By: Eadan McArthur
An excellent place to start this article is that although I’m very interested in history – to the extent that I watch a variety of historical media on my own time – I don’t know a whole lot about Black history. This, right off the bat, is a glaring indicator of the massive flaws in America’s education system when it comes to teaching Black history. I’ve been to private and public schools, and in both, I’ve experienced the same situation. We’re mainly taught the same old story: the slave trade, underground railroad, civil rights movement, racism is “solved.” This narrative is severely lacking in nearly anything of substance regarding Black history and results in a shameful display of our education system.
Further emphasizing the terrible representation of Black history in American education, Illinois is one of only a few states that mandate Black history be taught in public schools. If my experiences are what a legally protected Black history education looks like, then it’s terrible to think that the rest of the country is taught even less – or in many cases, almost nothing at all.
This is one of the long-lasting effects of Jim Crow laws and racism on our educational system. One of the things I’ve noticed is how when Black history is taught in schools, it’s always in relation to white people. “White people enslaved Black people.” “A white President gave Black people rights.” This education platform is entirely inaccurate and incredibly ignorant. No light is shone on the successes that Black people in America have created for themselves. In our schools, we don’t study Black culture, art, or music, which are all things that are incredibly prominent in American society even though many aren’t consciously aware of it.
Entire units are spent on the likes of Thomas Edison, while Black people who did equally as important things are ignored. People like George Washington Carver for example, who revolutionized American farming and brought us a massive number (518, to be exact) of products that we use in our everyday lives: this includes ink, dye, soap, cosmetics, flour, vinegar, and even rubber. This same trend can be seen across our educational system. Black history, culture, and people are repeatedly and deliberately ignored and pushed aside. Clearly, this is a problem, as entire generations are being taught a whitewashed version of history, so what are the solutions?
The specter of sidelining Black history in schools is a troubling issue to fix. With racism so entangled in the heart of our education system, clearing it out will be a laborious process, but ultimately entirely worth it. Black History Month is a promising step forward, as it encourages businesses and people to put Black culture in storefronts, websites, and of course, our schools. However, it’s saddening that in our education system, Black culture is only prioritized during February. We’ll need significant reform to our curriculum that emphasizes Black history and how it contributes to our country at large. We’ll need to weave it in our schools to be taught throughout the year as a whole. To do this, we’ll need to push awareness of this issue in the court of public opinion, along with advocating for stricter mandates to teach Black history in our halls of power. The task will undoubtedly be difficult, but it’s worth creating an educational system that is truly representative of our nation’s people.