More than 7 million K-12 students in the United States identify as Black, and professionals say representation of the experiences of Black people should be taught to all students. 

It can be shown through memoirs like Maya Angelou’s “I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings,” critical analyses of slavery like The 1619 Project, and films like the story of Ruby Bridges — all of which have been banned or challenged in recent years. 

As Florida, Tennessee, Texas, and other states continue to pass so-called “anti-critical race theory” bills that limit how race is taught in classrooms, community leaders, professional educators, and policymakers are working tirelessly to ensure books stay on shelves and the full scope of Black history is taught and integrated into kids’ lives as early as Pre-K. 

“Our hope is that the children of New York City and, by extension, across the country, will be able to have access to a deeper and fuller understanding of this country because we are including a Black perspective.” 

Dr. Sonya Douglass

The Education Equity Action Plan is trying to teach the full scope of history. Made up of a coalition of organizations, including the Black Education Research Center at Columbia University, Black Edfluencers United, and others. These groups are responsible for the curation of the first-ever interdisciplinary Black Studies curriculum for New York City public schools.

Led by Dr. Sonya Douglass, founding director of the Black Education Research Collective, the program started this year in K-12 schools. During the livestream premiere of the curriculum, she sat down with Michele Verdiner, principal at Teachers College Community School, to explain why it’s necessary for students in NYC and nationwide. 

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“It’s been a really intense and exciting time given the history of the work that we’re doing,’’ Douglass said. “Our hope is that the children of New York City and, by extension, across the country, will be able to have access to a deeper and fuller understanding of this country because we are including a Black perspective.” 

While some states push to strip students of the opportunity to learn true American history, New York and many others are going to great lengths to incorporate the Black voice, culture, and perspective into schools as a means to fight back against the erasure of history from classrooms and libraries.

Other Districts Are Working To Teach Truth Too 

The response to the murder of George Floyd and countless other Black people motivated leaders to rework their policies, training, and even codes of conduct involving race. 

In 2020, the San Francisco Board of Education approved the development of a K-12 Black Studies curriculum for students beginning in the 2022-2023 school year. The approved courses for the SFUSD high school students and plans for grade PK-8 introduce students to “race, racial identity, African and African American history, equity, and systemic racism,” according to the original release of the plans. 

Former commissioner of SFUSD, Stevon Cook, explained in the statement how the “Euro-centric focus of the American education system and other American institutions has perpetually framed the history of Black people in America,” as either enslaved, discriminated against, or suffering under societal pressures like poor health, poverty, and over-incarceration.

Part of bringing an official Black studies curriculum to students, he said, is to explore “the broader impact of African innovations such as math, science, engineering, sea exploration and astrology that informed much of western civilization,” which, up until recent years, was missing from curriculum. 

RELATED: Florida to Black People: We’re Not Teaching Your History

In Illinois, Ashley Kannan, an eighth-grade history teacher at Oak Park Elementary School near Chicago, did not want to wait around for state legislators to fill the gap in teaching Black history. Students in his Black Studies course learn about topics such as the Black church, the Great Migration, and Black political figures like Mississippi civil rights activist Fannie Lou Hamer, Kannan told Chalkbeat Chicago. 

While legislative progress is slow in Illinois, the state updated its law on Black history in 2021 to include the history of Black people before enslavement, reasons why Black people were enslaved, and the American civil rights movement. 

The Black History Curriculum Task Force, created by the Illinois General Assembly in 2018, also recommended Black history be woven into U.S. history courses and asked for clear guidelines on what should be included in a mandated curriculum.

Meanwhile, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis has spoken out against the College Board’s new Advanced Placement course on African American studies, calling it “indoctrination.” DeSantis labeled plans to incorporate topics of Black queer studies, the abolition of prisons, and intersectionality “a political agenda.” 

Legislation on Black Studies Impacts Students

An April EdWeek Research Center survey found that 65% of the 401 participating teachers said their state does not require students to learn Black history. Only 12 states provide a K-12 Black history mandate, although some states with mandates also have legislation in effect that restricts instruction on topics of race.

The Education Commission of the States, an interstate education agency, said a state’s absence from the map does not necessarily mean that “students do not receive Black history education or that no state policy addresses the topic.” Instead, it is a reflection of what legislation around Black studies has been enacted in the past four years. 

SOURCE: Keturah Gadson for the Center for K-12 Black History and Racial Literacy Education, July 22, 2022

Fred Ingram, secretary-treasurer of the American Federation of Teachers, sees a need for a collective to educate students both inside and outside of the classroom in ways that allow AFT to measure progress in the teach truth space. 

“If we measure progress, it’s one family and one student at a time,” Ingram tells Word In Black. “There’s the saying we use in the African American community, ‘each one, teach one,’ and that it ‘takes a village to raise children,’ and how that village may take on different roles when trying to build the continued representation in public education.”

Baltimore School for the Arts student Briana Pooton told the Baltimore Banner that a video of the late Toni Morrison discussing the “white gaze” helped her “feel better about her heritage” and how the interactive format captured their attention. Jordan Love, a junior at Susan Miller Dorsey Senior High School in Los Angeles, told CBS News that the newly implemented AP African American studies course changed how he thought about Black history.

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