Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Damned if you do, damned if you don't

In response to my recent post on quotes about the importance of learning history, good friend, regular reader, and high school history teacher, George, commented with an interesting anecdote that I think deserves more visibility than just being a blurb in the comments section. The situation he describes cuts right to the heart of matters that concern us educators, including reasons for the so-called achievement gap, distrust between teachers and students, disrespect for authority, and a myriad of other issues. Here is George's comment in full:
We were reviewing the American Revolution today and I used a PPP slide of the Boston Massacre in my High School world history class. It was a print of the death of Crispus Attucks (the first casualty in the American Revolution). One of the ways our school is trying to close the achievement gap has been by incorporating African-American history where ever possible in the curriculum.

Some of my African-American students questioned excitedly as to why I showed a black man being killed. They verbally protested that, " . . . of course you gotta show a black man gettin' killed . . ." To which I answered with " This is Crispus Attucks . . .", they still complained. When I retorted with " . . . you all argue that I should do more African-American history. . . " , they still replied that what I was doing was not good enough. I then replied with, "Damned if I do and damned if I don't then?" To which they said, "Yup, pretty much." I then moved onto the next slide discouraged, not having the time to argue with them about their position.

I think this illustrates the difficulty that teachers face (whether they are African-American or not) when trying to teach European history to most African-American students. I have taught for many years and have encountered this resistance to European history repeatedly from African-American students. Even though many of my African-American students share the same political values as their Western-European counterparts they fail to see connections. There is a tendency to separate themselves based upon race, expressing that only white people do this or that. It is a frustrating experience as the state standards for World History have nothing to do with African-American history.

Oh, and by the way, this resistance was encountered while teaching a group work based review lesson. In fact, the resistance has happened all semester as the students have continually labeled the course content as "racist" and "only about white people"(even though its mostly about concepts like the militarism, etc.) Here again some of my students see those "isms" as only things white people do.

I wish I was not bound so much to the state curriculum. With all these Sophomores loaded with "piss and vinegar", I'd like to be able to challenge more of their assumptions about the world.

But, alas, I am bound by the calendar and the state standards and the seemingly endless drive to close the achievement gap.

In my view, some African-American students are in the gap because of their unwillingness to suspend their views about the history of Europeans and their ethnic group. Would you listen and learn if you thought that everything you were being taught was lies? In other words, their sense of history is that it does not belong to their group; it is not theirs.

Funny thing though is that I do not experience this type of resistance from any other ethnic group on campus (of which there are 35).

I think this is connected to Chanman's previous post on being easily duped.

Thanks for reading,
And thank you, George, for your insight and honesty.

Good Day to You, Sir

1 comment:

lordsomber said...

The blinders people wear are most often put there by themselves.
Or something. (Didn't Blake say something to that effect?)