An Illinois legislator’s call to stop teaching history in the state’s schools until we get it right should spark discussion.
Discussion, in fact, that encourages current events and changing times to be including in teaching history in our nation’s schools. That always should be the goal.
History is not to be discarded or changed because we want to or feel the need to. History is to be preserved and we can learn from it. We do not have to repeat it.
State Rep. La Shawn Ford, D-Chicago, recently asked the Illinois State Board of Education and the state’s 800 plus school districts to remove history curricula, books and materials that “unfairly communicate history until suitable alternatives are developed.”
He wrote: “We should stop teaching history in our schools. The way history is now being taught leads to a racist society, perpetuates white privilege, and overlooks the contributions of women and minorities.”
Ford’s proposal comes as educators have been reflecting on what they teach and how they teach it in the wake of the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis police custody and the national protests that followed.
The dismissive take that it was simply “the norm” that Presidents George Washington and Thomas Jefferson owned slaves in the late 1700s and language around Christopher Columbus’ “discovery” of America are examples of lessons under review.
“You’re messaging that people were not here thousands of years before Columbus,” Stefanie Wager, a former teacher in Des Moines, Iowa, who is president of the National Council for the Social Studies, told NBC News.
NBC News recently spoke with teachers around the country, who said they were working to reshape lesson plans to better reflect the fullness of America’s multicultural history and increase the teaching of Black history and achievement.
“I think that has been on the forefront of everyone’s mind,” Wager said, along with how they’re going to teach safely during the coronavirus pandemic. “These two big topics have been the talk of the summer for sure.”
Janella Hinds, a global studies teacher at a New York City high school, said teachers re-examined those topics at the recent convention of the American Federation of Teachers.
“There are educators who in the spring started to think about antiracist instruction and conversations about how to uproot acts of supremacy that students are experiencing,” said Hinds, vice president for academic high schools at the United Federation of Teachers, a union representing New York’s public schoolteachers.
“It’s not everybody, for sure, but we do have a lot of teachers, especially on the high school level, who have been doing some amazing work around incorporating the current events into the courses of study into our convention,” she said.
Introduce new lessons, explain the context of the times in history under review and make the curriculum evolve in 2020 and beyond.
It’s not time to discard history. It never is.
Ford’s proposal in Illinois, and other efforts around the county, should spark positive change.
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