By Aswad Walker
While the war rages on regarding the teaching of African American Studies (AAS), one group is receiving little attention — AAS teachers.
The vast majority of education experts extoll the virtues of exposing all students, especially Black students, to African and African American history, arts, culture, etc. Yet, a national army of conservative politicians and parents are fighting tooth and nail to block such courses being taught in K-12 schools, lumping such information under the erroneous label “critical race theory.”
In schools, however, culture war or no culture war, there are teachers committed to offering their students instruction outside of the Eurocentric (white-focused) framework.
When Mickey Leland College Preparatory Academy for Young Men (MLCP) administrators looked for an instructor to teach AAS, social studies teacher, Christina Frascino jumped at the chance.
Not only was Frascino’s stepfather a historian, but her grandmother was a local history-maker who volunteered with the Black Panthers in her day and told the adolescent Frascino about the history of Fifth Ward, the neighborhood where MLCP is located.
“My grandma would tell me a lot about how Kashmere Gardens and Fifth Ward was a different place and how different it was as she was growing up, and it always blew my mind that this is someone who lived through these things that they show on TV that are supposed to be detached, but they’re right up-front, close and personal,” said Frascino.
“That really drove a lot of my passion. So, when I had the opportunity to become a teacher of African American studies, I was like, ‘Absolutely; sign me up.’”
Frascino’s favorite AAS topic is the Harlem Renaissance, because of the multi-generational connections her students can make via the arts.
“Highlighting the Harlem Renaissance allows us to talk about hip-hop today versus swing music from the 1930s, and they see that there’s nothing new under the sun.”
Andre Muata Richardson lobbied to become Sterling Aviation High School’s AAS teacher because he knew personally the impact exposure to history, literature and other subjects from a Black perspective can have.
“One of the reasons I got into teaching in the first place was because I learned so much about our story as an adult that I didn’t learn in high school, and it changed the way that I saw life,” said Richardson.
For Richardson, conscious rap from the 1990s by the likes of Public Enemy and rapper YZ piqued his interest in African and African American contributions to world history. But it was his experiences in the military, serving during Operation Desert Storm, that solidified his desire to both learn more about the subject, and to teach it to others.
“While activated in the reserves, one of my friends gave me ‘The Autobiography of Malcolm X.’ I started reading that, and then James Baldwin’s ‘The Fire Next Time’ and Chancellor Williams’ ‘The Destruction of Black Civilization.’ After reading those books, I was hooked.”
Richardson, himself a Sterling graduate, actually began teaching AAS topics in a social studies “Special Issues” course around 2006. So, when the AAS elective was approved for students, he was ready.
“One of my pet peeves is how we constantly denigrate one another by calling each other the infamous ‘N’ word,” said Richardson, who sees the AAS curriculum as instilling a sense of individual and group pride in his students.
Richardson and Frascino are painfully aware of the fact that anti-CRT parents, politicians or random individuals can attack their classes, as they have in cities across the country. However, both educators say they are committed to giving students the multi-faceted and culturally inclusive education they deserve.
“My motto is to always teach the truth, no matter what that truth is,” said Frascino.