Support Local News.

At a moment of historic disruption and change with the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, the calls for social and racial justice and the upcoming local and national elections, there's never been more of a need for the kind of local, independent and unbiased journalism that The Day produces.
Please support our work by subscribing today.

Do we have the guts to start teaching history differently?

We are living history right now, dancing daily do-si-dos among the perils of a pandemic and the urgency of Black Lives Matter. We are living the realization that history as we've been taught it, as they sang in Porgy & Bess, ain't necessarily so.

History is not a bunch of staid words in a thick textbook recorded by somebody somewhere. History is a living thing, with tentacles and voices stretching across varying races and cultures, all of which have noteworthy frames of reference.

We must think and act anew. It begins here: Are we willing to have the guts within our educational system to start teaching history differently?

If you don't agree that black history must be part of every school curriculum, please stop reading this. I'm not interested in your opinion. But if you do — if you've been awakened enough in recent weeks to truly know what you don't know (as I have) — you wonder about all those aforementioned tentacles and voices we really don't know about at all.

I bet we could teach black history in our schools through a sports prism alone. Start with author (and former New York Times sports columnist) Bill Rhoden's book, "Forty-Million Dollar Slaves," a manifesto establishing the historical foundation for black labor used for white profit. Then study the stories of Jack Johnson, Joe Louis, Jackie Robinson, Wilma Rudolph, Althea Gibson, Muhammad Ali, Arthur Ashe, Venus Williams, Serena Williams, Kareem Abdul Jabbar and Colin Kaepernick. We'd be intellectually smarter, emotionally richer and versed in the modern history shaping us.

Think about it: We're trying to cram hundreds of years of history into our kids' minds when an entire history class could be taught from 2000 to the present. In a mere 20 years, we've experienced a presidential election determined by hanging chads, Sept. 11, Iraq, our first black president, Black Lives Matter, the Trump Phenomenon and a pandemic. And we don't view it all the same way. Is it possible for some textbook to properly frame what's happened?

We need to start teaching differently. This — yes, this — would be productive change stemming from the protests over the deaths of George Floyd and too many others. This would get black history — and a completely different perspective for white America — into our classrooms to educate our kids more comprehensively.

And why can't we teach differently? This pandemic, if nothing else, has opened our minds to different ways of thinking. Smart, thoughtful kids I know from this region keep telling me they've never been taught black history in many suburban schools. That's called benign systemic neglect. It must stop. We must change. Now.

How do we change? Look to some of our teachers ahead of the curve. Ask them. Administrators don't have all the answers. No, really.

Example: My friend Jeff Joyce, an English teacher at NFA and former Fitch baseball coach, uses Hip hop to teach demonstrative pronouns (this, that, these, those), among other things. He plays "The Choice is Yours" by Black Sheep in his class. The song's famous line: "You can get with THIS or you can get with THAT." It's iconic enough from back in the day to be part of the recent "Last Dance" documentary on the 90s Bulls.

"Listen to Afrika Bambaataa, Public Enemy, KRS-One ... it's politically charged music with a message," Joyce said. "I try to take points of black culture held up for criticism and flip it so the kids see a different point of view. Elders often criticize rap as misogynistic, criminal and materialistic. To me, it's no different than punk (rock) in the 70s and 80s in Britain. It's about rebellion. Rap is not low brow art, but a different way of painting."

More Joyce: "Rap is about rhyming couplets, meter, bending a rhyme ... all the literary devices are there. So here we are talking about demonstrative pronouns and the kids are getting a history lesson, feel good about the music and meanwhile, they're learning metaphor, symbols, grammar, pop culture and word deconstruction."

Then Joyce paused and said of his students, "If you share in their content, you join their experience."

Think about that again: If you share in their content, you join their experience.

And you engage them. Isn't that a seminal message tethered to Black Lives Matter? Share in the content and join in the experience. Is that so hard to do if you purport to be open-minded?

We need to stop framing black history around one month a year. Black history is part of our history. Period. And it ought to be treated as such. We need a change in the consciousness of teaching. We need to reset the gauges. This is what we must — must — glean from Black Lives Matter.

Use sports. Or don't. But the best way out of this is education. We must think and act anew.

This is the opinion of Day sports columnist Mike DiMauro


Loading comments...
Hide Comments