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Black History: Breaking Through The Boundaries Of February

J.Scott Applewhite
The Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial is seen in Washington, early Monday, July 22, 2013.

 This program origionally aired on 7-2-2019.   

We all know that February is Black History Month. The designation of that month, which dates back almost 50 years, created some space for learning about important moments in Black history in almost all public schools and in popular media. Unfortunately the way Black history is taught can be problematic, and focusing on Black Americans in February doesn’t prevent them and other communities of color from being left out of the national historic narrative the rest of the year. 

In this episode of Talk of Iowa LaGarrett King, associate professor of Social Studies at the University of Missouri and the founding director of the Carter Center for K-12 Black History, and Stephanie Jones, assistant professor of education at Grinnell College, join host Charity Nebbe to discuss the importance of inclusive and comprehensive Black history education. They explore some of the pitfalls common in Black history curricula and talk about some of the principles behind developing more authentic and effictive lessons.

"When I was teaching students there was a lot of apathy as it pertains to Black history," Dr. King, a former high school teacher, says. "The students connected Black history with slavery and anything that connected to oppression.  History is about identity and if the majority of the narrative that you hear about yourself is connected to oppression, sometimes you get a little mad, upset, or  apathetic based on the history that's presented to you." 

Jones is also investigating and sharing information through her Mapping Racial Trauma in Schools project, which focuses on incidents of racism in the classroom.

"I find that my profession as a teacher educator, first of all, is about helping students unlearn some of the bad teaching that they recieved," Jones says.

The pair agree that it's up to schools and teachers to improve the way that Black history is presented and schools, and how it is included in wider curriculum.

"People need to understand that February was never meant to be the only time to teach Black history," said King. "It was meant to be the place where we see what we learned throughout the year." 

Charity Nebbe is the host of IPR's Talk of Iowa
Katelyn Harrop is a producer for IPR's River to River and Talk of Iowa