Melissa Statz, a fourth-grade teacher in Kenosha, Wis., decided to create a worksheet in which she posed to her students, questions like, “What is the Black Lives Matter Movement trying to do?” and “How Do We Stop Systemic Racism?”
Statz introduced the lesson shortly after police shot Jacob Blake, a Black man, in the back, leading to widespread protests.
Some colleagues and administrators heavily criticized her lesson.
Teachers in places like Florida, Kentucky and Texas, have all been criticized and even punished for incorporating Black history lessons in their curriculum.
Lawmakers in Republican-controlled states have pushed for or have passed laws to curtail Black history lessons.
School districts have disciplined teachers for discussion Black Lives Matter and other subjects that delve into the history of African Americans.
“An educator’s responsibility is to teach the whole child,” argues Monique Hamilton, vice president of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion at Achieve3000 and Actively Learn.
“In the process of presenting information to assist students in gaining their own opinions about the world, it is important to teach about their history,” Hamilton asserted.
“Traditionally, the school curriculum includes the more notable Black history by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Harriet Tubman and the Underground Railroad, or Frederick Douglass.
“That curriculum does not, in most cases, include stories that explain Juneteenth or the significant contributions made by Black artists during the Harlem Renaissance.”
Historically, white Western European and American music, narratives and practices have dominated music classrooms, added Dr. Kevin Johnson, the instructional supervisor at Education Through Music.
“Black musicians accounted for only 1.8 percent of the country’s orchestra players in 2014. The work of fostering the next generation of musicians and classical music audiences begins in the classroom and the truths we tell,” Johnson continued.
“We cannot combat racism, inequity and injustice without facing ourselves. In engaging our students with the full breadth of Black and American music history, we can champion the next generation of musicians to engage and do the same.”
The nonprofit Learning For Justice asserts that teaching about Black Lives Matter is not just about police brutality, as some may believe.
The organization notes that bringing the movement into classrooms can open the door to more extensive conversations about truth, justice, activism, healing and reconciliation.
“I think it is important to teach that Black history is American history and to be intentional about including all perspectives, stories and experiences in the teaching of American History,” Dr. Whitehead stated.
“Unfortunately, in the K-12 environment, American history has been centered to focus only on the contributions of white people in this country. Everyone else has been ‘othered’ — that includes Blacks, Asian Americans, Hispanics and Indigenous communities,” she said.
Dr. Whitehead continued:
“These stories are part of the richness of our country. By including these perspectives, we work to dismantle white supremacy, racism and ‘otherness.’”
“I think it is telling that at this moment when we are wrestling with race relations, there is an attack on the teaching of Critical Race Theory and Black history. Every educator and parent should push against this. We must teach all of America’s history.”
Further, according to Kimberly Lee Minor, history has been politicized and treated like the people who created and lived it.
“Isn’t it by the mere fact that an event happened, history? We are a diverse world; our historical education should include everyone who has contributed; our educators should reflect all the students they teach,” declared Minor, a Diversity, Equity and Inclusion expert and CEO of Bumbershoot.
“Those trying to block accurate and complete history taught in schools should acknowledge their fear of an informed and inclusive future,” added Minor, the parent of two African-American sons and an active member of the Parents Teachers Association.
“Fear and lack of knowledge are the tools of division and bias. That is so old. It is time for factual and comprehensive education so that we can move forward as one indivisible nation.”
Janelle Owens, the Human Resources director at the education company, Test Prep Insight, offered that school lessons on racism, racial injustice and Black history are critical to developing a curriculum that comprehensively covers historical events and continuing political inequities.
“Without such lessons, our youth cannot be fully informed as to the current state of U.S. social issues and political happenings,” Owens submitted.
“Though teachings like Critical Race Theory can be controversial, they are necessary to fully inform and comprehensively discuss societal structures, cultural assumptions and social issues in the US.
“But to have an open and honest discussion about issues, all ideas must be allowed to come to light,” she further offered.
“Restricting such lessons denies children a chance to learn about alternative viewpoints, which can be a very slippery slope. No reasonable person can deny that racism exists and is a part of the fabric of American culture. The lessons that are being disallowed critically examine this construct and allow school-age children to form their own opinions on such matters. Openness and transparency should always win out.”
Theresa Mitchell Dudley, president of the Prince George’s County Educators’ Association, believes race lessons should be taught as early as second grade.
She said teaching race also means educating children about social justice and equality.
“We have to teach it from a social justice perspective. This country was founded on the annihilation of races of people and culture,” stated Dudley, who taught elementary education for 10 years.
WI staff writer William J. Ford contributed to this report.