February 28, 2017


Black History Month
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Using Ruby Bridges to teach about Empathy
I remember taking an African-American studies class in college.  You know you have to take one multicultural class and I believe they offered three at the time.  I remember my instructor was a young, bi-racial woman and I vaguely remember her name, but I remember everything she ‘taught’ me with great certainty.  She gave us background knowledge, but the class was all about “Why”. 

  I always saw my mother reading and my uncle had an intensive collection of Afrocentric literature. However, it was this adjunct professor who introduced me to Lisa Delpit, Henry Louis, Gates, bell hooks, Nikki Giovanni, Angela Davis, Michael Eric Dyson, and so many others. 

It was like a light turned on in my mind! I was inspired, engaged, but also enraged that I had not known this feeling in my youth.  Why didn’t my K-12 teachers share this material?

I thought that I missed out on this information because I went to a predominantly white, Christian high school; however, many of my friends were also without this knowledge.  So, it didn’t matter if you went to a private or public school, certain things simply weren’t being taught.

 I think about the education of my own children and I’m disheartened when I remember what books were required readings or just the lack of diversity throughout the curriculum.  I didn’t need to ask why this lack of information existed. I knew why and, in a way, I just accepted it.  You start to internalize the things that you hear so often. 

As an African American, there is a sense of pride when you learn about where you are from and what you are capable of doing. Especially, when all you see is negativity concerning the color of your skin.  Eventually, you will begin to believe the lies that are shown to you in your lifetime. They will become embedded in your psyche and imprinted as truth.  All disenfranchised groups need to know that they count, they matter, and they are important to society as a whole!

I hope that during Black History Month, you were able to dig deeper with your students.  Yes, teaching about the first black____ is good, but that’s just the beginning.  I hope you were able to explore a truth or a falsehood that has permeated society as it relates to African-Americans. I hope that you built a strong foundation of background knowledge so that our children can understand why certain ideals were accepted.   Did you ask WHY is it important that we celebrate the Firsts…what’s the significance? 

You may have gotten responses that made you squirm and feel uncomfortable, but there is growth in that feeling. 

Embrace it and learn.