"Yeah, They Did That Kids!"
How I Teach Black History in Music Class
I love my job. Teaching music in schools as a first-year teacher hasn't been without its challenges. However, this month has been the most fun. You see, over the course of this year, I've noticed where my predecessors failed me as a student. CUE THE MUSIC!
You see, my country 'tis of thee has a real issue with downplaying their failures and sweeping them under the rug. Such an issue, I shan't get into but what I will be is part of the solution. So welcome, friends, to...
Welcome, everyone! How are we doing? How are we feeling? I'm doing very well because it's my second favorite month (Sorry, but you can't beat December)! Alright, I'll stop. But I will tell you something I noticed. There's a lot that we do wrong when teaching Black history.
Faux Pas numero uno: We teach Black History as if it's not something that is still happening.
Amanda Gorman, Kamala Harris, Troye Bullock, Madison Utendahl. This country was built on the backs of Black and Brown people and it's still profiting off of their blood, sweat, and tears. If I had a dollar for every time I heard a student refer to the battle over civil rights as "back then", let's just say, I wouldn't need to be a teacher anymore. And it's not the student's fault. It's ours, as their first experience of what the world is in a safe a productive space. We set our students up for failure as future leaders and thinkers if we don't teach them the real history of this country and challenge them to do something about it. It's not like these images aren't plaguing their newsfeeds on social media. So why not learn the truth from an educational professional. I do my best to give my students as unbiased of an explanation of the situation as I can and I'd like to think most teachers would do the same.
I like to always connect these stories with real history and real life. For example, when I get the old "back then". I like to remind my students about their grandparents. I tell them about how my grandmother was born in 1942 and is still very much alive and kicking. I also let them know that the people that were making laws in the 1950s, 60s, and 70s, are still making the laws in 2020, and 2021. This is a statement of fact that makes the reality of the situation more accessible to them.
Now, I know what some of you are thinking. Oh great, another young liberal revolutionary poisoning the minds of our students. Honestly, I take this as a compliment. Why? Because it's too often that the philosophy surrounding children is that they should see the world around them through rose-colored glasses. That they must live in a world fueled by willful ignorance, but then when does that ignorance end? When can we then, shatter the image that the world is perfect? I don't know about you, but I'd rather know the whole truth and work to make my world better than to walk around turning a blind eye to the injustices surrounding me. Which leads me to...
Faux Pas numero dos: We love to treat our kids as if they're sub-human
It is miraculous to me how often we like to treat our children as if they're just a glorified pet and not an actual human person with their own personalities, opinions, and ideas. If I must be, then please allow me to be the first to let you all know that kids are people too. This is part of my philosophy as a teacher. We must give our kids more credit. They do know some things about morality and humanity at the very least, so conversations about civil and human rights are not out of their realm of understanding. So in an institution whose sole purpose is to provide information and grow independent thought, why is it that we're coming across this censorship of one of the most important lessons in American economics, history, public policy, environmentalism, science, mathematics, technology, and engineering? Oh right, I remember...
Faux Pas numero tres: Some of us don't want it to end.
Remember how I said that some of the people that made the laws in the 50s, 60s, and 70s, are still in office today? Then I hope I'm not the first person to tell you this but they're not just in office. These are the people that now own the vast majority of this country's major industry. These are the heads of major commercial brands. The Goldmans, the Sachs, the wolves of Wallstreet and Silicon Valley. The investors, the shareholders, the board members, these are the folks that can't let this information be in the minds of future consumers. Especially not in this economy. The bad news is that it's already begun. With initiatives like #metoo and #timesup and BLM and #saytheirnames we know. We're here and we're saying, "We're not gonna take it anymore". Mostly because if my generation learned anything from the failures and triumphs of our forefathers, it's that we don't have to.
Not to get all meta- and stuff but the only reason we allow ourselves to accept the things that we're given is that we often feel as though we don't have any other option. But what Millenials and Gen Z are learning is that an economy can thrive off free thought and the social and societal norms and conventions are just that, constructions that everyone just agreed to, they have no meaning. So, to any teachers, students, or anyone reading this. We have a lot more work to do and a lot more to learn. But never stop asking questions and speaking your opinions, it's the only way we can learn and grow together.