Black History Month: Beyond the Biography


We have to talk about liberating minds as well as liberating society. —Angela Davis As I’ve visited classrooms this month, teachers have pulled me aside, proudly showcasing their attempts to “celebrate” Black History month. What I have seen is the following:

  • Read-alouds about famous African-Americans
  • Black History research projects
  • Pictures of famous African-Americans on bulletin boards
  • African-American “museums” where kids come dressed up as  famous African-Americans and read their biographies on the subject.
  • Some teachers are having students interview their parents about the contributions of African-Americans in their lifetime.

All of this is good stuff. However, as we conversed more, teachers revealed to me that they see “teaching” black history as either one of those check list things to do or as one teacher stated: “I know this is important … and I actually try to teach about African-Americans throughout the year… but it just seems to go nowhere. It’s just another history lesson.” Some teachers confessed that they actually know very little about African-Americans and the roles they played ( and continue to play) in the building of this country. I have given teachers websites and have suggested books they could read to better inform themselves about African-American history and I have posted lesser-known facts on my Facebook page so that they could access this information. To the question that one middle school teacher asked, “How can I make this relevant to their lives?” I came up with this idea. Perhaps you’d like to borrow it and make it your own. We decided to call it …  

And You Can Quote Me on That

Provide students with a list of quotes by African-Americans. The site she chose was Have the students choose and write down a quote that resonates with them and

  • Talk with a partner (or two) about the quote. The conversation might include some of the following:

Who said it? What does that make you wonder about the person who said it? How does your perceived meaning of the quote match what you know about the speaker? What surprises you? Baffles you? What does it make you think? What, in your opinion, is NOT addressed in the quote? Do you agree with it? Disagree with?

  • Have students write their responses to or reflections on the quote. This could be a not-so-quick write. They would want to include the quote, the person who was quoted and a little bit about the person. However, the bulk of the writing should be their reflection on the quote. which might include personal connections  or wonderings.

So, how has it gone so far? This is what the teacher told me on yesterday (and this is why I’m sharing this with you). “ It’s been amazing. My kids are debating. Thinking critically. We’re choosing a new quote each day… I’m learning so much more about the contributions African-Americans… and because they are responding the way the want, they are writing more…  Oh, my God! The questions they are asking about our country!” She went on to say that they are talking more about their writing and sharing their quotes and knowledge with others. “One of my kids quoted Malcolm X  to another teacher while they were changing classes!” “Maybe it’s because they get to choose… and they get to respond in what way they see fit… and the talking. The talking is priceless… because it’s more than history… it’s their response to it…. and I’m learning more about my kids. What they think and believe! That’s relevance, right?”      

Share this post:

Posted in ,

Leave a Comment