership in your own history, your child is likely to follow suit. We can place blame on the education system all we want when it comes to the undereducation of of today's youth, however once you take the education system out of the home and rely solely on the school, you ultimately surrender yourself, and your child to whatever motivations and agendas that they may have.