Students are leading the United States’ push for a more complete black history education

Trenton, NJ (AP) — In February of last year, Everea Jikiwe was in sixth grade and it was time to relearn about black history. By then, she was familiar with the curriculum. A discussion of Rosa Parks, Martin Luther King, Jr., and slavery. Just as she said a year ago, and the year before.

Then, in May, George Floyd died and sent a letter to the administration of her school in Cherry Hill, a suburb of Philadelphia, New Jersey, asking for more than the same lesson.

“We learned about slavery, but did you get into the roots of slavery?” Evere, 12, said in an interview. “You learned about how they had to travel, but did you learn how they felt tied to those boats?”

Her letter was sent by the principal to the superintendent of education, after which she began making headlines and pledged to include a more complete black history course.

In the months following Floyd’s murder in Minneapolis, educators say they heard a request from students for a more fulfilling black history lesson beyond what was already offered. Parliamentarians and the state have begun to pass or implement laws calling for more comprehensive guidance.

Previous generation courses focused on cultural awareness. According to Maurice Hall, Dean of the College of New Jersey’s School of Arts and Communication and a scholar of social justice, the school found that students still had socio-economic, cultural and racial blindnesses. was.

Growing up from a majority perspective may mean that a particular culture thinks that the way it sees the world is “actually the right way,” Hall said.

In December, Connecticut enacted a law requiring high schools to offer courses on black and Latino studies. In New Jersey, learning standards already included some diversity education classes, but last month it became the latest state to enact legislation requiring school districts to incorporate diversity and inclusion instruction. ..

Bills to make similar changes are pending in several other states, such as Washington and Virginia, according to the National Assembly of Parliamentarians.

The pandemic is partly believed in a response to Floyd’s death pinned by a white police officer, a conflict captured in a video and released into an isolated house. Michael Connor, the superintendent of education in Middletown, Connecticut, said the impact had spread to schools. The students held a rally and helped put the race at the pinnacle of educator awareness.

African Americans and other non-European histories tend to focus on how these societies were marginalized, but Europeans are described as culturally competent, Connor said. Told.

Like 12-year-old Evere, he pointed out learning about the same handful of prominent African-American figures.

“Looking at my education, I only learned about black history at school in February,” he said. “I learned about my culture at the dining room table with my mother and grandmother.”

Districts that are adding diversity to their curriculum now need to decide how to do it and what it will look like.

In New Jersey, the Ministry of Education needs to come up with sample activities and resources for the district. And some schools there and elsewhere are adding books to the curriculum and examining them in new ways.

In Middletown, British director Dan Laucht pointed out that Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird has long been a staple of 10th grade. Students and teachers are discussing “whether it’s a hero of the day or a hero of the time” by Atticus Finch, a white lawyer who defends a black man accused of raping a white woman.

However, the district has added new books such as Jason Reynolds’ Boy in a Black Suit. This is a novel about a black teenager dealing with sadness.

The changes were actually made before the enforcement of Connecticut law in 2020, but last year’s events emphasized the need to revise the curriculum.

New Jersey law requires that “regardless of race or ethnicity, sexual and gender identity, mental and physical disability, or religious beliefs” create a cozy environment. We are also trying to investigate unconscious and implicit prejudices.

It raised concerns among some right-wing groups that the government was forcing students to adopt their beliefs. Among those who testified against the bill was New Jersey’s conservative family policy alliance.

“Students need to learn to respect the beliefs and backgrounds of others based on their own experience and culture,” advocacy director Sean Highland said in a statement last year. Respect “

The criticism suggests that conservative states may resist such curriculums, unlike other states that pass legislation on liberal New Jersey and curriculum diversity. Already in Iowa, lawmakers have passed a bill banning school diversity training, and in Iowa, lawmakers have resolved to abolish higher education budgets rather than college diversity programs.

But in New Jersey, Evere’s mother, Rume Joy Azikiwe Oyeemi, 38, was surprised that her daughter’s efforts received such support. She said she didn’t expect to be able to move forward so much in such a short amount of time.

“As her mom, I’m overwhelmed,” she said. “What’s next?”