Parents: We Have To Be Our K-5 Children’s First Black History Teacher So Here’s a Tipsheet To Help

White or Black, it’s up to all of us to teach history correctly

Photo: Willie B. Thomas/Getty Images

I’ve been an educator longer than I’ve been a parent and most of my friends are teachers or school administrators. In my many years teaching Pre-K to 12th grade, college age and adjudicated youth — Black History, the month or all year round has been on the back burner and isn’t a priority for most schools across America, and it’s under attack from conservative politicians and being challenged in states like Arkansas.

Covid has revealed that our public school systems need clear, concise state-level guidelines and leadership with regard to equitable policies and implementation of programs. Letting each district and some individual schools have autonomy over complicated and controversial initiatives like online/hybrid learning or Black History hasn’t been easy on the educators or the parents and families.

I urge parents of all races and ethnic backgrounds to be your child’s Black History teacher and fact checker if their teacher is teaching Black History lessons.

41 states use Common Core standards for K-12 literacy and math curriculum and instruction. Social studies and history standards start at the 6th grade. Yet, there isn’t a Black History standard for any grade, although it’s a significant part of American history.

Therefore, K-5 grade teachers are responsible for teaching age appropriate, culturally-competent lessons about Black history without guidelines or standards. This is concerning in this political climate with reports showing that 79% of teachers are White and a mere 7% are Black.

In Philadelphia, 31% of teachers were people of color compared to 86% of students. Citywide, Black teachers made up 22.7% of the teaching staff, compared to 52.6% of students. Asian and Hispanic teachers were also underrepresented in the city.

Without state standards or district-level guidance, teachers across the country are facing the new challenge of online or hybrid learning paired with Black history lessons that I’ve heard are basic at best and borderline insensitive and racist at the worst. I’ve heard all kinds of horror stories like these:

  • A White male teacher’s writing prompt telling his all Black class of 3rd graders to go back in time and ask Emmett Till what should he have said or done differently to the White woman in the store.
  • A teacher starting a lesson about a slain civil rights leader by saying, “he died young,” without properly explaining who the person was before his unfortunate death.

Who leads a history lesson with death or thinks it a good idea to ask a class of all Black children to go back in time and tell another Black child: “shh— so the good White people don’t torture and kill you?”

These examples are the tip of the iceberg.

When the school administrator asked the male teacher about the lesson — the teacher said he thought it was okay because he didn’t consider himself White (although he was of European descent). Additionally, he was told by his Black and White grade group partners that his lesson may be triggering and as such, he was given alternatives. But he insisted he was right and proceeded with the lesson.

I once observed a teacher telling Black and Latino students that Egypt wasn’t in Africa — he said a lot of erroneous things, but there wasn’t anyone to stop him. That’s why I urge parents of all races and ethnic backgrounds to be your child’s Black History teacher and fact checker if their teacher is teaching Black History lessons.

As a parent and teacher — I decided that I needed to be my child’s Black history teacher because the Harriet Tubman poem, Martin Luther King coloring pages, and Rosa Parks posters weren’t cutting it. Black history is more than slavery, peanuts, and struggle. Here are some resources I’ve personally used or were suggested from K-12 teachers:

K- 3rd Grade

A classic cartoon about Martin Luther King’s life recommended by several Black teachers.

4–8th Grade

High School

Karen Hunter and Dr. Greg Carr have Saturday Black History class on YouTube. There are already 51 lessons and although Dr. Carr moves fast it’s like sitting with your favorite Auntie and Uncle giving a history lesson. He’s passionate and his love and knowledge of Africana studies is captivating. They are so good — you would have watched two to three lessons and not noticed.

Courtesy of YouTube

Family and General Resources

Zaretta Hammond, a teacher, coach, and author of Culturally Responsive Teaching and The Brain, says that parents should engage in learning adventures and also trust a child’s natural inclination to learn. Hammond was a guest speaker on Rann Miller’s Urban Education Mixtape show’s “Black History Talks With The Experts” series. She also suggested that you introduce your children to real and relatable things in Black history lessons including interactive science and nature. Her presentation is below.

Urban Education Mixtape, Black History Series

A great, intergenerational Black history lesson is to teach your children about your own connection to Black history. Trace your ancestry and teach them their name and origin story. This could be interesting, but it may have some problematic areas if slavery is part of your family heritage. Fun fact #1 — not every Black person’s ancestry starts with slavery.

  • I suggest you watch Eyes on the Prize in small previewed segments. It’s a classic series to watch with family — but it’s not for younger children and can be triggering. It’s a lot to process and digest. I’ve used it over the years with older students aged 16 to 24. It’s powerful, and I feel essential for all youth to see, but it requires reflection and you should be prepared for an emotional response. I’ve seen students of almost every race, ethnic background and socioeconomic class moved by the footage from the Civil Rights Movement.
  • Almost every city or town has some form of Black History and historical markers and activities — check your city’s website.
  • Your local library or Black history museums have special programs.

  • Some history on our education system and Freedom Schools (which offer a comprehensive reading list for their summer program that can be used all year round).
  • Liberty’s Kids, below, has a few good Black History stories sprinkled in… As an educator — I’ve used it many years ago — you just have to pick and choose.

Additional resources

Also check out this piece by Casira Copes:

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Writer, Co-founder of Writers and Editors of Color #WEOC, Bylines in Zora, Momentum, An Injustice!, POM, Illumination, The Pink, and Better Marketing

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