inside sources print logo
Get up to date Delaware Valley news in your inbox

GIORDANO: Teach Black History But Remember to Include Black Progress

At the beginning of Black History Month this year, media outlets like The New York Times,  Axios, and others said many teachers across the country were afraid to discuss slavery, racism, or Jim Crow laws. New state laws and school district policies prevent them from saying anything that might make students uncomfortable.

That media positioning has intensified as the month progressed.

Axios, at the beginning of the month, noted that 14 states have laws that reduced teachers to merely mentioning significant figures in Black history without explaining the racism they faced. The outlet claimed that in addition to the laws, many school districts across the country had added new restrictions.

The New York Times, in its analysis of 2024 Black History Month, interviewed Grace Leatherman, executive director of the National Council for History Education. Leatherman said, “This legislation is very nebulous. There is certainly a chilling effect.”

In Miami, a public school tried to sanitize Black History Month discussions by requiring parents to sign a permission slip for students to listen to a book written by an African American author. The Coral Way School officials claimed they sent the permission slips home because the school district’s legal office determined they needed to do it to comply with the Parental Rights in Education law.

To me, this was a transparent stunt to amplify the big lie that states like Florida don’t want schools to teach about racism. Yahoo News reported state education officials said this was an “absurd” interpretation of a state rule, and it perpetuated the hoax that children in Florida schools needed permission to learn about Black history.

What Florida law is concerned about is using past racist actions to make students of the same race feel they are responsible for what happened generations ago. There have been several incidents where various schools and teachers sought to make White students feel guilty for racist policies and actions of people in the past. Recently passed laws in Oklahoma forbid any instruction that tells students they should feel “discomfort, guilt, anguish,” or any other form of “psychological distress” because of their race or sex.

What kind of educators would want students, some of whom are often very young, to feel guilt or discomfort? Sadly, this notion of making students feel this discomfort because of perceived advantages they have received due to America’s racist past was the goal of a significant number of school districts across the country, which have adopted Critical Race Theory. The laws passed in many states are specifically intended to prevent teaching kids that their race determines if they are a victor or oppressor.

Broadly, I think the curriculum for the month should be readily available for parents to view and assess. School districts should debate age-appropriate sensitivity to materials given the violence and brutality of slavery and later Jim Crow laws and discrimination. Thirdly, there should be an effort to ensure that students know about slavery and the Civil War era, as well as the Tulsa Race Massacre of 1921.

For me, a key goal is to see in great detail the inhumanity of slavery and the discriminatory laws that were present even after it was abolished while also learning about the evolution of America to a more just country for everyone. Of course, this does not mean that the debate about tweaking our laws to provide equal justice and opportunity must be shut down. It just means great progress has been made and should be part of our national story.

Please follow DVJournal on social media: Twitter@DVJournal or