Teaching about historical people, places, and events is an integral part of educating our future generations. As a person of Anglo/European American background, I have found myself realizing that I have some limitations in teaching the role of minorities in shaping our country. Mostly, this is due to the history I learned as a child of the traditional school system. However, teaching children the history of Native and African Americans can be done in a culturally sensitive way, using some of the best stories.
Growing up, all of our vacations were educational. My father was a history teacher, and his love of history sent us packing for D.C., Colonial Williamsburg, Gettysburg, and every battlefield and historical site on the east coast. He never seemed interested in the history of beaches or amusement parks, much to my dismay.
Because of him, my love for history has only grown as I became a homeschool mom. We've trekked all over the states and some countries looking for notable places in history so we can stand and say, "We are standing were the great people in history stood." Therefore, every year I'm eager to plan out our history curriculum and expose my children to the best stories of the people who shaped the world we live in.
Do you have story gaps in your history curriculum?
Teaching history is exciting because you learn so much from the past and can use it to help your children become critical thinkers. But sometimes, you might realize there is a gap in your education, and you don't want that gap to transfer to your children.
Such a gap became evident as we began our homeschool. The books I had used to teach the history of our country (and the world) didn't tell the whole story. Perhaps that's because my teachers had a limited amount of time to spend on history, or maybe it's because history is written by the conquerors. But, whatever the case, Native Americans and African Americans were noticeably absent or played minor roles in the history taught to me.
As we were reading The Birchbark House one day, it became clear that there was a whole group of Americans I was mostly ignorant about. Other than stories of "cowboys and indians," I knew very little about the struggles of native tribes. The same happened during our family reading of Bud, Not Buddy. I hadn't grown up with "sundown towns" and "green books" that told us where we could stop on vacation. We had packed lunches on long drives for convenience, not to protect us from race hate.
This is not how I wanted my children to learn about the world around them -- a whitewashed view of history. So, I set about to make sure we would learn about all the great people who influenced our nation, not just the ones in my old history books.
I started by doing my research. I have personal beliefs about how to teach the history of minority peoples. But since I am not in a minority myself, I felt that my ideas might not be enough. So, I asked my friends who are part of a racial minority what they felt were the best ways to teach a culturally-broad history of the American people. These are some of our ideas.
The Best Stories Don't Have to Be Limited to The Month of February.
Black History Month has been an official part of the United States calendar since 1976, though its roots stretch further back into history. Because of February's distinction, teachers often use the opportunity to learn about famous African Americans during this month. Since so much of the history of the African American people was missing, it was a good idea -- one that we wholeheartedly took part of in our homeschool.
But through the years, I've realized that only studying about the brave deeds of African Americans once a year wasn't giving us an accurate picture of U.S. history.
Integrating biographies and stories of people like Harriet Tubman, Martin Luther King, Jr., and Thurgood Marshall into the periods that they influenced makes sense chronologically. It gives a better understanding of the era. As you talk about time-periods, acknowledge these contributions and be inclusive.
Be Intentional About Finding Native and African American Stories
It can be challenging to find stories that are specifically about Native and African Americans for children. The large majority of the books are about the struggles of slavery, Indian removal, civil rights, and the heroic actions of the most notable figures of these eras. Though these should most definitely be taught to our children, there are so many other noteworthy contributions by minority people.
A few that you may not recognize are: Sequoyah, Madam CK Walker, Fannie Mae Hamer, Bass Reeves, Phoebe Fraunces, James Armistead Lafayette, Chief Joseph, Claudette Coldin, Benjamin Banneke, Charles Drew, Matthew Henson, and Carl Rowan. We discovered several of these in our Beautiful Feet Early American Enrichment Curriculum, and others came recommended. Each of these people tells a story -- a story that broadens our history and brings balance.
The Best Stories Are Color Blind
Teaching Native and African American History isn't always teaching about Native and African Americans. Though it may seem counterintuitive, teaching about great people without mentioning their racial or ethnic background can often lead children to accept that people are simply people. Great people do great things because they rise to the challenge, not because of the color of their skin.
Incorporating stories of people of different races into a seamless timeline shows children that many different people who make up our country and contribute to it throughout history. Follow your children's interests and learn about those who were instrumental in that area. Help them to find many different examples so they can see the diversity.
How do you choose great stories?
Trying to decide which books are appropriate for your children can be a daunting task. There are many things to consider:
- will it fit with there era and topic you are learning,
- is it age-appropriate,
- does it have historically accurate facts,
- how does it treat the role of Native and African Americans in history?
Many times you will need to preread books to determine if they are appropriate. An alternative is to buy a literature pack from a vendor you can trust.
Beyond that, there are many other factors to consider to determine if it is a book worthy of your library. Download a free list of how to determine if a book is worth sharing with your kids by clicking on the picture below.
Beautiful Feet Books
One of our trusted vendors for literature is Beautiful Feet Books. I mentioned earlier that we have been using their Early Enrichment Pack to add diversity to our history curriculum. But, we have also used their Geography Through Literature pack that combines literature, geography, and even racial variation.
Hi, I’m Dachelle. I’m a homeschooling mom of 3 in the South. I love chocolate and have been known to hide it from my children. I can often be found reading a good book (or even sometimes just an okay book) and enjoying a jar of Nutella — don’t judge. I blog, here, at HideTheChocolate.com when I’m not creating book clubs and making lists…lots and lots of lists (it’s an addiction). Learn more…