Bold cultural move for city schools
Yesterday, district officials confirmed that they would mandate a combined African and African American history course in the 185,000-student district, which is about two-thirds African American. The course becomes one of four required social-studies courses, just as important as American history, geography and world history.This is apparently a very belated response to a school board mandate from 1968. Of course, the decision has met with a wide range of reactions, including concerns by other minority groups that their own stories will become even more overlooked. However, for the time being, their numbers don't carry enough clout.
"I guess the ideal I would love to see is a rich, diverse, textural and contextual history of all those who make up the fabric of America," Nevels said. "Short of that, we'll cross that bridge when we get to it."Some of the debate is summarized in a second article here. Only time will tell how successful the courses are, and whether they serve more to unite or divide the student bodies.
I honestly don't know what to make of this. It's a bold move. Obviously, anything that makes students feel like they have more of a personal stake in their school experience is good, but this can only be a slice of the pie. It might be more effective to combine the African/slave/civil-rights portion into one solid semester course, and then have a second semester which compares the black experience in America to the stories of other immigrants -- say, Indians and Pakistanis who came during partition, or Europeans escaping wars or famines, or Latin Americans hoping for a better life. Such courses are quite difficult to plan and execute, but could lead to fascinating discussions and a wealth of additional understanding.
But maybe these sorts of discussions are just what could happen when students study national (or world) history and then study the African-American experience -- what do the other students know of their parents' or grandparents' lives and choices? History classes so often stop long before anybody we know was even born; looking at periods closer to our own and thinking about these kinds of questions could bring the whole educational experience to life . . .