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Delaware moves to reshape Black history education

Delaware Public Media

Seven months ago, Gov. John Carney signed into law a bill requiring Delaware schools to teach Black History.

It will transform the way African American history is taught - and learned.

During this Black History Month, Contributor Mark Fowser looks at who is developing this curriculum, what may be taught, and how possible objections would be handled.

Contributor Mark Fowser reports on Delaware's work to build new Black history curriculum for schools

Black History Month 2022 falls about seven months after Gov. John Carney signed legislation that will require Black History to be taught in Delaware schools.

It was an idea, according to the sponsors of House Bill 198, that came from the very people the new curriculum is designed to benefit: young African Americans, who felt the history they were learning didn't really relate to them, and that history they cared about was shoehorned into the shortest months of the year.

Delaware Public Media
Gov. Carney signs HB 198 in June 2021

"I think that is the one piece that resonates with me most, that as we listened to our students, many times they shared that they did not see themselves in the curriculum," Delaware Department of Education Academic Support Team Associate Secretary Monica Gant said. "Here is an opportunity for us to get that right, and to provide them with that opportunity to be able to experience the curriculum and see themselves in it - as windows and mirrors, they can see others but they can also see themselves."

To help Delaware school districts and charter schools meet the requirement that Black History be taught across different subject areas in kindergarten through 12th grade, the Delaware Department of Education, academic institutions and various community organizations are providing input and guidance.

"198 to me is us, as a state, finally saying we are going to effectively and accurately teach our true history," Delaware Secretary of Education Mark Holodick said.

DOE is working through the Delaware Social Studies Coalition, as well as the NYU Metro Center, also known as the Center for Research on Equity and the Transformation of Schools - "this is what they do, look at culturally responsive education and how we can make sure that the curriculum and the resources that we curate as required in the legislation, how those meet the standards of cultural responsiveness," according to Gant.

"198 to me is us, as a state, finally saying we are going to effectively and accurately teach our true history."
Delaware Secretary of Education Mark Holodick

Delaware will also examine what is happening in other states.

Meanwhile, a team led by Delaware State University is looking specifically at Black History curriculum for 8th and 11th grade, utiling a two-year, $230,000 grant.

"8th-graders, in my view, are ideally situated and are at that learning level where they can move from simply learning content, like what happened in what year and what people were involved, to now looking at things like historical interpretation," DSU History Associate Professor Niklas Robinson said.

Also, recognizing that they are working with the students of today, Robinson says the DSU-developed component of Black History curriculum is looking at the opportunity to include visuals, perhaps podcasts, and considering the ways that students absorb information.

House Bill 198 did not pass unanimously last year, and at about the time it was becoming law the debate over Critical Race Theory was intensifying. It's a debate Robinson says was launched as a talking point, to try to scare people away from having frank and conscious discussions about race. Also, according to Robinson, CRT is an academic theory mainly talked about at the graduate school level and developing Delaware's Black History curriculum has nothing to do with CRT.

State Rep. Sherry Dorsey Walker
State of Delaware
State Rep. Sherry Dorsey Walker

According to the bill's House sponsor, State Rep. Sherry Dorsey Walker (D-Wilmington), Black History can be incorporated into a variety of subject areas by highlighting accomplished African Americans in science (Katherine Johnson, one of the first Black women at NASA), math (Benjamin Banneker, a land surveyor who took part in establishing the borders of the District of Columbia), as well as innovation and invention (Garrett A. Morgan, for whom we can thank the traffic light).

"These are things that it's important for our children to learn the true history - all children to learn the true history - so that we have a better understanding of one another's culture and our contributions to society."

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