Stop me if you have heard this before: Some people are upset by Black History Month.
This time it’s in Utah. Parents of some students that attend Maria Montessori Academy in North Ogden wanted to keep their kids from participating in Black History Month curriculum and activities. That part unfortunately isn’t uncommon and isn’t news. The interesting part is that the school was going to let them and even announced that students and families were allowed to opt out on the school’s Facebook page, which of course could only encourage such an action. Additionally, this appears to be a somewhat regular occurrence in Utah schools due to a law that allows a waiver from instruction for “religious” reasons.
This is it. This is the reason we have Black History Month.
Whenever we talk about Black History Month normally the criticism is usually around the perceived separation of the history. “Black history is American history” they say. Of course, that is technically true. However, the fact that we have schools that allow you to specifically opt out of learning about Black people, parents that elect that option, and loosely interpreted religious laws that protect that option, shows that the aforementioned quote is just a rebuttal people use in arguments. I know of no examples where this has happened the other way around. Moreover, it appears that they were initially allowed to do this because you can opt out of learning that is not part of the “core” curriculum. It’s no surprise people think Black history is unnecessary because apparently you have standards that reflect as much.
It is worth noting that I am a social studies teacher, I am Black, and I don’t necessarily do anything special for Black History Month. I do not jump ahead 100 years to the Civil Rights movement. I do not stop what I’m currently teaching to lecture on slavery. I don’t have to because I actually do believe Black history is an integral part of American history, and my daily curriculum reflects that. By the time we get to February, my students have already talked about dozens of influential African Americans … and that’s just from the colonial period. I fully support the special reminder and the social pressure that Black History Month puts on schools to teach students of all races about the accomplishments and contributions of African Americans.
Black History Month was not designed to give students an extra dose of Black history. It was designed to make sure schools didn’t go through the whole year without teaching any at all, which is what was happening. This story just proves that absent a special month, many places would STILL do that … in 2021.
So, the next time someone questions you about why Black history has to be divided from regular American history remind them of this: The school system decided Black history was separate … and apparently not equal.