BEYOND THE TEXTBOOK
Whether it’s due to teachers’ lack of planning or focus on state tests, some schools simply don’t honor Black History Month. If they do, the festivities are generally student-dependent, having students conduct library or Internet research and write a report on a famous black American. Although these activities instill some knowledge, without proper guidance, they merely result in copying from a book.
That is why parents must help schools celebrate black history.
Read black authors
Your child will most likely bring home more assigned readings about African Americans this month than any other month of the year. But how many of these works will be written by African Americans themselves?
Many great African-American authors have written exceptional literature about the history of African Americans. Andrea Davis Pinkney, for example, has written several children’s trade books about famous black Americans. In her picture books, she tells about the lives of such notable figures as Alvin Ailey and Ella Fitzgerald. In Duke Ellington, Pinkney narrates the life of the famous jazz pianist through rhythmical language and colorful illustrations. Christopher Paul Curtis is another African-American author who writes children’s books infused with black history and culture. His novel The Watsons Go to Birmingham – 1963 tells the story of an African-American family who visits the South in the midst of the Birmingham church bombings.
Your child need not go to the library to research African-American history; your family is brimming with it. Have your child interview their grandparents this month. Let your mom and dad speak to your child about their accomplishments and struggles. They have lived through the Civil Rights and Black Power movements. Rich with history, your parents or grandparents offer African-American experiences that have not been revised by mainstream publishers or television broadcasting companies.
Talk about great black leaders
Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was a great man and his memory lives on in the hearts of many, as it should. However, your child can also learn about other wonderful black leaders. Tell them about civil rights activist W.E.B. Dubois and his notion of the “talented tenth.” Inform them of the accomplishments of Carter G. Woodson, the founder of Black History Month. Discuss women leaders, such as Shirley Chisholm and Angela Davis, and show how they helped paved the way for black women today.
Study various historical periods
Our history is rich and varied. It doesn’t start and end with slavery. The first known human remains were found on the continent of Africa. Blacks ruled African nations before colonialism took place. The early 1900s ushered in the Harlem Renaissance in America, when African-American painters like Jacob Lawrence and authors like Langston Hughes earned renown. The late 1960s gave birth to the Black Power Movement-a time when African Americans started valuing their hair and skin color. Such historical moments should not be forgotten nor lost in the shadow of slavery. Familiarize yourself with the context of the time so you will be better able to explain it to your child. Use the Association for the Study of African American Life and History (ASALH), www.asalh.org, as a resource. They offer free literature, DVDs, and lesson plans on black history.
Keep looking for black history
Black history is all around us. From the cotton shirt your child wears under his school uniform to the peanut butter he eats for lunch. Your child needs to know that American history is black history. Had it not been for African slave labor or the feats of our ancestors, this country would not be the superpower it is today. With this in mind, continue to keep your child abreast of the positive things African Americans have done and continue to do for our nation. Use the Internet, newspapers, and public libraries as tools for finding out the great things that African Americans do on a daily basis.