Tuesday, March 04, 2008

Black History Month

Welcome to "The Gods Are Bored!" If you've just stumbled in here for the first time, well .... gosh, I'm sorry about that broken step! I should have it fixed. Do you need a Band-Aid?

I have spent the last six weeks teaching world history to ninth graders at the Vo-Tech. I have 130 students, and only two of them are white. The rest are African American, Hispanic, and Asian. Only about 12 of my students are Asian. (They are all children of Vietnamese refugees.)

New Jersey has a "core curriculum" for each and every course that is taught in the state's public schools. And the world history core curriculum does not include a unit on Africa. Not even ancient Egypt. It's as if the entire continent of Africa doesn't exist where world history is concerned.

I couldn't begin to enter the minds of the high-paid consultants who devise educational core curricula. It's a tough job, I'm sure. And tough jobs almost always attract morons with meaningless credentials. So there you are.

However, my African American ninth graders, fully 40 percent of the total, felt that they should be learning something about black people during Black History Month. And yet I persisted with the core curriculum, shoving John Locke, Thomas Hobbes, Robespierre, Napoleon, and (next week) John Stuart Mill into their fine young minds.

No, it doesn't make a damn bit of sense to me either. I'm glad you agree.

I have covered for the missing history teacher through a whole marking period. It was her habit to assign one major marking period project. So I followed suit.

My marking period project involved having the students talk to a family member about their own family histories, compiling a family tree, etc. This, I thought, would enable the black students to learn black history, the Hispanic students to learn Hispanic history, and the Asian kids to learn Asian history.

The projects were due last Friday. And amidst the moaning, complaining, and prevaricating, some real gems came to the surface. One student discovered that he was related to the recently-retired mayor of Philadelphia -- and to me, since we both have Pennsylvania Dutch ancestors. Two students descend from Native Americans, their parents knew which tribes. There were tales of sugar cane factories and getting the hell out of the South, of hopscotch and Desert Storm, of love that grandparents feel for the kids asking the questions.

One student wrote that her grandmother's grandmother warned of a monster called the cuco that would come out from under the bed at night and eat children who misbehaved. Another reported that his great-great-great grandfather, who worked in the sugar fields, became afflicted with a leg injury that grew so painful he took a machete and hacked his leg off ... dying from blood loss. This student read his paper out loud to the class, drawing appropriate "oooooooos" from the audience.

I did not clear this project with the school administration before I assigned it. I figured they'd probably say it shouldn't be done, privacy and all that. However, I did include my school email address and school extension on the assignment sheet, telling the students that if their parents objected, the parents could call and I'd give another assignment to that student. No parent called.

So that was my solution to a Black History Month in which the state of New Jersey expected me to cover the Age of Enlightenment, the French Revolution, the empire of Napoleon, and the Cultural Revolution. Ergo, all white dudes, except for Marie Antoinette. (Wasn't she a pip? Sort of like Alice Walton, only better looking.)

Moral of this sermon: The most important history is your own, what your people have gone and done and been through. Unless you're a consultant to a state committee on core curriculum standards. If you're one of those, you probably leaped straight from monkey to man, with nothing in between.



yellowdog granny said...

well, thanks to the state law that elementary kids have to have texas history twice from first grade to 8th grade..i know my texas history backwards and forwards...i loved history when i was a kid..i could care less about stuff happening at the time, but i loved learning about what happened 300-1000 years ago..i think you're a great teacher..and hope you get a full time job where the kids can have a great teacher like you to steer them thru the ages..

BBC said...

There is a lot of misinformation in our history, our ancestors wrote it to look the way they wanted it to look.

Anonymous said...

thank you so much for sharing this! Gave me goosebumps and made me smile for all the people you helped with that project. You brought generations together, they found more love, they found themselves.

You? Rock.


Shehuntstoo said...

how refreshing! a teacher who teaches! :) Great job...you get a gold star in my book.