Sunday, February 1, 2015

Black History Month begins again... Let's celebrate ALL history all year.

As I've described in other posts recently, I've been a student of history, esp. Black American History, since I was barely in elementary school. However, in recent years, I (like many others, such as Morgan Freeman) have begun to question why we should have one month designated to one particular race's history--even if it is my race. Why shouldn't we study all races all the time? My questions stem from my anger over the fact that children in most American schools are getting a piss-poor education in history, period, full stop, end of. So many of my students have no tangible, working knowledge of so many things of history. Even fully grown adults who are intelligent in so many other ways lack knowledge of history and frequently, the desire to even learn (even if they admit they know they should know). Ted Gup complained about this in his article "So Much for the Information Age."

Each February, most schools trot out the same old figures of Black History--Dr. King, Harriet Tubman, Rosa Parks, Lincoln for the Emancipation Proclamation, and a few others here and there. So, not only are students not getting a full, accurate view of history, they especially aren't getting a full view of the history of Blacks in America. However, I realize the complexities of this. By continuing to designate February as Black History Month, students, at least for ONE month of the school year, are forced to learn about how Blacks contributed to the nation. But forcing someone to learn something that's taught poorly and that they have little interest in doesn't really motivate them to know more.  My concern is that 1) by reusing the same historical figures year after year, students will eventually not give a damn at all--unless they are the students of color for whom those historical figures reflect people who look like them. 2) They never learn deeper appreciations for all that was contributed.  On the flip side, if we remove Black History Month in the hopes that in the bigger scheme of things, schools will study ALL of American history--from all sides--would that hope actually come to fruition? I doubt it. 

I'm a cynical pragmatist, a realistic dreamer. What we hope would happen--all of history studied--and what would actually happen would be years a part. Oddly, I see a similarity between this discussion and the minimum wage argument by delusional RWNJs like Bachmann: We mandate Black History Month in the same way we mandate a minimum wage. If left to their own devices, some teachers would willingly choose to incorporate Blacks into the history lessons just as some employers would willingly pay their workers more (as some already do), but I fear that a huge number of teachers would not incorporate those lessons, in the same way a huge portion of employers would likely drop the pay to below the horrible level it already is if a law doesn't force them to do otherwise.
With Black History Month, students are at least exposed to these lessons for one month--even if the lessons are repetitive and poorly planned. Without it, what would we have? But if it's forced, repetitive, poorly planned and executed, and dull, is it really worth it?

Additionally, the more I study history--all history, of America, of other countries, of various races and cultures--the more I'm enraged that students aren't learning about all contributions of all races to the growth of this nation and the world. And the older I get and learn the full truth of many things I was taught in school (like, the U.S. won WWII. Lincoln wanted to free the slaves. Uh, no, not really.), the more I wish students could see the full picture of it all. The saying is so true: "learn from history or be doomed to repeat it." We are already seeing some events come back around again. Sadly, this other phrase is also true: "Those of us who study history are condemned to watch the rest of the world repeat it." Boy, do I feel condemned.

It's sad, but it seems we have to have a Black History Month, a Women's History Month (March, in case you didn't know), a Native American Heritage Month (November. Hmmm...), a Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month (May) and others to ensure that people pay attention to the marginalized groups.  Interestingly, the latter two were declared by Pres. George H. W. Walker in 1990. What's even more interesting is that some months overlap.  May is both Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage month and Jewish American Heritage Month.  This page states which months are what.

Now, of course, as my boys age, my goal will be to teach them of the contributions of Black Americans to this country, but my larger goal will be to ensure that my kids (and anyone else I have even a modicum of influence over) appreciate and learn as much history as I can give them. Not only will it keep history alive and real for them. It'll also help them be more knowledgeable about the world and sensitive to other cultures.   

So, with all of this in mind, I'm going to start a series here (titled: Factoids of History--changed to Remember the past. See note below) to share a little bit of history as often as I can.  I'd like to share one Black American for every day in February. (We'll see if I get it done daily. The full time working mother life is busy and exhausting sometimes.) 

I realize this goal is sort of feeding into what I've just discussed here, but 1) I hope to share info about lesser known (or merely forgotten or not as glorified) Blacks and 2) I intend to continue this beyond February. Perhaps I will seek to honor each of the designated groups for their months, and the months without designations, just post about whomever. We'll see how it goes. Check out the first post here.

UPDATE 2/7/2015: I've recently learned that the word "factoid" actually means "a brief of trivial piece of information" or even "something fictitious or unsubstantiated."  This points of history are anything BUT trivial, fictitious, and unsubstantiated, so I'll be changing the name of the series to Remember the Past. 

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