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Originally published February 5, 2017 and updated February 9, 2020

Introduction

In his essay, “A Talk with Teachers,” James Baldwin wrote: “The paradox of education is precisely this—that as one begins to become conscious, one begins to examine the society in which he is being educated.” This captures the value and the challenge of leveraging Black History Month in the classroom. It is a time for students to contemplate our nation’s history and develop a deeper sense of critical consciousness. 

Consider the following questions about what happens in your classroom from Teaching Tolerance:

  • How often do your students learn about the contributions of black individuals to U.S. society?
  • Are your students able to explain to someone else the contributions that black individuals have made in the United States?
  • How many books or other texts by black writers do your students read during the academic year?
  • How many books or other texts do your students read during the academic year that highlight black experiences?
  • If your students’ readings have black characters, do these characters have positions of power?

This month offers an opportunity to deepen cultural responsiveness in both content focus and teaching practice. We support your efforts with these lesson ideas and resources that can be used to address black history and its relevance to current events and to highlight underrepresented groups within the curriculum all year round. Read more about the history of Black History Month, and consider using the lessons and resources below this month or any time.

Listenwise Resources

Listening to audio stories featuring people’s voices can connect students to specific moments in time and promote understanding of others’ perspectives. One teacher asked students to listen to an audio story describing the desegregation of Central High School in Little Rock, Arkansas during the Civil Rights Movement. The teacher said:

The violence and struggle to gain voting rights became real after listening to the emotions of the speakers and sounds from the event. It really helped students develop empathy, which is harder to do through traditional texts.

The Listenwise stories below can be integrated into classroom lessons in a variety of ways:

Celebrating Individuals

Past

Present

History of Resistance

Slavery, Abolition, and Reconstruction

The Civil Rights Movement 

Black Lives Matter

Other Resources

Online Articles

Lessons/Materials

Contemporary Literature on Antiracist Pedagogies

  • Schooltalk: Rethinking What We Say About and To Students Every Day, by Mica Pollock
  • Culturally Responsive Teaching and The Brain: Promoting Authentic Engagement and Rigor Among Culturally and Linguistically Diverse Students, by Zaretta Hammond
  • We Want to Do More Than Survive: Abolitionist Teaching and the Pursuit of Educational Freedom, by Bettina Love
  • Rethinking Ethnic Studies, edited by R. Tolteka Cuauhtin, Miguel Zavala, Christine Sleeter, and Wayne Au
  • Teaching For Diversity and Social Justice, 3rd Edition, by Maurianna Adams