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The Real History of America Taught in a Public School

February 8, 2017

“Hey mom. Do you know who made the flag?”

“Yes, Betsy Ross. Why?”

“Oh, man. I knew that. We learned about it today in school.”

“Where did you learn that? Who taught you that?”

“We have these books that tell us about lots of different people.”

This is how the conversation with my 7 (almost 8) year old son started the other day after school. As an educator and researcher who focuses on multicultural curriculum implementation, I was excited to continue this conversation with my son.

Twenty years ago when I was in elementary school, or even 4 years ago when I was still teaching in a classroom setting, I was paralyzed my own fear of teaching the “real” history of our nation. Would I make parents mad? Would I have the support of my administration? The history that for so long has been silenced in our nation. The Hidden Curriculum in schools that for so many years was one of silence, heteronormativity, and ignorance. While many schools still embody this mentality today, I wanted to continue to learn what my son’s public school was teaching. A public school that represents many ethnicities, races, cultures, religions, sexualities, and overall identities.

My son continued to tell me the story of Harriet Tubman helping slaves escape. He learned a white man threw something to stop the slaves and it hit her in the head making her sick for many days. My son learned, and is doing research on, Fredrick Douglass. He described him as a man that looked like him with brown skin and was a slave who escaped. My son was also very interested in the fact that Douglass did not know when he was actually born, but that he had to estimate his birthday. (We discussed why this was).  My son continued to talk about Rosa Parks getting in trouble for not giving a white man her seat and Martin Luther King, Jr.. He told me that MLKJr was killed by someone who was mad because he was changing the laws for Black people. He was saying Black people are people too. When I asked him who was teaching him all of this he flatly said, everyone. In music we sing a song about Peg Leg Joe who told the slaves how and where to escape. He had a boat and he helped the slaves escape. He also told the slaves to follow the Big Dipper to continue to travel north. In technology I am doing research on Fredrick Douglass. In our classroom we have lots of books about people.

While we were having this conversation, I remembered a time back around Christmas time. We were driving to church and there was a cross lit up on the top of someone’s house. We talked about why people put crosses up at Christmas time (from our Christian lens). Then my son said, Jewish people don’t celebrate Christmas. We do not have any close Jewish friends or family members, so again I was shocked. I asked, very calmly, you are right, how do you know that? Oh, we learned about it in music class the other day. They get lots of presents, but not for Christmas.

This. This is what teaching looks like. This is what teaching sounds like. This is what teaching feels like. It feels inclusive. It sounds like honesty about our nation’s history. It looks like student projects focused on Fredrick Douglass, Martin Luther King Jr., and the unsung Black female heroes of NASA.

While the facts may not be solidifying in a 7-year old’s mind, at least they are the truth. I can only hope that as he continues to attend this public school district teachers continue to feel empowered and supported. That his teachers continue to teach the true history of the United States and not some watered down version, the version I learned growing up. A version that included Martin Luther King Jr as a person who everyone loved. A version of history that never spoke about anything outside of the heteronormative view. The way in which my son’s school, and I would hope other schools in the district, are teaching multicultural topics, my son is not fearful of race discussions, my son is not apprehensive to state facts of beatings that happened in our history, or the differences among and between religions. They are facts, they are real life, and they are part of his world.


From → Education

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