Opinion
Social Studies Opinion

What Black Parents Think About How Black History Is Taught

We asked Black parents five important questions
By LaGarrett J. King — February 22, 2024 3 min read
A group of parents look at a book, another parent blocks a child's access to the book
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The manufactured “crisis” over wokeness and critical race theory continues to have an impact on K-12 education. The concerted effort by conservative politicians, advocates, and academics to dismantle anti-racist teachings has focused, in part, on riling up parents (with a particular focus on white parents) over the kind of history instruction their children are receiving.

Black parents are rarely the focus, in the media or elsewhere, in these conversations. However, Black parents have pushed for more Black history for decades.

Meanwhile, I have been having my own conversations with Black parents about our children’s experiences in history classrooms. The Black parents I talk to are concerned about the lack of Black history education their children are receiving and teachers’ knowledge and instructional comfort with the material, as well as administrators’ interest in holding teachers accountable for poor instructional planning.

While their views are not uniform, Black parents want the same thing: to be confident that their children are receiving a holistic history education that encompasses a Black history that centers our humanity, identifies transgressors, and celebrates who we are as a people. These informal conversations have centered on what scholars like Stephanie P. Jones have called curriculum and pedagogical violence. This sort of violence consists of curricular and pedagogical approaches that end up causing psychological, intellectual, emotional, and sometimes physical harm to children of color. Examples can include instruction regarding slavery math problems, lessons asking students to defend slavery, or just simply ignoring Black history in schools.

This survey is the beginning of a research project, conducted by the Center for K-12 Black History and Racial Literacy Education at the University at Buffalo, which I run. With this project, we are dedicated to studying how Black parents and parents of Black children advocate Black history education. We started with five questions promoted through my social media outlets.

These questions we asked Black parents were:

The purpose of this simple survey was to give voice to Black parents around what they viewed as important or essential about the teaching of Black history in schools. The parents were asked to contact me via email if they were interested in participating. Since the initial invitations were sent through my social media accounts, I had some familiarity with the parents through personal, professional, or social media contact. Because of this familiarity, I understood all parents identify as Black. Once the parents contacted me via email, I sent them a Google form link with the questions above. This sample includes 20 Black parents, and I have edited the responses for length and clarity. The responses came from a geographically diverse group of parents from across the United States, with the exception of the Pacific Northwest. Their ages range between 21 and 63 years old, and their education attainment spans from high school diploma to doctoral and law degrees. Their kids attend public, private, and home schools.


1. What does Black history mean to you?

   First, as a Black person, it’s about learning, appreciating, and being inspired by the stories, achievements, and culture of Black folks worldwide throughout time. We use the term ‘history,’ but it’s also about celebrating Black excellence in its various forms. Secondly, it’s important to me personally to present a more complete narrative regarding the cultural and historical contributions of Black folks. Blackness is dope, Black people do dope things, but you wouldn’t always know it looking at mainstream media.

—Samuel, 40, two kids in public schools, Midwest

   Black history means more than just slavery. Black history encompasses the entire African diasporic experience. It incorporates all the rich and diverse cultural, ethnic, religious/spiritual, social, economic, and political manifestations akin to Black diasporans abroad and in America.

—Nathaniel, 45, four kids in public schools, Northeast

   Black history is embedded in, and is a significant part of, American history. African Americans built this country and created the wealth that some populations of this country enjoy now. It’s important for every student in the United States to be knowledgeable of Black history and see it as integral to American history.

—Fredericka, 63, three kids in public schools, Northeast


2. Why is it important for your child to learn Black history in schools? If you do not think it is important, why not?

   It’s very important because my kids need to know the contributions of Black people to our society. They need to be able to see themselves in the history books and be inspired by unsung heroes. People like Huey Newton, Bobby Seale, Ida B. Wells, Thurgood Marshall, etc.

—Thomiesha, 34, four kids in charter schools, West Coast

   It is important for my child to learn the accuracy of Black history in schools, because the intent of the curriculum is to prepare him with the foundational learnings to be prepared for life after K-12. Black history is equally as important as math, writing, science, etc.

—Shy, 37, one kid in private/parochial school, Northeast

   We weren’t learning it in schools, so we make it a point to learn it at home. I want my son to know more than individual heroes, that our story is not one only of enslavement and that he can do anything he wants. He can’t learn that in a racist school that hates him. We have to do it at home, in our community, and everywhere we go.

—Kim, 48, one kid in home school, Northeast

   Black history is a part of American history—can’t teach one without the other. Representation does matter more than you think in the moment. And when this question has come up over the years, the quote I hear in the background is that those who don’t know their history are doomed to repeat it.

—Mawiyah, 44, two kids in private/parochial schools, Southeast


3. What Black History content do you think needs to be taught in schools and why? What Black history content does not need to be taught?

   I think it is important to let students know of the vast contributions that Blacks have made to the world, from all over the world, and how they have been treated. I also think that Black history should start in Africa. History is history, so I don’t believe any part of it should be omitted. History is not always pretty, just like life itself now is not always pretty.

—Romana, 38, three kids in private/parochial schools, Southwest

   Overall, ‘how’ Black history is taught is more important than ‘what is being taught.’ I’ve been in spaces where schools fetishize Black pain, reduce history to fun facts or guilt trip messaging. In general, [I would like to see] more higher-order-thinking activities beyond rote memorization or watching videos. I would love to see schools discuss the origins of race, racial identity development, and their impact on contemporary society, especially in the middle [and] high [school] levels. Students are bombarded with messages of race/ethnicity/culture, but understanding of those terms is often assumed and not explored. I would also like to see folks discuss the cultural impact of Blackness throughout time. The Black experience is broad, varied, and storied in ways many folks don’t learn about in K-12 spaces.

—Samuel, 40, two kids in public schools, Midwest

   Black history that needs to be taught in schools should start with the African presence in America before slavery. It should also emphasize the intellectual genius of Africanity in America and its early influence on STEM fields. Black history in schools should include the Black contributions during wartime, as well as influential writers (before, during, and after the Harlem Renaissance) that contributed to American political and social thought.

—Nathaniel, 45, four kids in public schools, Northeast

   I, unequivocally, believe the entire truth needs to be taught. The inhumanity and brutality need to be shared. When countries want to cleanse themselves from past atrocities, they publicly face the truth and systematically keep the truth in the forefront. That is the history we need in schools. Not this whitewashed, idealistic history. The current curriculum makes school a farce.

—Michelle, 49, three kids in public schools, Midwest


4. What do you want teachers to consider as they plan lessons associated with Black history?

   How do you think this lesson may make African American students feel in your classroom?

—Thomiesha, 34, four kids in charter schools, West Coast

   Are [teachers] causing harm? Are they humanizing Black people? Are they teaching more than oppression?

—Kim, 48, one kid in home school, Northeast

   I can only speak from what I remember from grade school—I think I’d rather see my children matriculate through school with more positive images—slavery was most impressive and memorable, how do we teach that without making it be the only thing that matters.

—Mawiyah, 44, two kids in private/parochial schools, Southeast

   Consider removing your opinion and inserting the truth [and] the implications of the truth. Acknowledge that America needs Black people because it was built by Black people. Learn about current Black leaders in all industries: Black Nobel laureates, engineers, psychologists, animators, etc. Do some real research.

—Michelle, 49, three kids in public schools, Midwest

   I want them to consider and mitigate their own biases. A teacher’s affect and assumptions can absolutely derail a lesson and/or unit of study.

—Gloria, 42, two kids in public school, Northeast


5. What are your thoughts about politicians restricting the teaching of race, racism, and/or Black history in schools?

   I think it’s absolutely ridiculous and purely a distraction. … This is an organized effort to keep America’s children ignorant and biased.

—Gloria, 42, two kids in public school, Northeast

   It’s about fear. [These politicians] are aware of the history of white supremacy and the violence that has and still accompanies that viewpoint. They are fearful of their constituents and their concern about blame, accountability, and their children becoming anti-racism co-conspirators. People need to stand up, inform, and advocate for equity, no matter what the cost.

—Fredericka, 63, three kids in public schools, Northeast

   I went to an all-Black elementary school that was very much centered around the Black experience. We sung ‘Lift Every Voice and Sing’ at every assembly, learned basic Swahili, read a ton of Black authors, etc. Spaces like this exist to this day. Educators in spaces like this don’t care what lawmakers say, and their children are better for it. I feel bad for the children that are in predominantly white spaces where these laws may hold more weight, who will get a sterilized understanding of American history.

—Samuel, 40, two kids in public schools, Midwest

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