Over the past several months, there has been a great amount of support and a number of protests for the Black Lives Matter movement, resulting in the spark of many valuable conversations and questions. One crucial discussion includes what we as a community can do to better educate ourselves and others on issues surrounding racism. This often starts in the classroom, specifically, in terms of our knowledge of the history that has brought us to where we find ourselves today.
This extends far beyond just civil rights movements such as Black Lives Matter, as POC – people of color – history as a whole is often not explored to its full extent. When you think of the civil rights movement, who comes to mind first? Rosa Parks? Martin Luther King Jr? The issue behind this is these facts are all some seem to know about POC history. Minimal knowledge on POC history is harmful because taking the time to educate ourselves on all of our peers’ backgrounds plays a large role in bridging racial gaps.
In order for U.S. citizens to understand race relations in American society, we must build an understanding of the roots of racial inequality and the long term effects accompanied by it. While ETHS has taken many steps in including an inclusive history, there are still more steps to take to ensure their students are fully educated on the history of all their peers.
“Every school needs to teach their students about Black history. Especially at a young age, in elementary school, I didn’t truly know anything about my background, and it’s sickening that it’s taken until my teenage years to finally know my history,” says sophomore Ava Daye.
Since middle school, where history became its own class, the ideas and lessons surrounding POC history have a tendency to become white washed and spun to a certain degree, often for the comfort of certain students. Because of this, many students only know the bare minimum and will likely go their entire 12 years of public education knowing this.
In fact, in 2018 only eight percent of high school seniors recognize that slavery was the central cause of the Civil War, and 44 percent correctly answered that slavery was legal in all colonies during the American Revolution, according to a report released by the Southern Poverty Law Center Teaching Tolerance project.
“One of the areas we are focusing on is making sure ETHS students see themselves in the history that is being taught, both people who look like them, but, literally, themselves … their families, their communities. We want all of our students to be more racially and culturally literate, understanding the history of the people in the Evanston/Skokie community (and beyond),” explains ETHS APUSH and Civics teacher Rick Cardis.
Though WTOP explains how Illinois is amongst the few states that have laws requiring Black history to be taught in public schools, there is no national curriculum or set of standards for teaching Black history in America. The same article explains how some experts say Black history lessons focus too much on violence and suffering, instead of the systemic aspects of racism and white supremacy, while others say certain parts have been altered.
Simply having a lesson plan on POC history doesn’t mean it will be effective considering many lessons will focus on violence and suffering instead of systemic racism. This is harmful because it builds a false narrative that many won’t take the time to further decipher.
“I try bringing up Latinx cases during humanities and civics, because I felt like it wasn’t being talked about. I do think it’s time we start learning the Latinx culture and history, because people need perspective of the Latinx life and the values we learn to grow up with that need to change,” explains sophomore Alize Ramirez.
Many history textbooks also remain censored or not fully explained regarding POC history, with the AP curriculum providing an example of this. In 2014, the College Board shifted from their five-page course outline for APUSH. Some of the changes created in this outline include the removal of references to the European and colonial beliefs in white supremacy in Period 1 (1492-1607) and even the removal of lines referring to “anti-Black sentiments” when discussing the Antebellum era.
A 2015 Newsweek article further breaks down some of these changes, one example being the way the civil rights movements after World War II were discussed. The former document read that advocates “raised awareness” of inequality despite “the perception of overall affluence.” The new version ditches the word “perception” and describes advocates as raising “concerns,” “despite an overall affluence.
However, The College Board later released a revised document that is still in use today. Some advocate for the reinstallment of this 2014 proposal, seen as a step to improving the education of racism.
“I think a lot of teachers at ETHS would argue the College Board should have gone further in introducing a more critical analysis of certain topics. So, we generally follow the curriculum outlined by the College Board, but ETHS teachers certainly try to teach a broader history,” says Cardis. “I can confidently say that ETHS APUSH teachers are focused on teaching a good, solid, critical history class first, with the added benefit of preparing students for the APUSH test.”
Quarantine has led to countless moments of reflection and time spent educating myself. It becomes difficult when you must research your own history, while history lessons are built on the comfort of your white peers. ETHS has proven to be a very welcoming and diverse space, with valuable lessons and classes being taught everyday. Students such as myself can find themselves dedicating their time outside of class to learn things of their ancestors, and returning to class with knowledge never reached by others unless they take the time themselves to research. Nonetheless, I’ve been lucky to be educated in Evanston, because it’s working to improve upon these issues and make students feel included in the lessons.
Overall, as we continue to work towards a more in-depth understanding of issues pertaining to people of color, we will discover how to fully comprehend our history and the history of our peers. This includes fully integrating American slavery into U.S. history lessons, expanding the use of original historical documents, improving textbooks and more.
Moving forward, schools, such as ETHS, must continue to take the time to properly teach American history and the many hidden complexities behind it. These complexities need to be confronted and explored, especially lessons surrounding racial violence in order to bridge racial differences. Learning more than the bare minimum is far overdue, and something that should have been implemented years ago. It’s time teachers and administrators acknowledge the harsh realities and provide the education all students need and deserve in today’s day and age.