More African American history, please?
Bill Kubota, Detroit Public Television’s One Detroit and the Detroit Journalism Cooperative
September 8, 2017
“We can’t talk about Louis Armstrong without asking, ‘What created Louis Armstrong?’”
Detroit Central High School music teacher Quincy Stewart makes the connection.
Perhaps it Plessy versus Ferguson, the turn of the last century court decision that kept segregation legal, or maybe the lynchings of African Americans that shaped the legendary trumpeter’s music.
Stewart intertwines African American history with music as Detroit Journalism Cooperative partner Chalkbeat detailed recently in an article by Erin Einhorn.
Stewart has taken upon himself to provide the history because he doesn’t see many other opportunities for his students to get that kind of information.
“I would venture to say that is one of the most creative models that there is,” Sherry Gay-Dagnogo told One Detroit regarding Quincy’s approach to teaching.
Gay-Dagnogo, a former teacher and current Democrat state representative from Detroit is sponsoring legislation to get more African American history into Michigan schools.
LaNesha DeBardelaben, Senior Vice President of Education & Exhibitions at the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History in Detroit said African American history is available in some Detroit Pubic School Community District high schools as elective courses and in some of the bigger school districts in the state.
Nationally, other schools have gone much further. According to DeBardelaben, in some Florida districts and in Philadelphia, African American history is required.
“The reality is that African American history is American history,” she said. “A required course will allow academic enrichment to take place, giving all young citizens a fuller appreciation of the American story and thus, of themselves regardless of ethnicity.”
It’s now required that the Holocaust and Armenian genocide be taught in Michigan schools thanks to a law passed last year with nearly unanimous bi-partisan support.
Gay-Dagnogo hopes her bill will follow in that legislation’s footsteps, which is co-sponsored by Jeremy Moss, another Democrat state representative from Southfield.
She said there’s a pressing need for more African American history following neo-Nazi march in Virginia this August.
“We’re not talking about creating an all new class,” said Gay-Dagnogo, who believes teachers can find creative ways like Stewart’s music class to engage students with the history.
“There’s so much at our fingertips with respect to content on websites, visiting museums throughout the world without them leaving the classroom,” Gay-Dagnogo said.
“You don’t even need to rely on textbooks, there is so much that can be done to get a history beyond what you get during African American history month.”
Gay-Dagnogo says the history can be taught across the curriculum, included in other classes like art, science and literature. “Teachers are creative if they’re given the content, given the flexibility to incorporate it, she said.”
Gay-Dagnogo hopes to create a council that can work with the Michigan Department of Education to establish some guidelines in how to teach African American history.
“It’s very important we incorporate African American history beyond civil rights and reconstruction, etcetera, so there is an appreciation for the contributions that African Americans have made for our country and our economy.”