Sunday, February 13, 2011
For Micah & Elijah...Perhaps for You Too?
Micah and Elijah
I went into a meeting with my son's elementary school principal this past September to discuss his teacher's negligent behavior and ended up discussing the school's lack of diversity. They were recently given a "failing grade" by an out of state education consultant they hired to evaluate them on their cultural responsiveness to the school's growing diverse student body. The consultant told them their faculty and their literature did not adequately reflect their student body. They have 1 female African American and 1 Latina faculty member out of 50; however their entire custodial staff and the majority of their kitchen staff are African American women. Their literature mostly reflects, was written and illustrated by Whites.
"Most of the biographies we have in the school library about people of color are about Black athletes," the assistant principal revealed in trying to explain why they "failed" in the area of reflective literature. She went on to say that they were aware of the "obvious five", but didn't know of too many other influential African Americans.
You're probably asking yourself right now...I had to ask, "Who are the 'obvious five'?" Of course I guessed on my own...I just wanted to stretch her discomfort by hearing her say, "You know, like Dr. King, Rosa Parks..." Yeah, I know...I know exactly.
The principal and assistant principal went on to ask if I could help them identify additional people of color who have made significant contributions to our society. I did just that. I went home and sent them several links to websites that any Internet novice could have easily found on their own (if they tried or even wanted to)...like www.thehistorymakers.com and links to lists of literature by and/or about African Americans like that provided by the National Council of Teachers of English for their annual African American Read-In http://www.ncte.org/action/aari/packetinfo.
Since they brought the subject up, I decided to dig a little deeper and ask why they didn't celebrate Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.'s birthday or Black History Month last year. The principal explained that she leaves those things up to the individual classroom teachers to do on their own if they so choose, but that for Black History Month she had students read biographies over the intercom system. I asked if they prefaced it with a title, like, "Here's a Moment in Black History" or if they provided teachers with the bios and perhaps even photographs of the individuals...she simply said, "No." I asked how then were the children supposed to know the significance of the biographies being read during this particular month when its not done any other time (when asked, my son said they didn't do anything for BHM)...I bet you'll never guess what topic came up next...
COLORBLIND! LOL! That's right! She went there! Something like..."These individuals made remarkable contributions...and they HAPPENED to be Black." She continued with more along those lines saying something else, like, "I don't see color and didn't find it necessary to point that out to the children." Really? I'll save the colorblind discussion for another post...but to sum it up...I asked if she knew I was Black and I asked her to please recognize and respect my Blackness. On behalf of all the children of color in her school, I asked that she also recognize and respect their difference(s). I told her that until EVERYONE can equate goodness (professional, academic, aesthetic, etc.) with people of color...until we "normalize" people of color, we will continue to be "othered"...we will continue to be seen as "abnormal".
One way we can normalize people of color and bring us into the mainstream is by learning about our history. Know the positives...the contributions that we all benefit from daily in our society. Teach your students that not only did a Black man (George Crum) invent the potato chip, but another Black man (Daniel Hale Williams) was the first to perform an open heart surgery (the surgery that is most often needed to repair the damage from eating too many potato chips...LOL).
So, in an effort to reduce excuses of "but we're too busy" from teachers and administrators, I decided to create an easy to use Black History Month project. I sent it to my children's teachers and administrators. Even if they didn't see fit to assign the entire unit as developed to the students...I figured they could at least read the biographies over the intercom system like last year, or ask students to research and present on just one of the 28 people listed, as I provided them with some unsung African American heroes that made significant contributions to our society...to our world.
Today is the thirteenth day of Black History Month. My children's teachers and administrators have yet to engage the students in any related activities or discussions. So...if they won't...I will. I commit to myself, to my children and to you the next 364 days of Black history...this is the beginning of 365 Black at Home.
Here we go...