Classroom censorship pushes have placed educators “in a tenuous and vulnerable position” when it comes to creating curricula around Black history today, Paul Parkison, an associate professor with the University of North Florida’s department of teaching, learning and curriculum, told K-12 Dive. But, he said, there are ways educators can augment lessons by allowing students to talk about the details of their lives that link to the curriculum.
For example, during a poetry module, a teacher could ask students to think about places in their life where they experience alliteration — from the music they hear on Spotify to a blog they’ve read — and use those to bolster the subject matter.
“Students do not come in as empty vessels,” said Parkison, also president-elect for the American Association for Teaching & Curriculum. “There is always the opportunity to use the content that students bring and you bring to support that instruction.”
Educators in many states nationwide continue to grapple with guardrails on what they can and cannot teach students when it comes to Black history, gender, the LGBTQ community and other topics. Among the most recent disputes on this front has been the College Board’s back-and-forth with the state of Florida over the revised framework for its AP African American Studies course, set to become available to all high schools in the 2024-25 school year.
While educators must follow mandated guidelines from their state, ensuring they’re keeping their students engaged in a diverse and inclusive curriculum is important, too, said Parkison — and that means respecting the knowledge brought into the classroom by those who enter.
“Students, teachers, anyone who comes in — whether it’s a tutor or parent volunteer — we can leverage that knowledge,” Parkison said. “It’s there, so can we use it, and do we?”
A survey of 207,385 students administered in spring 2021 by the nonprofit YouthTruth found high demand for inclusive curricula among qualitative responses from Black and African American students.
One response read, “Support me by being diverse; there aren’t many Hispanic or Black teachers. Stop making us copy notes and help us think. Tie learning to real and current issues. I understand this is the last thing on a teacher's mind because of COVID, but I at least expect social studies to bring up current topics.”
According to Parkison, students who make their wishes known can have an impact.
“A student's voice is a powerful voice,” Parkison said. “I do think when students organize and speak up, they’re very persuasive to their parents and their caregivers, and they can be very persuasive to those in power.”
By reaching out to colleagues, educators can find ways to help engage students and augment the curriculum. To this point, Dennis Muizers, managing director of educator leadership development and membership services at ASCD, said exploring lessons “from credible teachers or other industry sources that recognize the importance of inclusivity can be time well spent and is to be encouraged.”