To end racism, start with America's education system

I'm a black teacher in Baltimore. To end racism, start with America's education system
6 min read
09 Jun, 2020
Comment: We must teach our children about America's black history, and design a curriculum that also encourages black excellence, writes Chanee' Robinson.
'Textbooks reinforce the idea that black people are inferior' writes Robinson [Getty]
I have been an elementary school teacher in Baltimore, Maryland for 12 years. I serve in the same district I was raised in, just five minutes away from where I grew up.

The United States is in uproar, seemingly because of the inhumane and unjust treatment that caused the death of George Floyd. But that was just the straw that broke the camel's back.

In my opinion, in order to dismantle the system of white supremacy and systemic racism, we must start with America's education system.

Let us begin with the curriculum and reading material made available in public schools. As I mentioned, I am a product of the public school system. The extent of our black history lessons almost always occurs in the month of February, and consists of learning about the same figures repeatedly - Dr. Martin L. King, Jr., or Rosa Parks.

It was not until I was in college that I learned about the meaning of African Diaspora and well beyond college when I learned about such seminal events as the destruction of Black Wall Street or Juneteenth. Public schools paint two images of black people: we started as slaves, but because of Harriet Tubman, Dr. Martin L. King, Jr. and Rosa Parks, things are okay now, and there is no need to dwell on the past.

The curriculum is presented in a way as not to offend people, mainly white people. We do not want to make them uncomfortable by exploring how the actions of the generations before them have carried into today's view, and how the treatment of black people then, affects us today.

Public schools paint two images of black people: we started as slaves, but because of Harriet Tubman, Dr. Martin L. King, Jr., and Rosa Parks, things are okay now, and there is no need to dwell on the past

When we discuss landmark cases like Ruby Bridges or Brown v. Board of Education, the fact that our parents and grandparents were alive and well during that time, and that segregation and discrimination are not something of the past, is hardly ever addressed.

And while learning about segregation and discrimination in all areas of life, including housing, jobs, schools - the list could go on - we need to understand that black people did not just pop up here as slaves. We had our own land and civilization. The textbooks and reading material made available reinforce the idea that black people are inferior. The only books we are subject to depict black people as slaves, and children in the Civil Rights Movement.

If it were left to the curriculum, we would not have stories of black people being doctors, scientists or business owners, just basketball and football players. Both are exceptional careers, but nowhere do our textbooks emphasise the potential of young black boys and girls.

The curriculum taught in schools in many states offers little in the way of diversity. Take the fourth-grade module titled 'A Great Heart', when students learn the difference between having a great literal heart, and a great figurative heart (good morals and character).

Read more: For the sake of George Floyd and black lives everywhere, make this moment count

We learn about how the heart works to pump blood through the body - all practical and useful information based on scientific facts. Then, we learn that to have a great heart also means being things like intelligent, courageous, and heroic.

The examples and reading material studied include such figures as Clara Barton, Anne Franks, Helen Keller, and Dr. Samuel D. Gross - all white men or women and their contributions to society.

Black educators like myself are compelled to incorporate our own examples of great poets, scientists, and leaders that look like me, and like the population I serve. Otherwise, the message here is that to be a good person you have to be white. White supremacy is so embedded in our curriculum, that most educators, black and white alike, do not notice until it is pointed out.

Social Studies curriculums are no better. We learn about things like the US Constitution or Independence Day without ever emphasising that slavery was still legal during those times, and that black people were not considered people then, not that we are considered much more today.

Educators must be bold enough to go against the curriculum to expose students to other views of black people in this society. We spend hours researching textbooks and reading material to expose our children to the truth about their history and potential.

We must build our own classroom libraries with authors and characters our student population can relate to, a practice many black educators engage in; I am not sure how many white teachers understand its importance. 

This should be standard practice regardless of what population we serve. The events and comments plastered on social media make it clear that black children need to understand their value - and so do white people.

Black educators like myself are compelled to incorporate our own examples of great poets, scientists and leaders that look like me, and like the population I serve

White parents - it is so crucial that you talk to your children, but please educate yourself first, or it will do more harm than good. Research the facts and information readily available at your fingertips. Understand that white privilege is a real thing. There are things you and your children can do that we simply cannot.

Expose your children to the contributions of my people in this world. Again, these things are readily available.

Understand and respect that black people have been and continue to be strong contributors to society. The media does enough tearing down; institutions of education should be held to a higher standard to teach the truth without bias and present students with the facts of our history.

Make black history a permanent well developed, truth-filled, part of our curriculum. Expose children of all colours to the contributions of black people across industries. Get honest with the treatment of our people, but do not dwell on the aspect of struggle. Remember it, but be the change. That is when we will begin to see real progress.


Chanee' Robinson is a teacher and writer from Baltimore, Maryland. Her passion is spreading black excellence and women empowerment. She hopes that through her words, you will feel a sense of empowerment and courage to pursue all things inside of you.

Follow her on Twitter: @chaneerobinson

Opinions expressed in this article remain those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of The New Arab, its editorial board or staff.