Why Some Teachers Are Afraid to Teach Black History. . .And How to Overcome each Fear

Each year February comes, and many teachers become anxious.  Everyone wants to teach black history, but how?  Teachers do not want their white students to feel guilty over the injustices of the past, and they do not want their black students to feel angry or upset?  So, how do you effectively cover the true history of race relations in the United States?

The truth is race relations are a huge part of our Nation's history.  To ignore it in school, is setting children up for awkward social interactions in the future.  Race relations in our country have come a very long way, by whites and blacks working together.  If you truly study the abolitionist movement in the United States you know that slavery was abolished because of white and black abolitionists working together.  White abolitionists like Harriet Beecher Stowe and William Lloyd Garrison truly brought about change in this country. Black abolitionists like Frederick Douglass and Sojourner Truth brought a very important layer to the Abolitionist movement because they themselves had been slaves, and could speak about horrors many in the north had never imagined.  The abolitionist movement was a white and black movement in the northern part of the United States.

In the southern part of the United States the abolitionist movement is not as well documented.  This is because
southern abolitionists risked their lives to bring an end to slavery.  White abolitionists living in the south, could not speak publicly.  Most slaves were abolitionists, however, they risked beatings, death, and permanent separation from family if they spoke openly.  We know however, that abolitionists existed in the south due to the large number of slaves who were able to escape via the Underground Railroad.  We also have many negro spirituals which have survived the test of time, and still include coded messages of escape. A great example of this is the famous spiritual "Wade in the Water" which taught slaves to hide from tracking dogs by using rivers, lakes and streams. The Abolitionist movement is something that all students can and should be proud of.  This is a great place to begin with your class.

Once slavery ended, life was still very difficult for the freemen.  Once again, many teachers become fearful of teaching about the reconstruction period and beyond.  Things only changed in our country, however, through blacks and whites working together.  What made the Civil Rights movement successful were blacks and whites sitting at lunch counters together.  Black and white freedom fighters died for the freedoms we take for granted today.  This is a rich part of America's history. To rush through it out of guilt or fear is an injustice for those who risked so much.

Each year, my students complete a freedom quilt (actually we usually create two - depending on the size of my class).  I give each student a 12'' by 12'' piece of
scrapbooking paper, along with directions to take home to their families.  Each child creates a square of our classroom freedom quilt.  They may represent a powerful person in African American history, or a theme from African American history.  I let families know that this project should be a family activity - this allows families to tell one another stories and engage about this important part in our nation's history.  I created a free lesson for this, which includes the directions and grading rubric. Feel free to download it - I hope that it is something that you will be able to use in your classroom as well.

For more great ideas on how to celebrate black history month, check out these great blogs below.

Fun with Dinosaurs

What is it about dinosaurs that children love?

I've wondered about that for years.  Recently my mother (a primary teacher of 34 years) and I had a conversation about this.  It's the mystery of what happened to them, it's the curiosity about what they looked like, it's the idea that huge creatures roamed the earth before humans did.  Dinosaurs are ferocious, yet safe to learn about because they are extinct today.  Whatever the reason or reasons, children LOVE learning about dinosaurs.  We study them in my second grade class, and my students can't get enough of them.  Here are a few tips to make your dinosaur unit fun.

  • Make sure you cover different types of dinosaurs.  There are so many dinosaurs, you certainly won't be able to cover all of them.  Just make sure that you give your students a variety.

  • Allow students to come up with their own ideas.  Remember, archaeologists discover new facts about prehistoric life constantly.  Do not stifle future historians, scientists and paleontologists with their ideas today.

  • Incorporate writing into your unit.  I know, I always say this - but writing goes with everything. Once students begin thinking about dinosaurs they have so many wonderful questions and ideas.  Have your students write down their ideas, and turn them into stories,

  • Allow hands on creativity.  My students love making our dinosaur pop up books, but there are so many wonderful hands on dinosaur activities out there.  I have seen teachers reenact paleontology digs by using sand and "bones".  Students can construct their own dinosaurs using paper mache.  Whatever method you choose, dinosaurs are definitely a unit of study that lends itself to hands on work.

  • Field Trip - If you are fortunate enough to live near a science museum that covers dinosaurs definitely visit one.  I am fortunate to teach near the Field Museum of Natural History in Chicago, IL.  Each year my class visits and we get to see Sue (the most complete T-Rex ever recovered).  My students love seeing her, and learning about her.

As you study your dinosaur unit keep the mystery there.  Remind students that we are still learning more about dinosaurs everyday.  Let them know that if they are really interested, they may be the future paleontologist to discover something truly amazing!


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