Heritage months are devoted to celebrating groups who have been underrepresented throughout history. For example, February is Black History Month and March is Women’s History Month in the United States. These two annual events acknowledge the struggles that African Americans and women have endured – and continue to endure – due to inequality.
But while the idea that these two groups should be celebrated is good, their influence and insight should not be whittled down into one month out of the year. As Emily Chiariello, author of “Teaching Tolerance,” unapologetically states, “While everyone from administrators to advertisers are promoting Black History Month contests and Women’s History Month programming, you find yourself annoyed by this co-optation of content that you take seriously all year long.”
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Acknowledging Others’ Struggles Should Happen All Year, Not Just During Heritage Months
How do we as a society move from the mindset that women and African Americans should be acknowledged 12 months out of the year instead of just one? First, let’s appreciate that these months exist and that during these months, educators especially try to make sure women’s and Black history is foremost in our minds.
This education happens through videos, books, programs and history lessons. All of these educational formats can be used to educate people who have no idea of the discrimination these two groups have faced and who need a reminder of the diverseness of this country.
Along with educators, heritage months are also the time that civil organizations put into motion protests, demonstrations, speeches, and other forms of enlightenment to highlight gender injustice and racial inequality. Second, we should realize that the celebrations and lessons that occur during these heritage months are not to be tossed aside and stopped.
Unfortunately, the reality is that when April arrives, most of what we learn about discrimination and unequal treatment is thrust to the back of our minds. Chiariello refers to this change of mindset as the “heroes and holidays” approach. Chiariello notes that according to research conducted by University of Washington professor James Banks and Peggy McIntosh, “the reductionist and trivializing messages students receive from heroes and holidays lessons [are placed] near the bottom of a pedagogical food chain.”
So how can the conversations that occur in regard to African American history and women’s history during February and March continue into the other 10 months of the year so that the true impact of these groups is not lost?
Chiariello says that it’s important not to scoff or disrespect the effort that is put into Black History Month and Women’s History Month. She advises, “Try to be patient and non-judgmental. Acknowledge their attempts and then share the scholarship about multicultural and anti-racist education.”
Educators have a lot to teach the kids in their classroom, certainly. But the presence of African Americans and women throughout history can easily be brought into a class discussion, whether it involves history, politics, people of influence, athletes, or any other of the myriad subjects taught to students each day.
In fact, Chiariello provides a few examples of people who should be a part of the classroom curriculum. African Americans and women need to stop being studied as a group of their own, but taught alongside the rest of history.
When teaching social studies, for instance, educators could bring up Jackie Robinson and Jesse Owens – not just their athletic feats but also what was occurring in history during that specific time of fame. In regards to science, Mae Jemison should be taught in biology classes, while Lewis Latimer and Granville Woods should be studied in relation to electricity.
Similarly, English classes could also have African Americans and women integrated into the curriculum. For instance, there are writers such as Zora Neale Hurston and Frederick Douglass, plus countless other authors who are less well-known to the general public.
Another step in the right direction is to ask the right kind of questions. Instead of targeting specific people, the questions could focus on an entire group of people and their effect on society and history. Such questions could include:
- When thinking of women’s influence throughout history, how has this influence changed our society, politics and home life?
- How have the actions of women and those that support them changed the way women are viewed today?
Make sure students and teachers alike are looking at the bigger picture. Ideally, education should not just be about the contributions of one individual whose impact may be lost on a worksheet, bubble map or quick essay that checkmarks the box labeled “Diverse Curriculum.”
Though Chiariello’s insights speak more toward educators, society can use her advice to start conversation and spark intellectual debates about heritage months and true diversity in education. Chiariello says it best when she advises, “The conversations we have in February and March will shape the ones we’re having in April and beyond. Seize the opportunity—don’t be silent.”
About the Author
Dr. Parker currently serves as the Department Chair, Supply Chain Management, Contracting and Acquisition (SCA) within the School of Business. He serves as an adjunct faculty for various universities around the world. Dr. Parker is a native of Temple, Texas, a certified Inspector General by the Association of Inspector Generals, and a proud member of professional organizations advancing knowledge and professionalism, such as the Association of Supply Chain Management and the National Naval Officers Association.
Dr. Parker is a published author, inspirational speaker, consummate entrepreneur, and consultant who speaks worldwide on diversity, inclusion, and leadership. He holds a Ph.D. in organization and management from Capella University, a MBA from Liberty University, and a B.A. in history from Wittenberg University. Dr. Parker has a long history of passion and interest in local communities and is a proud member of Kappa Alpha Psi Fraternity, Inc. Learn more about Dr. Parker by visiting Dr. Larry D. Parker Jr. Inspires.