| By Nicole Albrecht |
When I started my third year of teaching I was in inner-city Detroit, Michigan. The students were predominantly African American from various parts of the city and their own experiences made teaching challenging and exciting at the same time. When I introduced them to their lesson during Black History Month, their reaction was not what I expected. They moaned and when asked the reason for their obvious dislike in the lessons, they explained that they were taught the same information every year and in every grade. They were bored. I was extremely taken aback by this and I was saddened that over the years what should be celebrated and honored in not only all classrooms, but especially amongst my African American students was distrusted, and irrelevant.
When I look back now, I know why. Most teachers taught Black History Month lessons that focused on the same topics of post-slavery life, then moved on to the civil rights and then forward to people who made contributions and finally rounding the bend with the first Black president, Barack Obama. Of course, some teachers tried to fill in the gaps with African culture and famous celebrities, but it didn’t keep the students’ engagement. Over the next weeks, no matter how creative my lessons became, my students would phase out and disconnect from Black History Month and their culture.
When I started to create a collection for Black History Month, I reflected on my past experiences in regards to teaching Black history, but I also read various articles on how Black History Month started, why it should or should not be covered in schools and why it was still important. Even though I knew most of this information, times have changed and different educational and social trends have also altered the way we now view certain aspects of our diverse world. The arguments and points of view in the articles I read, varied and I came to the conclusion that the common thread I was discovering was that Black history needs to be something that is incorporated year-round into a curriculum. Every unit, in every course, has to have some tie to African American heritage and culture if students are to fully understand and appreciate Black history as American history.
There is a nice mix of titles in this collection that break away from the usual topics teachers might cover for Black history; Hidden Human Computers by Essential Library, covers the contributions in NASA made by African American women in the 1950’s. This title would be a perfect fit for a Science classroom or STEM curriculum, but mostly as an important inspirational text for young female students who love math and science. Teachers looking for a series that is not only comprehensive, but includes all aspects of Black history, can find what they are looking for in, Milestones in Black American History by Chelsea House. Each book in this series explores a different theme in Black American life in America; from Pursuing the Dream, Bound for Glory and Great Ambitions allows students to explore a plethora of topics in Black history that is sure to resonant and inspire them. From Slave Narratives to Legal Debates of the Antislavery Movement, the primary source series from Cavendish Square is perfect for the Language Arts or Social Studies teacher looking to include excerpts from the abolitionist time period in American history. The Tuskegee Airmen by Mitchell Lane examines the story of a group of African American pilots who played a crucial role in World War II, which is a great read for boys or girls interested in war stories and airplanes.
The Black History collection from GVRL provides teachers with the opportunity to offer their students a chance to learn about Black history from more than just a limited scope. What I love about the Black History collection in GVRL is that the collection supports a curriculum for teachers who want to incorporate Black history year-round, but also can be a go-to resource for teachers who choose to honor and educate students during Black History Month in February.