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How are Black history and anti-racism taught in schools? A note from Dyan Watson

July 08, 2020

  • Thousands of protesters walk in a peaceful protest across the Brooklyn Bridge holding signs that read, “BLM” and three painted portraits of George Floyd with the Brooklyn Bridge Arch in the background.
    undefined Ira L. Black/Corbis via Getty Images

Protests have reached new heights after George Floyd, ”[a] Black man killed at the hands of a white police officer in Minneapolis on Memorial Day.” However, not all protests have taken place on the streets.

“What people need to understand is the man, the officer, who put his knee on George Floyd’s neck learned from kindergarten through fifth grade that it was okay to disregard Black people,” said Dyan Watson, former associate professor at Lewis & Clark Graduate School of Education and Counseling, and editor of “Teaching for Black Lives.”

“We can’t wait until high school or until college to start teaching about these issues,” added Watson. “[Kids] are already thinking about it and they’re talking about it.”

Black history is generally taught from a perspective of “victimization and oppression” instead of “persistence and resistance,” according to Tina Heafner, president of the National Council for the Social Studies and a professor of education at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte.

While pressure exists for teachers to teach a more inclusive, diverse, and full history of the U.S., there is a lack of support from the Department of Education, the states’ boards of education, school districts, and within schools, says Heafner.

Watson’s book, “Teaching for Black Lives,” a teaching guide that grew out of the Black Lives Matter movement, is a compilation of writings, teaching materials, and resources designed to support educators to explore issues of equity and social justice across all subjects, not just history and social studies.

“The response can’t just be, ‘I’m going to include more voices when I teach the Civil Rights unit,’” said Watson. “It really needs to be from September through June, how am I exploring issues of equity and social justice every day and making it a habit?”

While not all teachers possess similar resources across the nation, Watson emphasizes they can guide students to question what they are learning.

“Take the textbook that you were issued and interrogate it. Ask the students, ‘Whose perspective was left out? Who might see it differently? What else do we know to be true?,’” she said. “Really get students to be detectives and help them understand how to do it so… they can do it on their own.”

Dyan Watson taught at Lewis & Clark Graduate School of Education and Counseling for the last ten years and has just accepted a position at the Oregon Episcopal School. Dyan, thank you so much for everything. You have been amazing to us. May all the success bestow upon you!

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