Many a parent, and student, have longed for Black History lessons as part of the school curriculum.
District schools might soon answer those decadeslong requests.
And it’s all thanks to legislation proposed by D.C. Council member Kenyan McDuffie, whose bill would add a course to help increase student proficiency and engagement while offering what he called a full and unvarnished telling of American history.
McDuffie’s bill — the African American and Cultural Studies Inclusion Amendment Act of 2020 — would require counting the course toward graduation requirements.
A dozen Council members co-introduced the bill that also would require the DC Office of the State Superintendent of Education (OSSE) to develop an African American and Cultural Studies curriculum for high school students enrolled in either a District of Columbia Public School or a District Public Charter School.
Jamilah Pitts, a high school English teacher in New York City’s Harlem neighborhood, echoed the thoughts of many when she said the majority of students’ exposure to Black history is all too brief.
Educators might pause during Black History Month for lessons about Dr. Martin Luther King, Rosa Parks, or the civil rights movement, while other teachers may use a current hip-hop song as their homage to the debt that African Americans continue to pay to America, Pitts wrote in a 2018 essay for Education Weekly.
“This is not a good approach, as it in many ways perpetuates the system of ‘otherness’ that pervades the experiences of Black people,” Pitts wrote.
This type of approach suggests that the contributions, culture, oppression, and achievements of African-Americans are not fit to be a part of day-to-day academics, she said.
“Black history is so much wider and more deeply rooted in uncomfortable truisms than many teachers allow space for,” Pitts said.
In a statement, McDuffie said the proposed DC legislation would require the Mayor’s Office on African American Affairs (MOAAA) and the Commission on African American Affairs to coordinate with the OSSE, DCPS, and other relevant stakeholders “in order to develop a comprehensive and robust plan and curriculum for the teaching of African American history.”
The legislation establishes a timeline for development and implementation that McDuffie said is designed to work within the existing framework of curriculum review. The course would begin free of charge in fall 2022.
“It is critical that we are teaching our students a full and unvarnished accounting of American history,” McDuffie said. “If this bill becomes law, our public school curriculum will expressly include the study the experience and contributions of African Americans, and the slave trade.”
It would also include the socioeconomic struggle that African-Americans experienced collectively in striving to achieve fair and equal treatment under the laws of the United States, he said.
The legislation supports the comprehensive efforts of the D.C. government to increase student proficiency and actively engage students in their education intending to foster higher cultural relevancy for minority students, especially among African Americans, McDuffie said.