Teaching Black History to Elementary Students

Teaching Black History in Culturally Responsive Ways

As Black History Month got underway, I found myself thinking back on my time as a student. In many ways, my experience all those years ago was identical to that of most Black youngsters today: largely White teachers teaching Black history, primarily in February, was the standard.

I was told about Martin Luther King Jr., Harriet Tubman, and Frederick Douglass, among other historical figures. I didn’t hear much about Malcolm X, the FBI’s assault against civil rights leaders, the Rainbow Coalition, which was organised by Fred Hampton of the Black Panther Party, or Hampton’s assassination. I learnt about the sufferings of my enslaved ancestors, but I didn’t learn about Gabriel Prosser, Denmark Vesey, or Nat Turner, who were all heroes in their own right.

It took me a long time to learn about the Alabama marches and fire hoses, but it was necessary for me to learn about the acts of terrorism performed against Black people in places such as Rosewood, Florida; Tulsa, Oklahoma; and Wilmington, North Carolina.

Today’s teachers carry on the tradition, informing children about celebrities such as Barack Obama, Oprah Winfrey, Beyoncé, and LeBron James, as well as historical figures such as King, Tubman, and Douglass, among others. These individuals should be commended for their achievements, but we should not overlook the lessons that may be learned by looking at the impact of racism on the Black experience. In order to avoid perpetuating a whitewashed version of Black history that is anti-Black due to the removal of painful truths, it is critical that teachers refrain from promoting such a version.

If you are a teacher of any topic, there are several approaches you may utilise to include Black history into your everyday lessons in a way that is prophetic and intentional.


History of the Black People is history of the United States.
Incorporate Black history into the curriculum throughout the year: Syndicated radio host Tom Joyner, who recently announced his retirement, coined the phrase “Black history 365 days a year” to convey the idea that Black history isn’t just something that should be celebrated for one month out of the year with a student assembly or a potluck dinner featuring traditional Black foods. Black history is synonymous with American history. Students should be taught about the accomplishments, experiences, and viewpoints of Black people throughout the year and throughout all disciplines, regardless of their academic discipline.

What strategies can educators utilise to incorporate Black history into their curriculum? Here are some simple examples of core content categories in terms of structure:

English: Provide students with works created by Black people, including poetry, fiction, and nonfiction, as well as nonfiction. When discussing or teaching grammar, inform pupils of the presence of Africannisms in American English.
Mathematical and scientific concepts: Throughout the course, you should refer pupils to well-known Black scientists and mathematicians. Discuss how African-Americans demonstrated an understanding of agricultural science in their utilisation of soil in the production of rice in both West Africa and South Carolina. Another option is to research and reference the rich history of mathematics in Sub-Saharan Africa, particularly in the areas of geometry, graphs, and numerical systems; you can also involve kids by playing African games like mancala, which have an important math component.
Social studies include the study of people and their interactions with one another. Make sure to include primary and secondary source documents written by or about African-Americans in student reading lists. Create a social studies assignment in which students interview Black history scholars to examine the Black experience in America throughout the course of a social studies curriculum.
In every discipline, incorporate materials written by Black authors: History textbooks authored by White scholars served as my primary source of information in history class. In English class, I read the works of Mark Twain, Charles Dickens, and William Shakespeare, but never the works of Langston Hughes, Maya Angelou, or Toni Morrison, who are all women of colour. According to a recent research, White authors write more than eight out of every ten novels that New York City students are expected to encounter in class from preschool to eighth grade. Students should be introduced to books written by Black authors that speak to their own experiences, viewpoints, and accomplishments as well as those of others. A reminder from these authors to youngsters and adults that black brilliance is not limited to athletics or entertainment. How can we encourage Black youngsters to achieve academic brilliance if we do not expose them to Black intellectuals—individuals who they can aspire to be in the future?

Instruct students on noteworthy Black figures, particularly those from their own community: Teaching about Obama and King is an excellent place to start, but you may also introduce students to hidden figures as you progress through your subject during the course of the academic year.

Teaching about scientists such as George Washington Carver can be beneficial if you are a middle school science teacher and your pupils are interested in developing a community food garden. Carver devised strategies to avoid soil depletion. Introducing Benjamin Banneker, the inventor of the first American clock, is a good introduction for elementary school kids learning how to tell time, according to Time.com. Teaching kids about notable people is a wonderful thing; even better is doing so in the framework of your classes, rather than during a separate month dedicated to this purpose.

When teaching students about the history of slavery in America, remember to cover two important topics: the economics of slavery and acts of resistance and revolt by African-Americans (sometimes known as “Black resistance”). Resistance and revolt were addressed with brute force since the enslavement of Africans laid the economic underpinning for this nation, and the entire nation benefited from this arrangement. Although enslaved Africans and their enslaved descendants resisted, they did so in a variety of ways, including sabotage, fleeing, and outright rebellion and revolt—hundreds of revolts occurred during the period of African enslavement. African-Americans who had previously been slaves in communities throughout the East Coast struggled to protect their freedom as well as to free other enslaved people.

One of the responsibilities of instructors in the classroom is to acknowledge and appreciate the humanity of their pupils—and this includes acknowledging and honouring the humanity of Black children. That begins with an acknowledgement of the good, the bad, and the ugly aspects of our nation’s historical record.