Honest History Serves as a Student’s Ultimate Guideposts
As a Black woman, when it comes to knowing myself and my history, I think about how lacking my early years were, and how I spent my adult life playing catch-up.
During my school years, the predominant conversation about U.S. history was the history created for and about White people and their descendants. African American history received a very slight mention here and there, which led to incomplete learning on my part of the contributions Black people made to this country.
The cumulative effect on a child who does not know their own history can’t be understated. I look back and realize that even in conversations I had in college with my peers, I came up short. And although I went on to obtain a graduate degree, I often found myself misquoting certain things in African American history because instead of learning about it at school, I absorbed a lot of it secondhand. Oftentimes, facts got lost and context was unclear.
You see, history is much more than just a collection of dates and events. History is a collection of guideposts. And when you’re missing some of those guideposts, you’re missing the roadmap that helps you understand where you’ve been and where you’re going. You’re missing a piece of yourself.
I was pleased to see that U.S. Sen. Cory Booker of New Jersey and U.S. Rep. Jamaal Bowman of New York reintroduced the African American History Act last week. This legislation provides professional development and important resources — through the National Museum of African American History and Culture — to help schools educate students about the richness and complexity of African American history as well as the impacts of racism and white supremacy on the fabric of America.
It’s an unflinching message that needs to be spread across the country, instead of the acrimonious tactics being pushed by states like Florida. Strong advocacy can produce legislative wins that stifle efforts to misrepresent the value of teaching honest history, and it can go a long way in developing future curricula.
Parents and caregivers must demand better for our children. Attend school board meetings. Don’t miss a parent-teacher conference. Meet the principal and other school leaders. Get to know the other parents at school, so that together, you can advocate for an equitable education for your students and advocate on behalf of a full teaching of our history.
To be sure, the College Board’s new AP African American Studies course is a welcome addition to high school curriculum. Had it been available to me, there’s no doubt I would have had a better understanding about my history and culture. In the best interest of all students and our broader society, College Board and any other curriculum provider must not give in to politically motivated attempts to villainize those who are teaching Black history. We only do our children harm if we fail to provide the knowledge that helps them fully participate in our society and economy.
Our history is not about placing blame on another race. Our history is not one-sided gloom and doom. Our history is a complex story of tragedy and triumph, setbacks, and success. Our history is the guidepost to understand where we’ve been and how that affects where are, and to make more-informed decisions to guide us to a more just tomorrow.
We owe it to our children to provide them with a complete history about the U.S., unfiltered by politics or pandering. If we don’t, we all but put them on track to live a life of catch-up. It affects students’ self-identity, their goals in life, and places limits on what they can achieve. I was heartened to see my son’s elementary school now has a curriculum called “Black Joy,” in which they devote an entire session to the joy and resilience of the Black experience in America. I think that is wonderful and is equally important to his learning.
Now is not the time to regress on teaching honest history. We must dig into our history even deeper, to make it a realer and more robust, in an effort to pull more things from out of the dark into the light. Only when we can truly see ourselves in our history can we fully appreciate how far we come and how far we can go.