Dispatch From The Black History Teaching Conference: Intro. Social Studies Retreat (Part I)

Today’s introductory “Social Studies Retreat” ended with a listening and reading of Lauryn Hill’s “Black Rage.” Ismael Jimenez was the second presenter of the day and his session closed out with this song after a discussion of the importance of Black history education.  This led me to think of the numerous times I have had to prepare for and face Black anger throughout my teaching, the emotional intelligence required for teaching such a sensitive subject, and therefore the absolute need for strong teaching training for anyone who teaches similar content.

The Teaching Black History Conference is taking place in Buffalo, NY.  It seems fitting, purposeful, saddening, exciting, ironic, and more; there are so many adjectives that could describe this city as the setting for the conference given the horrible racial violence locals here locals have recently experienced.  Over the next few days I will briefly share some of my biggest takeaways from the conference.  

Today’s introductory session was a “Social Studies Retreat” that was specifically for curriculum writers that were attending the main conference.  It provided an opportunity for educators to share best practices, challenges, and ideas when creating an African American History curriculum or similar.   All of the educators present shared familiar gripes about backlash to critical race theory, and workarounds they have used to make sure the curriculum they are using for Black history or similar electives are culturally responsive. 

My two biggest take-aways from today’s introductory event are both inspired by LaGarrett J. King’s “Black Historical Consciousness Principles.”  The morning presentation was a fascinating inside look at the curriculum Ryan New has been developing in Kentucky, and his overview of curriculum provided my first takeaway.  New reviewed the challenges he faced in a public school district in Kentucky to develop an elective, backlash he received, and even specific moments where he thought he might be fired.  

What resonated with me the most was his review of the King’s principles and his observation that a teacher’s comfort level changes depending on what principle the teacher is incorporating into their lesson or unit.   New highlighted the fact that if a teacher leaves out any of the principles they are leaving out “Black people’s humanity.” 

For example, he shared that many white teachers love teaching about “Black Joy,” but stay as clear away as possible from any discussion of power and oppression.  Considering my own practice in trying to incorporate Black joy into my own instructional practice, I never fully considered how that may dominate other classrooms at the detriment of how King states “Black people have been victims to racism, white supremacy, and anti-Black societal structures as well as individual actions.”

My second take-away is a shared topic that came up in both New’s and Jimenez’s presentation about the framing of Black history education and how to focus on struggles in Black Liberation when fighting oppression. 

I have been fortunate to be able to work with Jimenez in helping develop  the School District of Philadelphia’s rewriting of the African American History curriculum.  The essential question for the “National” frame of the African American History course (there will be 3- the 2 others will take a “global” and “local” frame)  is “What lessons does the Black liberation struggle provide for the global fight against oppression?” Highlights in Jimenez’s presentation about developing this curriculum included the unintended consequences of requiring an African American History course (no background knowledge of teachers), and Black History “non-negotiables,” like  “Our students must be aware of the fact that change can, has, and can be made by people like them.”

Jimenez thoughtfully put attendees in groups to do his own version of a “Frayer Model: Critical Text Analysis” using these quotes.  Each group had to choose a quote and reflect on its relevance, related concepts, and significance.  What resulted from this was a diverse, yet shared consideration from veteran educators on all the challenges, nuances, personal reflection, and purposeful larger connections that need to be made while adopting any African American History curriculum.

Quote of the day (It was hard to pick):

“If you are unable to acknowledge or admit the fact that Black people were never meant to be free in America, then you hold anti-Black sentiments regardless of your racial or ethnic identity.”  – Ismael Jimenez


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