Sit. Be quiet. Follow the instructions.
Brandon Brown followed these rules when he started teaching, seeking order in a classroom he was all too used to growing up. But he soon realized that it wasn’t working for his students and they were just regurgitating what he told them. So he decided to get creative.
Brown, a former history teacher and vice-principal of an elementary school, is now an educational rapper who performs in the United States. He founded School Yard Rap, a California-based company that produces music about the often-untraceable historical Black, Latino, and Indigenous peoples. in traditional textbooks.
“By state standards, my students were supposed to know more about former white slave owners, but they were young black kids, and it didn’t connect,” said Brown, who released his latest album. under his stage name, “Griot B.” “This education system is completely whitewashed. But in doing what I do, I am able to introduce and refocus people of color so that students receive the full spectrum of American history.
Teachers have long sought ways to provide a comprehensive version of United States history that engages their students and includes contributions from people of color. They were reinvigorated after the 2020 police killing of George Floyd to take different approaches in the classroom that would challenge an education system that many believe does not allow for critical thinking and force a narrow worldview.
They also face increased pressure from politicians and other critics who challenge how schools address diversity and representation, including a recent push to ban critical race theory., an academic framework centered on the idea that racism is systemic in the institutions of the nation. Although there is little evidence that critical race theory itself is taught to public school students from K-12, some central ideas, such as the lingering consequences of slavery, the have been.
Teaching has evolved significantly over the past decade to focus more on critical thinking than rote memorization, said Anton Schulzki, a Colorado Springs history professor and chair of the National Council for Social Studies. Part of the change began with the implementation of Common Core, which focused on teaching students how to find and analyze sources. Instead of just learning dates and names, students learn to form arguments, find factual evidence to support their claims, and challenge and defend different viewpoints.
“We’re trying to bring students into this notion of asking questions and being able to take what they’re able to do and put this whole method of inquiry into practice,” Schulzki said. “We want them to be good citizens and to become a good citizen you ask questions and then you try to do something about it.”
Students also need to learn more about the resilience and accomplishments of marginalized communities, said John Deville, who served as an educator in Macon County, North Carolina for nearly three decades.
Teachers must show people from all walks of life that they are more than victims and are individuals with agency and power, he said.
In his class, Deville, who is white, avoids portraying individuals as “villains or plaster heroes,” and he incorporates more than European and white perspectives on historical events. In a unit on Christopher Columbus, Deville said he spent time creating a vision of the Western Hemisphere before European contact and did not diminish the violence that Native Americans were treated with.
There is no standardized curriculum in the United States; these decisions are made at the local level. As a result, parents, teachers, politicians, and other critics may voice concerns about what some see as a free-for-all allowed classroom perspective.
Morgan Dick, spokesperson for the Arizona Department of Education, said civics, which prepares students to be knowledgeable and participating members of society, is important because it allows students to s engage in “rigorous debate and civil discourse in order to develop their own opinions and learn to respect the perspectives of others.
She also said that certain topics can sometimes force people out of their comfort zone.
Last month, Arizona House Republicans approved a measure that would ask voters to amend the state constitution to ban the teaching of “critical race theory” in schools and ban preferential treatment based on on race. The state Supreme Court struck down this law because it was unconstitutionally included in the budget. In the end, the House passed a resolution, which is not binding.
For many teachers, introducing students to different perspectives is the most important part of the job.
“Every kid in America knows that 1492 Columbus sailed the blue ocean and they know all three ships, and that’s awesome,” said Katie Eddings, a social studies professor at Lee County Middle School in North Carolina. . “But do you know what his motivation was during that time?”
Eddings, whose mother is Lumbee, shows her students excerpts from Columbus’ diary and prompts them to discuss the forces that might have shaped the journeys, the resulting accomplishments, and the damage caused.
“I want you to ask questions,” she said. “I want you to be curious about why this happened and why this happened. What was the cause and effect, and is there a lasting impact now? What happened next? Is there an impact for us now? Are we better? I just want them to be thinkers.
Some students may not know the benefits that this kind of change in education will have on them until later in life.
It’s easy to ask someone to read a book, but you can’t force that person to connect with it, said Kendall Antoine, one of Brown’s alumni who challenged Brown to create his first educational rap in 2012.
Antoine, who graduated last year from Morehouse College, a historically black college, said he still learned what was assigned, but Brown presented it in a more engaging way. He added that he still remembers some of the raps from almost a decade ago.
“It’s amazing what Mr. Brown is doing. Something that started as a passion for music and history, turned into how he could relate to children to improve their education,” said Antoine.