An Inclusive Account of American History

A new curriculum engages students in conversations through the lens of Black history.

by Pastor Marvin Hightower, Peoria NAACP
Pastor Marvin Hightower, Peoria NAACP

Last year, spurred by the unrest following the George Floyd murder, a committee was formed to explore teaching Black History throughout the year, rather than in February only. This committee was led by Peoria Public Schools board member Martha Ross and made up of community leaders, community members and teachers. After many discussions, it was suggested that we meet with representatives of Black History 365 (BH365) to examine and discuss their curriculum.

Black History 365

BH365 is a four-year curriculum developed by Dr. Walter Milton, Jr., and Joel A. Freeman, PhD. It aims to teach an inclusive account of American history as it relates to Black people. This curriculum would begin to be taught in the high schools, and possibly the middle schools and primary grades later. The important thing is that it needed to start somewhere. 

But before we discuss the BH365 curriculum, we need to address the elephant in the room that is critical race theory (CRT). CNN, NPR and Britannica define CRT as an academic framework that teaches how race is a socially constructed category that is used to oppress and exploit people of color. They describe in a nutshell what CRT does:

  • Recognizes that systemic racism is part of U.S. society.
  • Grapples with our country’s history with white supremacy.
  • Rejects the belief that we are in a “post-racial” society in which institutional/systemic racism does not exist.
  • Examines how laws and systems promote inequality.
  • Educates people on how race and racism function in law and society.

Just as importantly, here is what CRT does not do:

  • Pit different races against each other.
  • Promote the idea that young children are responsible for racial oppression.
  • Encourage children to be ashamed of their race.
  • Aim to divide the country.
  • Teach that some races are inherently racist.

Why is teaching a more complete history as it relates to Black people important? As the late Dr. Maya Angelou said, “You can’t really know where you are going until you know where you have been.” In order to end racism in America, we must face it head-on—and it must be faced with education. “Education… beyond all other devices of human origin, is the great equalizer of the conditions of men, the balance of social machinery,” as the politician and educator Horace Mann once stated.

Learning From Our Past

One of the most important things to me about the BH365 curriculum is that it does not begin with slavery. Rather, the first unit takes the student all the way back to ancient Africa, engaging students in the rich history of African tribes, customs, tradition, languages and cultures. In fact, many of these customs and practices were instrumental in forming the modern processes and conventions practiced within Black American cultures and subcultures today. The mere notion that Black history started with enslavement is eliminated when students understand the genius of ancient Africans. All of the subsequent units feed off of this foundational unit:

  • Unit Two teaches about the transatlantic slave trade.
  • Unit Three teaches about the formation of the American system.
  • Unit Four teaches about the Emancipation Proclamation and Reconstruction.
  • Unit Five teaches about the Great Migration and its aftermath.
  • Unit Six teaches about Civil Rights and American justice.
  • Unit Seven teaches about the modern economic system.
  • Unit Eight teaches about Black culture and influence.
  • Unit Nine teaches about Black history in each of the 50 states.
  • Unit Ten teaches about Canada and the similarities between American and Canadian Blacks.

It’s a well-rounded curriculum that simply teaches history—and an understanding of history is critical to avoiding the mistakes of the past. As the late Winston Churchill once said, “History is a great teacher. Those who fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it.”

I have had the opportunity to speak at several Underground Railroad recognition events in Tazewell County and in Peoria. I shared that we all have a part to play in helping to eradicate racism in our country. Here’s what all of us can do:

  1. Stop denying racism exists.
  2. Be educated on racism as a grave issue of prejudice and the manipulation of privilege.
  3. Commit to being informed about systemic issues and about the daily devastation of racism.
  4. Honestly examine systems constructed with and infiltrated by racist ideals.
  5. Care, as Jesus said in Mark 12:31: ” You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” PM

To learn more about the BH365 curriculum, visit blackhistory365education.com.

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