Black History Month: Exploring Important Topics With Students

Black History Month is an annual event that occurs during the month of February and is dedicated to recognizing the contributions and achievements of Black Americans. It also serves as an opportunity for people to learn about the effects of racism and how to challenge negative stereotypes.

While it was first established by Carter G. Woodson and the Association for the Study of African American Life and History in 1926, the Library of Congress writes that the commemoration was not legally recognized until 1986. Despite this delayed reaction from the government, Black History Month had been celebrated throughout the country for many years prior to its official recognition.

Black History Month is a time to explore the many achievements of African Americans in every field, from science and the arts to politics and religion. For teachers, this month can also serve as a venue for extending a powerful, in-school learning experience out of the classroom and into the real world. The Anti-Defamation League encourages schools to find ways to create class lessons that encompass the full complexity of the Black experience: the history, point of view, politics, struggle, first-person experience, art, literature, and data.

Read on to learn how educators can bring Black History Month into their curriculum during February as well as throughout the entire year.

Connect to Current Events
One common misconception among students is that the history and experiences that Black History Month is meant to recognize are encapsulated in days long since past.

Teaching Tolerance explains that in order to make history more relevant to students’ lives today, it is important to have them identify and connect past issues to current ones that may directly impact their daily lives. One way to do this in class is to have students gather information on social disparities that exist in modern society and how a particular social leader has made efforts to change this.

Having a better understanding of how Black history is continuously developing in America today will help students when contextualizing events from the past and the present.

Relate Across All Lessons
Rather than deviating from their standard lesson plans or committing only certain days in February to Black History Month, educators should identify ways to incorporate Black history as an extension of their regular teaching.

Edutopia provides several examples to naturally use your class time to explore and call attention to the accomplishments, experiences, and perspectives of Black people. One example is teaching the works of Black authors in English classes as well as highlighting the contributions of African American scientists and mathematicians when relevant. Another way to teach Black history as a continuation of standard lessons in courses such as social studies is to use primary and secondary source documents written by Black people to further relay firsthand experiences.

When creating lesson plans or researching learning materials to incorporate into any subject, take the time to research the authors you’re using to help give your students a well-rounded perspective of the American experience for all cultures.

Incorporate Black History All Year
Rather than only discussing Black history during the month of February, it is important to infuse these teachings within the curriculum year-round.

Teaching Tolerance warns that by halting the “regular” curriculum to discuss Black history, educators risk trivializing and marginalizing already underrepresented communities, reducing the accomplishments of important leaders. Instead, by making the effort to incorporate the experience of Black Americans into lessons throughout the entire school year, students will have the opportunity to see how such stories are integral to American history.

By approaching Black history as a relevant and continuous experience year-round, educators can emphasize the importance of these achievements and contributions, teaching that Black history is American history.

Inspire a community of leaders by offering engaging social studies lessons and resources that bring learning to life. Explore our new Current Connections page to find free teaching resources to excite your students and foster their love of learning today.

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