How To Respond To The Removal Of Black History In Our Schools

It’s not just about surveilling Black history anymore.  It’s about removing it completely. That is what happened just before school’s winter break at Francis Howell School. An all white (mostly) male school board voted to remove the Black History and Black Literature electives. It is significantly important here to note that the electives were optional for students, not required.  Disgustingly, it’s become more and more common for students of color to be unable to learn their history, and be provided with an opportunity to develop a positive racial identity. 

Jarvis Givens describes one of Carter G. Woodson’s relevant claim in Fugitive Pedagogy as:

Time and time again [Woodson] asserted, ‘there would be no lynching if it did not start in the schoolroom.’ Addressing the violent erasure of black life in the canons of knowledge was a critical first step in developing a liberatory program of education. What we come to know and say about the world, the stories we tell and study, manifests in all other aspects of our lives.  Antiblack curricular violence and physical violence black people experience were symbiotic.

What’s come to mind as I prepare for students to write a research paper on Confederate Memorials is the ongoing deliberate manipulation of white supremacists to have control on cultural memory. This is the horrible irony of the white supremacists’ perspective:

Frederick Douglass argued this hypocrisy almost 200 years ago, “ false to the past, false to the present, and solemnly binds herself to be false to the future.”

The erasure of Black knowledge from our schools calls for specific educational strategies in response.  We can not let the white supremacist rise in education through school boards, Karents, and Mom’s of Liberty under the guise of such “freedom” deny what students deserve.

One point Professor LaGarrett King made when he wrote his teaching Black history principles is problematizing the assertion that “Black history is American History,”  (which was stated by more than one of the community members protesting Francis Howell School).

When we say Black history is American history, we ignore a multitude of historical experiences and perspectives.

As an example, King points out the false narrative in the teaching of Brown vs. Board was that Black schools were deficient compared to the superior white schools.   This history leaves out the perspectives of Black families who did not want their children to attend white schools.   What’s happening in schools like Francis Howell today is the same reason why Black families in the 1950’s did not want to send their children to these white classrooms and curricular environments.   

Indeed, if a Black  teacher in Oklahoma can’t use the word “Black Excellence,” one response by the Black community should be to build on the philosophy of Pan-Africanism and Black Nationalism.   Black people should create more of their own private and free Black schools where Black History curriculum is cherished, thoughtfully considered, and uplifted.  Similar to Rann Miller, I too am a supporter of “schools created and operated by Black educators.” 

Another response could be for parents of school children to develop what Sharif El-Mekki has argued as their own Education Green Book.  This network would provide families with knowledge about a schools’ curriculum and cultural resources centered on what benefits students of color.

Lastly, the role of school boards and their power to control white supremacist narratives need to be responded to directly. Abolitionist educators should take action in exposing school boards like Francis Howell’s, and encourage educators to continue to fight for Black liberation at the local, state, and national level.  

The stories that are erased, the stories that are permitted, the monuments that are erected and those that are removed, the teachers who are repressed, and the students who can’t learn Black history have a lot in common. 

As Clint Smith argues in How the World is Passed, “at some point it is no longer a question of whether we can learn this history but whether we have the collective will to reckon with it.”


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