Equity & Diversity

Four Ways to Teach Black History This Month (And the Rest of the Year)

By Alix Mammina — February 08, 2018 3 min read
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Last week’s school assemblies, announcements, and events in honor of Black History Month may already be fading from some students’ minds. Here are four tips, culled from our archives and the teacher Twitterverse, for making black history a priority over the next few weeks and beyond:

1. Make it relevant. In a recent Education Week article, teacher Gary Hamilton noted the importance of “remind[ing] our youth that Black History unfolds before their eyes every day.” In his classes, Hamilton uses contemporary culture—like performances by Beyoncé and Kendrick Lamar—to highlight historical parallels and engage his students in lessons about black history.

Consider, like Hamilton, incorporating educational music videos, podcasts, and comic books into lessons, or check out the contemporary black authors this teacher highlighted during last year’s Black History Month. For younger readers, this list of children’s books includes one on Hidden Figures and a story explaining the relevance of Juneteenth. You may also want to browse this database of books that feature black girls as protagonists—a resource inspired by 13-year-old Marley Dias’ #1000BlackGirlBooks campaign.

2. Bring black history into every subject. Social studies and language arts teachers shouldn’t be the only ones to celebrate black voices this month. There are countless black scientists, inventors, and mathematicians whose stories can be highlighted in STEM classes—for some ideas and resources, check out this post by my former colleague Jordan Moeny.

Or invite a community member to share their knowledge about an aspect of black history, like this teacher plans to:

3. Teach the tough stuff. A recent report from the Southern Poverty Law Center revealed that “what students are taught about slavery is fragmentary, without context, and worst of all, glossed over or sanitized.” While teaching about slavery and racism isn’t easy, Growing Up Global author Homa S. Tavangar notes that “becoming more attuned to the historic and ongoing challenges particular to Africans and African Americans” can help students develop cognitive complexity and authentic empathy.

After the white nationalist protests in Charlottesville last summer, Tyrone C. Howard wrote that “teachers need to be bold, courageous, and willing to engage students honestly about race, no matter their age.” Read his four tips for discussing race-related issues with students, as well as Education Week reporter Evie Blad’s list of resources for starting conversations about race and racism in the classroom.

4. Celebrate black history every month. As David C. Banks, the founding principal of a New York public school for disadvantaged boys, wrote for Education Week, “The remembrance and celebration of the achievements of African-Americans should be considered daily. This allows all our children and their families a chance to stop, reflect, and be inspired by the contributions of their ancestors.”

Not sure where to start? Banks recommends hanging posters of leaders of color in school hallways and inviting speakers of color to share their experiences with students. You can also use one of these suggestions for making black history a yearlong effort, like studying the works of black poets and the history of black music and sports. And social studies teacher William Anderson created these helpful lesson plans for inspiring new conversations about black history.

Teachers, how do you celebrate black history month? Share in the comments below or on Twitter with #TeachingBlackHistory.

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A version of this news article first appeared in the Teaching Now blog.