Is Education Still Segregated?
I have spent the greater part of my life in one of three places: home, church and in education. My fondest memories in education are centered around just being a student. I enjoyed going to class when I was in college and learning from my distinguished and well-informed professors. Amongst such immense enjoyment, I also felt particles of shame because I came face to face with the realization of how little I knew about Black History.
How could I know so little about Black History when I spent twelve straight years in K-12 education at a well-known and coveted school district? How could I know so little when I was exposed to such qualified and tenured teachers? I have asked myself those questions repeatedly through my education and career trajectory. Today, I believe the answer is simple. Education is still segregated.
Think deeply about your earliest exposure to Black History while you were in K-12 education. Do you remember the first topic(s) your teacher shared with the class concerning Black History? I do. My 1st grade teacher Mrs. Zullick had the class turn to a page in our Social Studies book where we saw pictures of African slaves; some half-dressed, looking raggedy and sad as they worked the fields. Black History lesson number one.
Middle school and high school education fared no better as the only African Americans introduced were Dr. Martin Luther King, George Washington Carver, Harriet Tubman, and Rosa Parks. Black History lesson number two.
In terms of required reading, The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck was distributed. When I landed at the line, “Got to keep ‘em in line or Christ only knows what they’ll do! Why, Jesus, they’re as dangerous as niggers in the South! If they ever get together there ain’t nothin’ that’ll stop ‘em” (236), I asked my teacher about why the author used THAT WORD? Though I can’t remember my teacher’s name, I remember his reply. It was, “that’s the kind of language they used back then.” Black History lesson number three.
Another required reading was Tom Sawyer by Mark Twain. That story also enclosed THAT WORD over two hundred times, according to SparkNotes. I asked my English teacher that same question and I heard the same response but dressed differently which was, “that was how they talked back then.” Black History lesson number four. Moreover, the only literature authored by an African American appeared in my 12th grade English class during a one-time lesson on writers of the Harlem Renaissance. Black History lesson number five.
Can you relate? How much of Black History have you been exposed to during K-12 education? I have had countless conversations with colleagues, family members and students of all ages. They easily relate to my story. My conclusion to these shared experiences is education is still segregated and the curriculum needs to be enhanced to desegregate it.
Curriculum enhancement should not be a daunting exercise to appease people of color nor should it be an activity that is dumped on teachers. Curriculum enhancement, in terms of Black History, should be a desired goal in education for it achieves what civil rights activists of the 1950s set out to accomplish, equality in education and representation. In many schools, African Americans and people of color are not equality represented in the curriculum. Thus, students grow up with limited knowledge of the contributions that men and women of color have made in America. Why? One reason lies in the textbooks. Why do school districts continue to spend thousands of dollars every year on textbooks with little to no representation of people of color? That leads to another question. Are there textbooks that demonstrate fair representation of people of color?
As educators, it is our responsibility to ensure that education does not remain segregated. Enhancing the curriculum by incorporating men and women of color into the lesson plans is a good start. I am willing to make the time, take a second look at my curriculum and explore ways to ensure that representation is equal. I am willing to desegregate education. Are you?