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How to Teach Comprehensive Black History

It’s not just about the struggles

Teaching Black history requires moving beyond a monolithic narrative.

To understand the full story, according to Lecturer Eric Soto-Shed, a faculty member in the Teaching and Teacher Leadership Program, educators need to incorporate competing ideologies, the importance of joy, and more into their curriculum to meaningfully teach the experiences of Black people in America.

First, teaching Black history should exist year-round — during Black History Month and beyond.

“Center Black history in all of your American history courses,” he says. “Black stories offer insight into the story of American progress, the story of American oppression, cultural achievements, political advancements, etc.” 

Soto-Shed, a faculty member in the Teaching and Teacher Leadership Program, has researched new approaches to civics learning and cites the achievements of leaders like Shirley Chisholm, the first Black woman to be elected to Congress and to be a presidential candidate, and Ida B. Wells, journalist and co-founder of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), as examples of those who worked inside and outside of their systems to create social change.

“Both are examples of two different ways to go about improving life for Black people, and this points to the idea that we need to look at different examples, different perspectives, and different ways of going about things when we’re looking at Black history,” he says.

A comprehensive curriculum should also include a balance between the study of oppression and resistance, but also of joy, according to Soto-Shed. The study of oppression, he notes, is a key part of Black history, but  adding resistance can put a focus on Black agency and the inspiring ways that people fought against oppression. Black history also shouldn’t just be centered on struggle, and adding joyful experiences and narratives adds to the full story of humanity for Black people. 

Lastly, to better understand Black emotionality and experiences in America, Soto-Shed also recommends the Teaching Black History Framework by LaGarrett King, an associate professor in the Graduate School of Education at the University at Buffalo. The framework outlines eight principles that educators can use in their curriculum to meaningfully teach different areas of Black history.

Soto-Shed says he hopes that these tips can help educators develop Black history curriculum in a meaningful way. “This should really be a year-long endeavor, in fact a lifelong endeavor of learning, reflection, and growth,” he says.

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