Lack of Juneteenth lessons highlights shallow depth of Black history curriculum

Dive Brief:

  • Though Juneteenth is recognized as a state holiday or day of observance in all but three states, the history of the Juneteenth Independence Day, also known as Emancipation Day, is not taught in most schools, according to School Library Journal. The publication’s Twitter poll indicates 90% of respondents who work in schools do not teach students about the holiday.
  • The holiday originated in Texas and is recognized with parades, parties featuring red foods, such as red velvet cake, as well as music and the reading of the Emancipation Proclamation. Among organizations hosting online celebrations this year are the D.C. Public Library, the Brooklyn Public Library and the Juneteenth Music Festival, hosted by DJ Jazzy Jeff.
  • As educators plan lessons for the next academic year or lead virtual summer enrichment classes, a variety of resources on the holiday are available through, as well as ReadWriteThinkTeaching Tolerance and Libguides, School Library Journal reports.

Dive Insight:

As current events bring renewed attention to racial inequity, the organization Black Lives Matter at School provides curriculum resources to help educators dig deeper and provide students more context in Black history beyond just covering slavery and the Civil Rights Movement. Among the available resources is a starter kit, as well as teaching activities and lesson plans for all grades.

David Trowbridge, director of African and African-American Studies at Marshall University in Huntington, West Virginia, believes educators should use relevant, local history as a way to appeal to students. Teaching students about relatable historical characters and relevant content gives history more meaning so students should research and uncover their own data, he said. He also suggests using walking tours to bring the past to life.

The New York City Department of Education plans to launch curriculum aimed at fighting hate crimes and embracing different cultural perspectives. Last August, the NYC Coalition for Educational Justice noted a lack of representation and diversity and inclusivity in the district’s teaching materials. It found while 67% of the district’s student population is Black or Latino, 84% of the districts’ books are written by white authors. The district is reviewing material and will train teachers on how to implement more inclusive learning materials.

Baltimore City Public Schools also recently revised its content and attributes a month-long teacher training program and 11 events that helped transition the community toward culturally inclusive curricula.

The National Juneteenth Observance Foundation hopes to soon have the day declared a national holiday. A campaign launched by 93-year-old Fort Worth, Texas, resident Opal Lee is aimed at achieving the same goal. 

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