Why African American History Should be Taught as a Required Class at the High School Level

Growing up in Mayfield, I did not receive a fair education on African American history. In eighth grade they integrated watching the movie Roots throughout the school year, by dedicating the day after our unit tests to watching the movie. Once I was in high school we learned about the civil rights movement, as a unit in freshman U.S history. I figured that all made sense, but to me the biggest problem I had was the way they treated African American history month. The only thing they did in all the time I was within Mayfield school district, which was 10 years, to celebrate was a quote on the announcements in the morning. Now I’m not trying to bash my school or anything because I know they aren’t the only ones that don’t see African American history as important as it is. However, I argue that the importance of education on the subject is to expand knowledge and understanding in communities where racism is still strong, to help fight against learned or taught racism, by learning in depth at a younger age about African American history. All across America their are young African American children not learning about their history.

To get some perspective on the topic I want to first give some facts. As of 2020, 13 out of 50 states, only 26%, have laws regarding the requirements of African American history as a class at the K-12 level. In 1915 Carter G. Woodson and others started the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History. They created home-study courses, textbooks, and promoted what is now known as Black History Month. Obviously, there was still enormous amounts of disapproval and unwillingness to properly integrate it into the curriculum. In the article The Status of Black History in the U.S. Schools and Society by LaGarrett J. King, he writes “Early renditions of history textbooks typically classified Black people as docile, uncivilized and lazy”. This is a great example of an explicitly taught prejudice against black people. In the article the author goes through the history of African American History being taught in the U.S. , and provides recent statistics from various surveys. For example it mentions the Research into the State of Aftrican American History and Culture in K-12 Public Schools, a study that “sought to understand how social studies teachers conceptualized and implemented a K-12 Black History curriculum” (King, 14). Later it says the findings of the study are that “despite teachers enthusiasm about teaching Black History, the study surmised that generally only 1 to 2 lessons or 8–9 percent of total class time is devoted to Black History in any U.S. classroom” (King, 15).

For the conclusion of the article the author outlines what Black History curriculum should be.

He says “ Black History curriculum needs to come from a black perspective with topics specifically geared towards the black experience, and many times these narratives are and need to be taught independent of the way we typically frame U.S. History” (King, 17)

That brings us today. For many scholars of African American history, the belief is that it should not have to be taught as a separate class, but due to the prominence and importance of the subject, it should be integrated evenly into regular curricula. In the article You Shouldn’t Have to Take an African-American Studies Course to Read African-American Authors By Zachary R. Wood, he is arguing that even in universities, students are not taught about black thinkers and creators unless they explicitly chose to do so. Wood writes, “What I am arguing for is an embrace of intellectual diversity: breaking up homogeneity and thinking through different perspectives on the most urgent issues of our time. Students who did not sign up for any African-American studies courses in college will likely graduate without reading the work of any thinkers of African descent in an academic context.” I feel I must argue that if a student is not receiving a fair education on different perspectives from those outside of their race, then they will be unable to connect with those same people. By teaching students about the true progression and accomplishments of African Americans beginning at the k-12 level it will allow for students to be able to think broader as they progress through life and education, and fight against racism that can be learned from media and fake news. According to a chart on datausa.io it says that across the U.S. in the year of 2017, of the 992 degrees received in the field of African American studies 701, about 71% of them were people of African decent.

I believe that if students start their education in African American studies young it will help broaden the amount of students across different ethnic backgrounds feel more comfortable studying ethnicities other than their own. Over the past couple years it has been proven that the younger a child begins to learn a second language, the more likely they are to pick it up fluently. I believe that the same sort of thinking applies here. If children are initially taught about authors, creators, and leaders of African descent from a younger age it will subconsciously assamolite to being able to tell the difference between a true fact about a race, and racist and discriminatory actions from outside sources. I am aware it is not entirely the same, however the basic principles are still there. On a course page for Penn State Social Sciences class, there is an article explaining why children learn a second language easier, it says that children pick up secondary languages easier than adults because they are only associating what the word is with what it means. That means they are simply learning the word for what it is and not its context or grammatical properties. In the way I believe it will translate is that because children are learning about different perspectives, and the true facts about a race, it will allow children to empathize and understand other cultures better by having a deeper understanding about different teachings and ways of thinking from people of that background. Men and women such as Langston Hughes, Phillis Wheatly, and W.E.B. Du Bois are examples of African American Authors that had extremely interesting perspectives on lives because of experiences unique to their race, due to the treatment of African people, and yet are still people that almost no one will learn about unless they explicitly choose to do so either in university or on their own. The main problem isn’t that there is no law making the subject mandatory, however that there is no recognition as time passes that the importance of African American history has to this countries forming is almost completely unacknowledged. Until a proper restructuring of American History curricula can be made to value work from African American people equally, there should be a way for children to learn more about their culture in school.

Works Cited

“Learning a Second Language Is Easier for Children, But Why?” Sites.psu.edu, Penn State University,

2014, sites.psu.edu/siowfa14/2014/09/07/

learning-a-second-language-is-easier-for-children-but-why/. Accessed 30 Apr. 2020.

“Race and Ethnicity by Degrees Awarded.” datausa, Deloitte, datausa.io/profile/cip/

african-american-black-studies. Accessed 30 Apr. 2020. Chart.

King, LaGarrett J. “The Status of Black History in U.S. Schools and Society.” Social Education, no.

81, Jan. 2017, pp. 14–17.

Wood, Zachary R. “You Shouldn’t Have to Take an African-American Studies Course to Read

African-American Authors.” www.thenation.com, www.thenation.com/article/archive/

you-shouldnt-have-to-take-an-african-american-studies-course-to-read-african-american-authors/.

Accessed 13 Jan. 2016.

I'm a student from Cleveland Ohio writing about social injustice and education for the black community