We Will Continue To Teach Black History – Even If You Detest It

The dawn of a new school year is filled with excitement, expectation and hope for educators, students and families. However, where is the excitement for Black history in America’s schools?

It seems that the expectation of Black history instruction is an absence unless whitewashed and blackfaced. It equates to an atmosphere of hopelessness across the country and Black children will suffer for it.

Much of the attention surrounding the war against Black history centers on the rejection of the College Board’s advanced placement African-American studies (APAAS). The administration of Ron DeSantis in Florida rejected APAAS as well as the administration of Sarah Huckabee Sanders in Arkansas. Less attention is paid to the reality that Black history isn’t mandated.

Thirty-eight states out of fifty, or 76%, don’t require Black history instruction.

The College Board says that they recognize the reality that Black history instruction isn’t provided throughout the country, explaining their rationale for providing APAAS nationwide. However, Black students are disproportionately underserved in AP courses. Black students make up 15% of all students but only 9% of all students enrolled in AP courses. While AP courses may be “open to all,” school districts often oversee the process for selection.

The College Board can’t guarantee that Black children learn Black history any more than school districts around the country won’t.

Whether it’s rejecting APAAS, states passing legislation to prevent Black history instruction, the incomplete teaching of Black history or failing to teach it at all (except for maybe February), Black children aren’t guaranteed the opportunity of learning Black history at all.

These circumstances come with learning in white institutional spaces; which public schools are.

According to scholars Glenn Bracey and Wendy Moore, white institutional spaces are social spaces in which the demographics and cultural norms are instituted by whites to privilege whites. Consequently, according to Bracey and Moore, “racially biased institutional norms are wrongly defined as race neutral and merely characteristic of the institution itself masking inherent institutional racism.”

Hence the anger from conservatives against Vice President Kamala Harris called the Florida state department of education’s revision of its Black history standards “propaganda.” But the standards are problematic for more than just what’s reported.

This from a state where Black history instruction is mandated; proving the point of LaGarrett King, the founding director of the center for K-12 Black History and Racial Literacy Education, that many of these Black history mandates are often more of a symbolic gesture.

Education is one of the vital tools the Negro needs in order to advance. And yet it has been denied him by devises of segregation and manipulations with quality.

Dr. Martin Luther King

In my state of New Jersey, Gov. Phil Murphy put the weight of his office behind teaching Black history, agreeing to expand APAAS earlier this year. But there is more work to be done, as is true throughout the country. On average, only 8-9% of history class time is devoted to Black history, while some states neglect the subject altogether.

New Jersey may be labeled blue, but it’s very much red. History can help students understand why and not simply with instruction of migrations of Black and Brown folks to urban centers. But also with instruction that NJ was the ‘slave state of the north;’ the final northern state to pass a graduate emancipation act; the last state to ratify the 13th, 14th, and 15th amendments.

New Jersey didn’t ratify the 14th Amendment until April 2003; I’m sure very few teachers in our state are aware of that… students either.

The teaching of Black history must be mandated across all 50 states, for the benefit of all students, but especially for Black students. This requires a state mandate. The teaching of Black history must be made a priority for political officials. Teachers must be equipped with the knowledge and pedagogical insights that provide them the skills and confidence to instruct Black history courageously in a society that is historically anti-Black and anti-poor.

For Black students, doing so will, in the words of Carter Woodson, “inspire the youth towards emulating the examples of those who achieved in spite of tremendous handicaps.” It’ll show all Black history extends beyond African enslavement. It’ll show that we resisted our captivity and that we continue to resist oppression as we contribute our flair and genius to the country.

Dr. King once said that “Education is one of the vital tools the Negro needs in order to advance. And yet it has been denied him by devises of segregation and manipulations with quality.” The challenge for educators and policymakers for the new school year is to no longer manipulate the quality of Black history instruction.

Will America accept it?

Rann Miller is an educator and freelance writer based in southern New Jersey. His Urban Education Mixtape blog supports urban educators and parents of children attending urban schools. Miller is also the author of “Resistance Stories from Black History for Kids,” to be reissued in 2024. @RealRannMiller


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