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University Of Missouri History Conference To Help Educators Teach The Black Experience

Educators listen to presenters talk about various ways to teach Black history at the 2019 Teaching Black History conference.
Provided by The University of Missouri's Carter Center for K-12 Black History Education
Educators listen to presenters talk about various ways to teach Black history at the 2019 Teaching Black History conference.

Teachers and education advocates have long called for school districts to include more lessons on Black history in the K-12 curriculum. With the recent protests to save Black lives and the urgent request from white people to understand the Black experience, that call is gaining attention.

To help reimagine teaching Black history, the University of Missouri’s Carter Center for K-12 Black History Education will host a virtual Teaching Black History conference for educators that starts Friday.

Black history should not only discuss the traditional narratives of oppression, but it should provide context on African people and the contributions of Black people throughout history, said Lagarrett King, the center’s director.

“Black history is about identity. It tells us who we are and teaches us where Black people are going and provides a blueprint for the future,” said King, who is also a professor of education at the University of Missouri.

Most teaching materials first mention African people and their descendants as slaves, which King said demeans Black people. 

“History has dehumanized Black people and made them into one monolithic category. They made them ageless, sympathetic figures, weak, and they made them voiceless,” King said. 

To bring life to all areas of Black history, this year’s conference will focus on teaching about Black women in history. It will also include lessons on how white teachers can effectively teach Black history, how to incorporate the arts into lesson plans and how teachers' identity affects equitable teaching practices. 

“What has happened within our black history curriculum is that we have only focused on one part of Black history, but Black history is very nuanced.”

It is crucial for school districts in the St. Louis region to rethink the way teachers lecture on Black history and how students learn it, said Ian Buchanan, assistant superintendent of curriculum and instruction for the University City School District.

In University City schools, Buchanan said, some Black teachers bring their own materials to the classroom to give students a different take on Black history.

“We want students to understand the history of racism in this country and for them to understand the history of Black response,” Buchanan said. “We also want our students to understand that African Americans are not victims. In fact, we are victors.”

King said Black and white teachers often speak out about not having enough teaching materials to give students a complete picture of Black history. For University City schools, Buchanan has adopted a curriculum that includes resources to help students and teachers think critically about race, class and social equity.

“The story of African Americans is part of the fiber of the United States, so it will be quite noneducational for us to marginalize people who have been a central part of the African experience in America,” Buchanan said.

Follow Andrea on Twitter: @drebjournalist

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