“Treat others the way you want to be treated”(Lee 2), a saying that has been used since sometime after the creation of the bible, and dubbed the “Golden Rule”. When we think about what it means, we picture ourselves treating someone with kindness and respect so they will treat us the same. Pretty simple right? So why is it that this ancient saying has been ignored repeatedly throughout several periods of history, and even today when it comes down to what we teach in our public education system? If we followed the Golden Rule then we would learn just as much African American history as we do about Caucasians. With that being said, “how does teaching a more in-depth course of African American history impact the lives of all students?”
Too often, students’ first exposure to Black History occurs through the study of slavery and the Civil War. They hear about African American activists that did a lot to change history, but it’s the same five names. Often, native Africans are portrayed in schools as savage, barbaric people. Those who came to the Americas were “lucky” because they were saved from savage, unstable, poverty-stricken Africa. But, while supposedly being the “lucky ones,” they were being brutally beaten and forced into slavery. The reality is, that thousands of years of Black history existed before contact with Europe, but teachers don’t know enough about the history of African civilizations to teach their students adequately.
Furthermore, black history is part of everyday life and deserves the be taught in its entirety. “Black history isn’t about a blemish in history as this [a student] understood it to be” (qt. In Gillmore 11), a quote by President of the Ontario Black History Society, Nikki Clarke. Most North American students associate African, or black, history with slavery. And while teachers may be the first to introduce students to the subject, the real concern is the fact that for some strange reason, the department of education believes that slavery, brutality, and racism are the perfect topics to use when teaching black history.
Racism is everywhere today and more importantly, because of this lack of education, not only does this affect our African American students, our Caucasian students look like bad guys because they just don’t know. Students who don’t know anyone of African heritage may ignore black history altogether. And the problem isn’t just general ignorance of this nation’s history of racism, it’s also about the willingness of many Americans to ignore this history. It’s their willingness to only see America one way, to only see Americans of color as subtext, simple addition to a story mostly about rich and powerful, land-owning white men.
In addition, February was only declared Black History Month in the United States in 1976 (Black History Month 1). So not only does that make the tradition only forty-nine years old, but it’s held in the shortest month of the year and overshadowed by popular dates such as Valentine’s Day, Groundhog Day, the Super Bowl, and Rihanna’s Birthday. Happy early birthday queen.
It is the job of schools to teach children both factually correct information and how to think for themselves. Black history is needed to give students both the correct facts about African Americans and teach them to think properly about the contributions of African Americans both historically and currently. Teaching black history in schools helps students who have little or no interaction with African Americans to develop an accurate understanding of African Americans in the United States.
“Math and science teachers also have a breadth of material to explore, from the biographies and contributions of black scientists and mathematicians to those of black people who made modern-day comforts possible through their work in aeronautics and the computer technology” (Dillard 6). African Americans in history were not just “victims” or “slaves”, they were inventors, engineers, scientists, authors, and so much more. More importantly, they were people and deserve to be recognized for their accomplishments because frankly without some of their inventions of America would look a lot different. “Students deserve opportunities to examine black literature, art, innovations, and customs that have helped shape the culture of the United States—and the world” (Dillard 3).
We all know that black history neither began nor ended with slavery but since day one, the only part of African American history that is actually explained thoroughly is the arrival of the first enslaved Africans in the colonies. How does that make sense? It’s basically the equivalent of reading the first ten pages of a book before putting it back on the shelf, but in today’s education, we read those same ten pages over and over again while new books are being written.
According to the Health and Human Services Office of Minority Health, African Americans are 10% more likely to experience serious psychological distress (Nami 2). Due to unmet needs and other social barriers, like the lack of education, resources, or every opportunity, African Americans are more likely to experience the listed mental health issues:
- Low-self esteem
- Low self-efficacy
A mixed study was designed for this particular problem. was conducted for this study. First, 20 African Americans Students were participants randomly assigned to a treatment group and a control group. The treatment group (ten participants) watched a Black history documentary for six weeks and filled out pretest and posttest measures on racial identity, self-esteem, self-efficacy, and depression. The control group (ten participants) completed the pretest and posttest but did not watch the videos. Later on, half of the treatment group participants continued with the study after six weeks to answer questions about whether the documentary impacted their racial identity, self-esteem, self-efficacy, and depression in the form of multiple case studies (Stubbins 3).
The result of the analysis found that the Black history documentary did not impact participants of the treatment groups’ racial identity, self-esteem, self-efficacy, and depression, in fact, the results indicated that both groups had similar levels of self-esteem, self-efficacy, and depression scores. However, studies found that several of the participants left desiring more knowledge of Black history (Stubbins 4). They were more aware of the importance of supporting the Black community and wanted to learn about the continuity of African American identity development, higher self-esteem, higher self-efficacy, and mixed emotions, due to watching the Black history documentary.
“[In conclusion] Watching Black history documentaries can improve young African Americans’ racial identity, self-efficacy, and self-esteem from high poverty areas. However, the impact of the participants’ racial identity, self-efficacy, and self-esteem could not be quantified to the extent to which these variables were impacted” (Stubbins 6).