I must admit, there is a certain level of anxiety I have every Black History Month. While I love the highlights and celebrations of my history and culture, I know, without fail, somebody somewhere is going to do something crazy during Black History Month. In the past few years, there have been incidences of teachers asking students to “create slave games,” “describe how a slave would be punished,” or even flatly denying requests by students who host Black History month activities. This, to me, is equal parts insensitive and ridiculous.
It is high time that all Americans, and educators especially, understand that African American history is American history. To think otherwise does a gross disservice to students and to our populace as a whole. This is why Sen. Lena Taylor and I introduced the African American History Education Act (AAHEA). In seeking to provide our state’s K-12 students with a comprehensive and inclusive history, the contributions of African Americans in the United States should not just be recognized during the month of February.
In most K-12 curricula, African American history is singularly tied to slavery. Students are taught extensively about the oppression that African Americans endured during enslavement but not about the history that preceded and/or succeeded it. As I used to tell my students—colonizers did not steal ‘slaves’; they took mathematicians, physicians, chiefs, teachers, etc. and enslaved them. Most curricular offerings are largely silent on seminal historical events such as Nat Turner’s rebellion, reconstruction, freedom summer, the Black Panther party, open housing demonstrations, Jesse Jackson’s campaigns for president and other impactful events/individuals that have shaped policy and society for African Americans.
The African American History Education Act would require the state superintendent of public instruction to develop a model curriculum for all grades, from kindergarten to 12, on African American history. The bill also requires the state superintendent to incorporate African American history instruction that is consistent with the model curriculum into the model academic standards for social studies. This would be effective in public schools, independent charter schools and private schools.
W.E.B. DuBois once said, “Nations reel and stagger on their way; they make hideous mistakes; they commit frightful wrongs; they do great and beautiful things. And shall we not best guide humanity by telling the truth about all of this, so far as the truth is ascertainable?” Students deserve to learn the truth and we must acknowledge and realize our country’s imperfections continue to persist. We must also acknowledge that African Americans have been instrumental in building not only our country, but Wisconsin as well.
To learn more about the African American History Education Act, please contact Representative LaKeshia Myers’ office at (608) 266-5813 or via email at Rep.Myers@legis.wisconsin.gov.