Polls indicate that in the wake of George Floyd’s tragic death last summer, millions of people attended Black Lives Matter or police brutality protests. Estimates suggest that the number participating may have been 4-5 times as many as attended the 2017 Women’s Marches, which held the record previously. This data suggests that more than ever before, Americans understand that what happens to Black Americans matters for all Americans. Their success and struggles are a reflection of our country’s values and a part of our rich and complex history. And teaching about race and racism is important and especially critical at this moment in American history. The nomination of the Black Lives Matter movement for the 2021 Nobel peace prize recognizes the significance of its work worldwide.
As always, we hope that teachers recognize Black History Month with students this year. It is a time for students to contemplate our nation’s history and develop a deeper sense of cultural consciousness. 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.
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:
Black Youth In Action
Chinua Achebe – Achebe on Heart of Darkness
Marian Anderson –Marian Anderson and Our Nation’s Capital
Muhammad Ali – Remembering Muhammad Ali
Maya Angelou – Maya Angelou’s Life and Legacy
James Bladwin – James Baldwin: Writings on Race, Class and Civil Rights
Frederick Douglass – How Photography Helped Abolition
Ernest J. Gaines – Ernest J. Gaines: Fighting Illiteracy with A Lesson Before Dying
Lorraine Hansberry – Motivation for Writing A Raisin in the Sun
Langston Hughes – Letters From Langston Hughes
Zora Neale Hurston – A Guide To Florida From Zora Neale Hurston
Katherine Johnson – Black Women Math Heroes at NASA
John Lewis – Remembering Civil Rights Icon John Lewis
Toussaint Louverture – Haitian Revolution for Freedom Led by Former Slave
Phyllis Wheatley – Phyllis Wheatley: America’s First Black Poet
Wangari Maathai – First African Woman To Win Peace Prize
Nelson Mandela – Nelson Mandela’s Fight for Freedom in South Africa
Piye – Nubian Pharaohs
Jackie Robinson – Jackie Robinson and Integrating Baseball
Perry Wallace – Integrating College Basketball in the South
Richard Wright – Richard Wright’s Life Informed His Writing
Joshua Bennett – A Poet Celebrates the Owed
Kamala Harris – VP-Elect Kamala Harris Inspires Youth
Kerry James Marshall – African Americans in the Art World
Michelle Obama – Michelle Obama On Becoming
Claudia Rankine – Hair Color and Racial Identity
Tracy K. Smith – Connecting through Poetry
Angie Thomas – Angie Thomas: The Hate U Give and the Call to Activism
Kehinde Wiley – Rumors of War Sculpture
History of Resistance
Slavery, Abolition, and Reconstruction
The Civil Rights Movement
Black Lives Matter
Other Black History Resources
- A Look Ahead at Black History Month – Facing History
- Black History Month: Teaching the Complete History – Teaching Tolerance
- Black History Month is Over, Now What? – Teaching Tolerance
- Four Black History Month Must-Haves – Teaching Tolerance
- What Learning About Slavery Can Teach Us About Ourselves – Teaching Tolerance
- Teaching About Race, Racism and Police Violence – Teaching Tolerance
- We Need To Change How We Teach Black History – TIME
- Racial Justice Is Education Justice – NEA
- Black History Month Resource Collection – Facing History
- Race and U.S. History Classroom Materials & Lessons – Facing History and Ourselves
- Black History Month Lesson Plans and Resources – Share My Lesson
- Black Heritage Text Set – CommonLit
- The History Makers – The Nation’s Largest African American Video Oral History Collection
- Black History Month Posters – National Speech and Debate Association
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