In the midst of public mayhem caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, the State Board of Education unanimously approved African American studies in Texas during a virtual board meeting in April.
While the COVID-19 pandemic continues to cause illness and death, people took to the streets to protest against structural racism and police brutality in the United States.
Although this uprising brought attention to systemic racism, it did little to solidify the implementation of this elective course for the 2020-2021 school year.
According to Texas Administrative Code, school districts must provide instruction in all essential knowledge and skills identified in this course.
The course is considered an “approved innovative course” that fulfills 1.0 elective credit toward graduation requirements.
Unfortunately, school districts must have local board approval to implement this course and offer it as an elective to grade level(s): 9–12.
Authorization with No Standardization
Texas could possibly be the first state in the nation to adopt African American studies as an elective course without a statewide standardized curriculum.
This is problematic and gives districts like Fort Bend ISD – a district that has federal data documenting excessive punishment of its black students – the discretion to design and implement its own curriculum.
Not only does this course require approval by the district’s school board, but it also will not have a standardized curriculum or accountable, measurable outcomes. In other words, it will just be another His-story.
As an African American mother, I was initially elated about this course. But my optimism was quickly deflated after realizing this was only an elective course.
I was born during the Civil Rights Era and as a product of public-school system, I was only taught African American History during Black History Month.
Then, I was taught a selective version like Rosa Parks being arrested in 1955 after refusing to render her seat to a white passenger, but I wasn’t taught about her civil rights’ efforts as a NAACP branch secretary where she registered people to vote, sought justice for black victims, wrongfully accused black men and protested against desegregation of schools and public facilities.
As an adult who had finished college, I was surprised to learn that long before Mrs. Parks, an African-American teacher and civil rights activist named Elizabeth Jennings was the first to challenge racial transportation system in 1854. She was brutally attacked by a New York City streetcar conductor and passengers when she resisted being removed from the streetcar. With the policeman, this mob forcefully threw her off the railway wagon in 1854.
Afterward, her father, Thomas L. Jennings, one of the first African American patent holders in 1821, successfully filed a lawsuit on Ms. Jennings’ behalf against the conductor and Third Avenue Railroad.
Amazingly, Jennings was represented by Attorney Chester A. Arthur, who later became the 21st president of America.
Teaching American History in its totality – violence, struggle and victory – is the best diversity training and this country certainly needs it in order to form a more perfect union.
Teaching students the true history of how this country came to existence would be a first step in uniting us all.
Filling the History Gap
Students are faced with processing discrimination, protests and racial violence daily without a culturally responsive curriculum.
When children are taught factual diverse history; they are more excited about learning and valuing each other’s contributions to society.
Although history is changing before our very eyes with multi-generational and multi-ethnic protesters against hate and racial injustices, it isn’t the first time that people of diverse ethnicities have stood against injustices.
To learn from and prevent the missteps of our past, we must truly document history and compare the present with the past or vice versa.
My work has been deeply rooted in the notion that we must learn about each other’s contributions to promote mutual respect and combat racial denigration.
Don’t Exclude — Include
To deter and make a greater impact against future racial discrimination, inequities in the educational arena, employment, criminal justice system, police brutality against blacks, racial hate, profiling, racial crimes and state-sanctioned violence against blacks, I believe that African American Studies should be required for all students and incorporated in American History.
According to the Stanford Graduate School of Education and the University of Arizona, students who participated in ethnic studies courses had higher attendance rates, standardized test scores, GPAs and graduation rates.
Now that Texas has made this major step, prayerfully we can move forward and include black history in American History to bridge knowledge gaps, promote racial healing, mutual respect and unity among all.
Tammie Lang Campbell is an activist, a civil rights leader and founder of the Honey Brown Hope Foundation. Founded in 1991, the organization is a nationally recognized, award-winning 501(c)3 non-profit that contagiously spreads hope through educational, engaging and informative programs that align with its causes — diversity appreciation, environmental stewardship and civil rights.