I taught high school Humanities (a fusion of English Language Arts and Social Studies) for about five years. Each year, I would take my students - all students of color - on a journey through United States history, as bleak as it is, from the fight for independence from England, to westward expansion and the removal of indigenous people, to slavery and the black freedom struggle. In my fifth year, perhaps three or four lessons into our first unit, during a mini lesson on the Founding Fathers, one of my students, visibly frustrated, raised his hand. When I called on him, he boldly asked, “When are we going to learn about us?” I instantly froze and could hear murmurings of agreement from the rest of the class, while this student stared right into my eyes, stoic and unapologetic. I had no savvy response to offer back and instead, could only tell the class to "Please settle down." While this question (like many things that can occur in a class period) caught me off guard, I knew exactly what he meant.
Year after year, I had been putting forth a cookie cutter curriculum that x’ed my students out - one that only acknowledged our people when it came to discussing slavery and the fight for civil rights, while ignoring centuries of powerful, successful civilizations that we had built, prior to. I failed to realize that my students were yearning to see themselves in my class’ content, particularly in ways that helped them develop positive self-concepts. If I, their only Black teacher at that time, was not going to provide that for them, who else would? At the end of that class period, I approached that student and sincerely thanked him for his courageous question - in other words, for opening my eyes. He and I went on to co-plan a series of lessons that focused squarely on pre-colonial African history. They were well received by him and his peers and even made me prouder of my African heritage! While it was too late for me to dedicate an entire unit to this topic, this felt like a small step in the right direction. White children often see themselves positively reflected in school curricula. Now, my students got to see themselves in this way, too. Before leaving to become a school administrator at the end of that school year, I designed and left behind a complete unit on pre-colonial African history that I can only hope was and is being utilized today.
"When are we going to learn about us?" Man. This, by far, was the single most pivotal moment in my educational career. Now heading into my twelfth year in this profession, I am incredibly adamant about all students receiving a culturally-responsive education. In fact, I often dream of a world where culturally-responsive schools are the norm, not the exception. Furthermore, I often dream of Legacy of Excellence Academy students ending each school day, feeling fulfilled and seen.