"A child's learning is the function more of the characteristics of his classmates than those of the teacher." James Coleman, 1972

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Black History and the Shortest Month

Ten years ago when I was teaching in Louisiana and beginning a study of the state testing system, LEAP, it became obvious very quickly that having the state test in March totally preempted the celebration of black history in Februrary. Rather than engaging in black history celebrations, teachers and parents were more involved in "Lean on Jesus" prayer rallies in hopes of calling forth divine intervention for their fourth graders who had to pass the test or be left behind. Half the children in most Title I schools were left behind in 2000. Half were retained.

Black History Month has been fighting a losing battle ever since, despite legislation in a handful of states to mandate the teaching of African-American history. With social studies pushed further and further from the center of the curriculum by the demands of testing, black history, already ghettoized, becomes effectively nullified as just another one of those, you know, unintended consequences. From the Times:

Nearly four years after New York State passed a law creating a commission to promote the teaching of black history in public schools, the commission has never met, and 5 of its 19 seats have yet to be filled. For many educators and parents, the Amistad Commission, named after a slave ship seized by its captives, has become a modern-day symbol of bureaucratic inertia.

“New York, a pivotal state in African-American history, has not taken the lead here and we’re languishing,” said Manning Marable, a Columbia University professor of history and public affairs who was the first member appointed to the Amistad Commission. “It’s not just for black people, it’s for everyone. You can’t teach the history of this country effectively without teaching the contributions and experiences of black people.”

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