man in front of african american heritage corridor.

As politicians try to gain control over certain aspects of public education, UB’s Center for K-12 Black History and Racial Literacy Education, headed by LaGarrett King, continues to provide resources for the teaching and learning of Black history. Photo: Meredith Forrest Kulwicki

By Vicky Santos, originally published in UBNow

Published: May 15, 2023

"We should not think about the curriculum as just a curriculum. We should be thinking of it in terms of a citizenship education."
LaGarrett King, founder and director
Center for K-12 Black History and Racial Literacy Education

Issues of education are being brought to the national stage by politicians who are trying to limit and censor the ways Black history is taught in schools. From dictating language to avoid — words such as “diversity” — to banning books, educators are walking a tightrope trying to stay on top of it all while still giving their students a complete picture of American and Black histories. 

Despite these challenges, a new EdWeek Research Center survey reveals that a slight majority of educators are committed to finding ways to teach Black history, regardless of their state’s mandates and other obstacles. According to the article, teachers cited time constraints and lack of state requirements as challenges to teaching Black history.

LaGarrett King, founder and director of UB’s Center for K-12 Black History and Racial Literacy Education in the Graduate School of Education, says vocabulary and issues are limited when it comes to teaching Black history.

“Those topics usually center on slavery, Reconstruction and the Civil Rights Movement,” King says.

He says it’s important to note that Black history is not just simply about racial history; Black history and racial history are linked and salient concepts of Black history emerge through racial history.

“Black history is more than that. It is about exploring Black humanity, culture and traditions,” he says.

That is what King has tried to accomplish through his Black history framework and Black historical consciousness principlesDownload pdf, which were developed to challenge learners to use the actual experiences and voices of Black people to understand their history.

“Does racial/racist histories emerge through those experiences? Yes, but if we pay close attention to these voices, so much knowledge about who Black people are shines through,” he says.  

According to King, only 12 states currently have Black history mandates. Perhaps more surprising than this number, he says, is the weakness of their implementation.

“We have found that many of the mandates are superficial, with no authority or accountability,” he explains.

So, what can be done to offset the anti-Black history rhetoric and loose implementation of mandates? This is where the Center for K-12 Black History and Racial Literacy Education plays a crucial and proactive role.

The center’s mission is centered around investigating and providing solutions for more effective education around Black history and race, including teacher professional development and community learning labs.

“What we are trying to do at the center is to create a micro-credential in teaching Black history. The most important person in this endeavor is the teacher,” King says.” Most of these states do not provide education around Black history education. The micro-credential is supposed to fill that void.”

He notes the Center for K-12 Black History and Racial Literacy will present courses that are specifically geared toward teaching Black history, as well as professional development throughout the year, through Black History Nerds Saturday School sessions, book clubs and the annual Teaching Black History Conference. King hopes these resources will help educate teachers and the public about the most effective instructional approaches.

The Teaching Black History Conference is a three-day event hosted each summer at the center for teachers to share effective curriculum and instructional strategies for teaching Black history. The conference is just one of many professional development activities, with similar educational events held each month.

“The center also serves as a networking site for engaging and collaborating with other people and organizations in helping promote Black history and racial literacy,” King says. “Our goal is to connect with like-minded individuals and organizations to combine resources to advance our goals of understanding Black history and race within K-12 curriculum, pedagogy, policy and its psychological and sociological influences.”

King’s mission is to advocate for Black history and racial literacy education. The center seeks to help teachers and other educational entities expand opportunities to learn about crucial concepts related to Black history and race — concepts­ some lawmakers are fiercely trying to suppress.

“When you truly teach through Black history or expose how systemic racism has influenced a racialized community, that narrative becomes messy. We are a historically immature society and seemingly cannot handle complexity and nuance,” King says. 

He says there are some advantages to living in the U.S., but there are some “messed up things that have happened and continue to happen,” which should be highlighted just as much.

“We should be able to understand that everything is not Black and white. There is a lot of gray and it is OK to not see the U.S. as perfect,” King says. “I think students will appreciate that more.” 

King says students are more intelligent than certain lawmakers think they are. “My children have picked up on many complex things happening in the world, including racism and injustice,” he says.

He says power and control are what’s really driving these new — and ongoing — attempts to limit exposure to a Black history education.

“It is about attempting to control students’ thinking and their exposure. By doing that, we are putting all of our children at a disadvantage, and we continue to hurt our so-called democracy,” King says. “We should not think about the curriculum as just a curriculum. We should be thinking of it in terms of a citizenship education.”

“We do not live in a monocultural or monolingual world, so these children who will become decision-makers in the near future need to understand a society that not only includes persons that look like them. If we can teach about all folks, our country will become a better place.”

In addition to the numerous professional development opportunities the center offers — such as Black History Nerds Saturday School, the Teaching Black History Conference and the micro-credential option — the center is also compiling a library/resource list of picture books that educators can use to teach Black history in elementary schools. This project is led by graduate student Dawnavyn James, who is working with King at the center and is focusing the books on King’s Black historical consciousness principlesDownload pdf.

“While I was teaching kindergarten, I felt it important that my students were exposed to as many Black histories as possible — not just those of enslavement and the Civil Rights Movement, though both of those Black histories are important for students to learn about in depth,” James says.

James explains that there are at least 15 picture books per principle, and as they receive and read more books, they will continue to add to those lists.

“I see these books being used as read-aloud resources for teachers to use for planning or adding to a narrative, and even as a resource for students to use for research,” James says. “I want these lists to be used by educators in their early childhood and elementary classrooms as they build their libraries, expand children’s Black history knowledge and purchase quality books that center Black histories.”

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10. Reduced Ineqaulities

16. Peace, Justice and Strong Institutions