By Sarah Hurd and Natalie Schaefer
“There’s power in allowing yourself to be known and heard, in owning your unique story, in using your authentic voice. And there’s grace in being willing to know and hear others” - Michelle Obama
February may be the shortest month of the year in terms of number of days, but anyone who has taught through the month of February knows that it is a mighty month. We have Groundhog Day (although, there’s something about the past year that feels a little like a continual version of Bill Murray’s Groundhog Day!), President’s Day, and, of course, the month-long celebration of Black History Month. Black History Month is an opportunity to focus on highlighting courageous leaders such as Harriet Tubman, Frederick Douglass, Malcolm X, and Rosa Parks. It is also a month to celebrate Black voices and perspectives through the sharing of stories, poetry, oration, and narratives that demonstrate the experiences and contributions of foundational Americans. It is 28 days to affirm cultural traits and contributions and reframe thinking. In Jeffco, we not only want to make sure we take the time to celebrate Black History Month, but also to honor that these stories should not only be taught this month, but all throughout the curriculum.
As Learning for Justice reports, students throughout the country often encounter curriculum that does not fully address the history of Black Americans. “What students often get instead is a condensed version of factoids, a February full of “holidays and heroes,” when they can explore sanitized experiences of Black people without any context.”1 The Social Studies curriculum team is currently adjusting unit-specific materials to push teaching beyond chronicles of “famous firsts”, exceptional Black people, and trauma spotlights in relation to marginalized populations in the United States. Honoring Black history is inextricably connected with the broader objectives of racial justice and racial healing for people from all communities, and pushing ourselves to think intersectionally about other marginalized social identities that can lead to compounding struggles. As Audre Lorde states “There is no thing as a single-issue struggle because we do not live single-issue lives”.
We encourage teachers and students to think critically about key figures in history. Learning for Justice explains it this way:
Too often we present historical events and figures as one dimensional—all good or all bad. But we know people are more complex. For example, the Smithsonian’s Paradox of Liberty exhibit tells the complex story of Monticello, the home of founding father Thomas Jefferson, as a place of innovation and excellence through craftsmanship as well as a place of oppression and the brutality of slavery.
This process of examining the complexity of a person or event helps students practice four thinking dispositions that Dr. Cabrera, author of Thinking at Every Desk, calls critical in order for a student to take on more rigorous content in the classroom: distinction (how are things different), relationship (how are things the same), system (how are things connected), and perspective (what are the possible ways to understand this thing).
The social studies team, through the strong partnership with the Equity, Diversity, & Inclusion team, are collaborating in the work of allyship and are working to move Jeffco beyond the bite sized pieces of Black history to infuse our curriculum with the rich history of our country that is Black History, Indigenous History, Womens’ History, and also continues to elevate the history of the United States. We are also working with other content areas such as English/ Language Arts, to create strong connections across content areas and through disciplinary literacy to expand opportunities for students to engage in these topics.
To conclude, we are excited to see the lessons of Black history, and ways the teachers and schools will honor the resilience, creativity, and vitality of Black people in the face of inequity and violence, past and present. And just how we encourage the use of other commemorative months such as American Indian Heritage Month (November), Asian Pacific Heritage Month (May), and Women's History Month (March) to highlight stories and contributions of various American groups, we also strive to do the same within the curriculum and resources available to teachers and students in Jeffco. Below you will find a list of resources to support learning, discovery, and lesson planning this month from several trusted sources. Jeffco teachers can find various resources across grade levels in Bridge to Curriculum that support examples mentioned above.
Sarah.Hurd@jeffco.k12.co.us and Natalie.Schaefer@jeffco.k12.co.us - Curriculum & Instruction TOSAs/ Social Studies
Dillard, C. (2019, January 11). Why We Need Black History Month. Retrieved February 02, 2021, from https://www.tolerance.org/magazine/why-we-need-black-history-month
Curriculum & Instruction