Sit down. Quieter. Follow the instructions.
Brendan Brown followed these rules when he began teaching, looking for order in a classroom he was too familiar with growing up. But he quickly realized that it didn’t work for his students and that they just vomited what he told them. So he decided to get creative.
Brown, a former history teacher and assistant elementary school principal, is now an educational rapper at Billboard, speaking across the United States. He founded School Yard Rap, a California-based company that produces music about historical blacks, Hispanics and Indigenous people who are often not found in traditional textbooks.
“By state standards, my students had to learn about old white slaveholders, but they were young black kids, and it had no connection,” said Brown, who released his latest album under his stage name “Griot B.” “This education system is completely whitewashed. But by doing what I do, I can meet and refocus on colored people so that students get the full range of American history. ”
Teachers have long sought ways to deliver a complete version of U.S. history that engages their students and includes the contributions of colored people. After the assassination of George Floyd by police in 2020, they were stepped up to use different approaches in the classroom that would challenge the education system, which many believe does not allow critical thinking and forces a narrow worldview.
They also face increasing pressure from politicians and other critics who oppose how schools address diversity and representation, including a recent call for a ban on critical racial theory, an academic framework focused on the idea that racism is systemic in state institutions. Although there is little evidence that the very critical theory of race is taught to students of public K-12 schools, some ideas central to it, such as the long-term effects of slavery, were.
Over the past decade, teaching has evolved significantly to focus more on critical thinking rather than memorization, said Anton Schultz, a history teacher from Colorado Springs and president of the National Council for Social Research. Some of the shifts began with the introduction of Common Core, which focused on teaching students to find and analyze sources. Instead of simply studying dates and names, students learn to form arguments, find factual evidence to support their claims, and challenge and defend different points of view.
“We are trying to teach students the concept of asking questions and the ability to accept what they are capable of, and put into practice this whole method of inquiry,” said Schultz. “We want them to be good citizens, and the way you become good citizens, you ask questions and then try to do something about it.”
Students also need to learn more about the resilience and achievements of marginalized communities, said John Deville, who has worked as an educator in Macon County, North Carolina, for nearly three decades.
Teachers should show people of all backgrounds not only victims but also individuals with power and authority, he said.
In his class, Deville, who is white, avoids exposing people to “villains or plaster heroes,” and he incorporates more than just European and white perspectives on historical events. In a unit of Christopher Columbus, Deville said he wastes time creating a vision of the Western Hemisphere for contact with Europeans, and does not reduce violent ways of dealing with Native Americans.
There is no standardized curriculum in the United States; these decisions are made at the local level. As a result, parents, teachers, politicians, and other critics may express concerns about what some consider free for all views allowed in the classroom.
Morgan Dick, a spokeswoman for the Arizona Department of Education, said civic education, which prepares students to become well-informed, community members, is important because it allows students to participate in “rigorous debate and civic discourse to develop their own opinions. and learn to respect the views of others. ”
She also said some topics can sometimes make people step out of their comfort zone.
Last month, Republicans in the Arizona House of Representatives approved a measure asking voters to amend the state constitution to ban the teaching of “critical race theory” in schools and ban any racial-based preferential treatment. The state Supreme Court overturned the law because it was unconstitutionally included in the budget. In the end, the Chamber passed a decree that is not enforceable.
For many teachers, the most important part of the job is to present students with different perspectives.
“Every kid in America knows that 1492 Columbus sailed the blue ocean, and they know three ships, and that’s great,” said Katie Eddings, a social studies teacher at a high school in Lee County, North Carolina. “But do you know what his motivation was at the time?”
Eddings, whose mother is Lambie, shows her students excerpts from Columbus ’diary and encourages them to discuss what forces could have shaped the journey, the achievements that resulted, and the damage done.
“I want you to ask questions,” she said. “I want you to be interested in why it happened and why it happened. What was the cause and effect, and are there lasting consequences now? What happened then? Is there an impact on us now? Are we better? I just want them to be thinkers. ”
Some students may not know what benefits such a shift in education will bring to them until later in life.
It’s easy to ask someone to read a book, but you can’t get that person to contact you, ”said Kendall Antoine, one of Brown’s former students who challenged Brown to create his first educational rap in 2012.
Antoine, who graduated from Morhouse College last year, a historically black college, said he still learned what was assigned, but Brown presented it in a more appealing way. He added that he still remembers some turnips almost a decade ago.
“It’s amazing what Mr. Brown is doing. What began as a passion for music and history has evolved into how he could treat children to improve their education, ”said Antoine.
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