Posted on December 3, 2004

Black History: A Yearlong Lesson

Tarron Lively, Washington Times, Dec. 2

Lessons about inventor George Washington Carver or slave rebellion leader Nat Turner no longer will be relegated to the 28 days of February — or to black history classes — in Maryland public schools, but will shape the foundation of an expansive new curriculum.

Students will learn about blacks’ contributions to society in a variety of classes — such as science, music, language arts and American history — in a new, year-round curriculum called “An African American Journey,” state school officials said yesterday.

For example, the lives of jazz and blues artists Duke Ellington, Bessie Smith and Louis Armstrong will be featured in music classes, in which students will compose their own blues songs.

“Indeed, the challenge was quite awesome, but it’s the very first time in the nation’s history such a program has been implemented,” said Charles Christian, a University of Maryland professor who led the committee that wrote the curriculum. “It’s significant, and Maryland will become a model for other states throughout the country.”

State schools Superintendent Nancy S. Grasmick said the 41-lesson program — which deals with work, family, community, arts and enlightenment of black culture — is a multiyear, multicourse study of black history from the Colonial period to the present.

Teachers in 118 public elementary and middle schools already have begun instructing students about the experiences and accomplishments of black Americans.

Next fall, the curriculum will be implemented in all state elementary and middle schools, along with a pilot program for high-school students.

“It’s very exciting,” Mrs. Grasmick said. “It’s an unprecedented initiative that provides children with information that has been missing in their curriculums. It will expose the children to the contributions and cultures of African-Americans, specifically focusing on Maryland.

“It will not be just on the more famous figures, but also, for instance, the watermen on the Eastern Shore or Eubie Blake, the ragtime composer from Baltimore.”

The new program resulted from a partnership between the state education department and the Reginald F. Lewis Museum of Maryland AfricanAmerican History and Culture, which is set to open next year in Baltimore.

Mr. Christian said the curriculum is important for all students.

“Our children — not only African-Americans but all races — must understand and appreciate African-American culture as an integral part of American history, in particular the contributions made,” he said.

The curriculum “will help break down racial barriers as well as help African-American children close the gap between them and their white peers,” Mr. Christian said.

Mrs. Grasmick echoed Mr. Christian on the curriculum’s importance.

“It is absolutely essential that all our children understand and respect the many contributions made by African-Americans in this country’s history,” she said.

Mrs. Grasmick and museum Chairman George L. Russell Jr. were the driving forces behind the partnership.

“The program will help develop much greater self-esteem in our African-American students, as well as improve race relations,” she said.

School officials tomorrow will conduct a presentation on the curriculum at the Treetops Conference Center in Landover, featuring musical performances by students and a viewing of their work related to the lessons.

The museum, on Baltimore’s Inner Harbor, will be a collection of historic contributions of blacks in Maryland, dating to the state’s earliest history.

A task force of educators, historians and museum staff wrote the curriculum, mirroring the museum’s themes and materials. Funding for the program was raised privately through the museum, Mrs. Grasmick said.

Mr. Christian said the results have been “outstanding. The teachers have said, ‘We’ve learned so much.’ They also say they can’t imagine why [such a curriculum] hasn’t been done before this, and that this is going to help the students.”

Nationally recognized historians have reviewed the curriculum for accuracy, Mrs. Grasmick said.