Group: Black history must be taught


Published: Thursday, March 1, 2007 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, February 28, 2007 at 3:57 p.m.
The local chapter of a national organization plans to form a committee to make sure Alachua County schools take greater strides toward infusing the history of blacks and Africans into the education curriculum.
Critical Resistance, a grassroots organization, sponsored the forum Saturday that dealt with ''The Miseducation of the Negro.'' Critical Resistance seeks to raise awareness of those impacted by what the group calls the prison industrial complex, a system whereby government and private interests use prisons, policing and surveillance as a solution to social, political and economic problems.
The meeting, attended by several dozen people, focused on the teaching of African-American and African history in Alachua County's public schools and was held in the auditorium of the A. Quinn Jones Center, the original location of all-black Lincoln High School.
The forum began with local storyteller Vivian Filer, who served as the moderator of the event, telling a story that she said she did not get out of a book, but learned from an older person orally about the importance of passing on knowledge and respect. The title of the story was, "Bring Dat College Home."
Filer, who graduated from "old Lincoln High School," said she remembered when Mary McLeod Bethune, the founder of what is now Bethune-Cookman University, sat on the stage of the auditorium and "told us she wanted us to be somebody."
Filer told a story about when her son came home from college after his first semester at Florida A&M University in Tallahassee. She said he told her going to FAMU was the best thing that ever happened to him. She also said that blacks today don't know their history like they ought to.
Agnes Leslie, a lecturer in the African Studies program at the University of Florida, said people need to do more to make sure Africa is taught in the schools.
Leslie said there is a lot of reluctance to teach about Africa in American schools. She said that while she was at a workshop in Sarasota, she asked a teacher to use a particular resource guide to teach her students about Africa. She said the teacher told her that she doesn't teach about Africa in her classroom.
"We have to push for the teaching of African and African-American history beyond the month of February," Leslie said.
Leslie said UF has sponsored workshops where teachers can learn how to teach African history. She said teachers who have attended some of those workshops have put together a guide.
Kenny Watkins, an eighth-grade reading teacher at Lincoln Middle School, said there is not enough true history being taught in the school system. Watkins said he taught at a local high school for a while, and was the first person to teach African-American history at the school.
He said he had to do a lot of reading and research in order to properly teach the class.
"Teachers need to learn, too," said Watkins, adding that in order to teach something, you must know something. He said when he was a high school student, he didn't learn about Martin Luther King Jr. or Malcolm X in a textbook. He said he understands the importance of black students learning about their history.
"I teach history through reading," said Watkins, adding that he follows the guidelines he is supposed to follow to make sure his students are learning what they are supposed to learn. "I also teach our kids our history. They need to know their culture is beautiful."f-z Dr. Patricia Hilliard-Nunn, also in attendance at the forum, said the concept of greater infusion of African and African-American history into the school system's curriculum is not new.
"I'm proud that Critical Resistance is holding this forum," said Nunn, who along with others in the community have long advocated for more inclusion of African and African-American history into the school system's overall curriculum. She said it is important for parents and teachers to pick up books and read them. She said though sometimes people in power might feel intimidated when someone suggests they might have missed something, it is imperative for people to stay the course.f-z She said a lot of educators are stuck on the idea that African-American history begins with slavery. She said that is nonsense, and that students need to be taught about the history of where African Americans come from. She said African history is just as rich, if not richer, than any other history, and is worthy of being taught just as much as European history, or any other history.
She made her point by emphasizing the history of blacks right here in Alachua County. She talked about the contributions of blacks in this area that nobody knows about. She said that teachers teach to the FCAT, and added that that is a shame.
Nunn said if the FCAT was really meant to be useful, it would be administered at the beginning of the school year and teachers would use the results to teach children what they didn't know, instead of penalizing them.
Eileen Roy, a member of the Alachua County School Board with more than 30 years of teaching experience, said when she was a classroom teacher, she took teaching black history seriously.
"We taught the speech by Sojourner Truth, 'Ain't I a Woman,' ''said Roy, adding that a lot is taught about African-American history in Alachua County schools. However, she admitted, not much is taught about pre-slavery history.
Robert Horton, projects coordinator for Critical Resistance's southern region, said a lot of attention must be paid to the recent history of blacks. He said there is a direct correlation with the onset of the crack epidemic in the black community in relation to lower academic achievement and higher incarceration rates.
"Mothers and fathers who used to be going to work and taking care of their families are now smoking that s___," he said. Horton said that it is important for blacks to keep it real and to look at things as they are today. "We must examine the last 20 years and look at how corporations are using prison labor," he said. "Cheap labor, plus mass production, equals maximum profits."f-z Angelique Nixon, the head of the local chapter of Critical Resistance, said the purpose of the meeting was to show the correlation between low education status and the prison system.
"Florida is intent on tracking people of color into the prison system, and we intend to come up with a plan to combat that," she said.
The local chapter meets every second and fourth Wednesday in Room 125 at the Santa Fe Community College Blount Center.
For more information, call (352) 792-1032, visit www.criticalresistance.org, or send an e-mail to crfl@criticalresitance.org.

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