The Celebration of Black History — and the History of Other Cultures — Doesn’t End with February
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Although there was no formal event celebrating February as Black History Month at Vista del Lago, the teachers and staff are working to raise cultural and historical awareness all year long. From reading literature by or about minorities to studying the perspectives of traditionally underrepresented groups throughout history, the curriculum in Vista’s English and social science classes seeks to broaden students’ views of the world.
“If students are learning about history from one perspective, they are not getting the whole story,” said Kelly Baquero, a Vista history teacher. “Historians don’t analyze a historical event from one perspective, they gather many―and often times competing―sources to reconstruct what happened in the past. Students should do the same.”
Educators have made great gains in the push for a more diverse curriculum in English and social science classes at Vista, but some teachers acknowledge that there is still more to be done.
“More and more, we’re bringing in literature of women…we read stories by white people about black people…but we need to hear from the perspective of the person who lived it more than we need to hear a white person’s view of it,” said Vista English teacher Kelly Hillesland. “We’ve been getting better and we’re starting to get more voices, but again, it’s a hard process to change people’s views of what classic literature is…It’s just a question of time and resources and the push and to get away from traditions that have always been.”
In addition to the curriculum taught in the classroom, the books that are available for students to read in the school library have the power to impact perspectives and knowledge about other cultures. For example, in Indiana, high schools in the Bloomington area hosted a read-in during which attendees read works by African-American authors and shared personal experiences in order to educate the community about black culture.
At Vista, librarian Kim Stovall works to stock the school’s shelves with books that will be both popular and useful for students. “Most of what students hear is pop culture and what’s in the media…Through literature and nonfiction books, things are a little more accurate―not necessarily as up-to-date as what they would find on the Internet―but I feel that the history of all those subjects is so important and that they can find [it] through literature and nonfiction,” said Stovall.
During the month of February, schools across the nation organize used activities to teach students more about the achievements and history of black Americans. However, sometimes the activities showed a lack of sensitivity. At Hopewell Regional Central High School in New Jersey, a lunch menu in honor of Black History Month sparked controversy because it included food items stereotypically associated with African-Americans, such as fried chicken and cornbread.
At Vista, the goal of teachers and administration is to develop “engaged and ethical young adults who approach learning with courage, compassion and resilience in a diverse and changing global community,” according to the school’s mission statement.
Multicultural education has become increasingly prevalent in today’s education system as a way to combat centuries of bigotry and ignorance. By expanding students’ perspectives in the classroom through the study of diverse historical perspectives and literature, young people learn how to work, play and succeed in a diverse world.
“Stories should be a collection of all the voices…Especially in America, we tend to study white people literature, white people movies, white people stories…but there’s so many other stories out there to be told…the stories are better when you can have so many diverse opinions,” said Hillesland.
Carter G. Woodson, the second African-American to earn a doctorate from Harvard University, initiated Negro History Week in 1926 to coincide with the birthdays of Frederick Douglass and Abraham Lincoln. By 1976, the celebration of black history and achievements had spread to the month of February as a way to educate all Americans about the often-ignored contributions of African-Americans.
“…I think Black History Month and Women’s History Month serve an important role in shining a public light on these groups,” said Baquero. “But as a teacher, I should be teaching their histories throughout my course…They have fought in every war the United States has ever been involved in. They have contributed to the sciences and arts. They have risked everything to make our country live up to its founding ideals. African-American history is American history,” said Baquero.