As I walk down my hallways, I gaze at my students’ Black History Month posters that cover the walls and I realize how I’ve changed since my early years. This month my school’s hallways are decorated with beautiful images that celebrate singers from Cab Calloway to Summer Walker, athletes like Gabby Douglas and Doug Williams, and influential leaders from RuPaul to Ice Cube. But as I walk by these images, I wonder how the fresh-faced teacher who promised to never “teach” Black History Month has now decorated the whole school with Black images.
Almost ten years ago, I started off teaching and I truly believed that I didn’t need to teach Black History Month or any other cultural month (Hispanic Heritage, Native American History Month, etc.) for that matter. I rejected focusing on cultural heritage months because I was committed to the belief that Black History is American History and that highlighting the accomplishments of Black People during the month of February relegated us to an appendix, a footnote, of U.S. History. As a Black Woman Educator, teaching majority Black Students, I promised myself that I wasn’t going to do this; I was going to take my education and my research skills to ensure that, in my classroom, every day would be Black History Month, Hispanic Heritage Month, Filipino Heritage Month, Native American History Month, and Women’s History Month.
As I transitioned from a novice teacher, I noticed how the inclusion of cultural histories often meant looking at oppressed groups through lenses of victimization. Teaching the breadth of US History often means reminding my predominately Black Students about how African Americans have been left out of important historical events like the Constitutional Convention. Again and again, in my attempts to “get through it all,” I found myself highlighting the exclusion of women, BIPOC, Latine/x, and Queer folks. Frustrated, I asked myself, “how is this celebrating the richness of historically oppressed peoples and cultures?” I needed to change the way I was teaching. Now, armed with Inquiry and the IDM, relying on important resource pedagogies like Culturally Relevant, Sustaining, and Responsive pedagogy, and knowing that richness is communicated through depth not breadth, I use cultural heritage months to celebrate the accomplishments of historically oppressed peoples and cultures.
What I love about the Inquiry Design Model (IDM) is how it supports deep dives not broad surveys of historical time periods and events. Now, using inquiry, I celebrate each and every cultural heritage month, including Black History Month. Heritage months are celebrations of culture, they provide teachers with opportunities to shift from the official curriculum and focus on celebrating the richness of the peoples and cultures too often left out of our history books and regulated to victim-based narratives. During cultural heritage months, I create or use inquiries that celebrate women, BIPOC, Latine/x, and Queer folks and these celebrations are needed!
Unfortunately, we can’t do inquiries every day and until school districts and state education offices respect the knowledge and skills of practicing teachers as much as inquiry does, the fact remains, that no matter how much I sprinkle Black stories and perspectives into daily my lessons, I am still relegated to teaching the official curriculum. A curriculum that reinforces the status quo. This is because American history is a history of racism. Celebrating cultures through inquiry is my proud protest to the standards of inclusion set forth by even the most progressive curriculum developers. There’s a reason why many black teachers are so tired of showing movies about enslavement and telling the same old stories of the Civil Right Movement. As Issa Rae proudly professed at the Golden Globes, “I’m rooting for EVERYBODY Black.” Simply put, teaching the struggles of Black folks is not radical or progressive. Rather, teaching Black Joy is the most radical form of protest! No matter who you are or who you teach you can celebrate Black Joy and Genius through inquiry.
So as I walk through these hallways and see the posters of BB King, Wilma Rudolph, MJ Rodriguez, Garret Morgan, Ava Duverney and so many more, I beam with pride. During the month of February, Black Students can finally see themselves celebrated as both Black and excellent.