In honor of Black History Month, a series of articles were published in The Harvard Gazette. These articles take a hard look at inequality in the educational system. It is important to notice that 90 years ago, Dr. Carter G. Woodson, a distinguished scholar and historian from Harvard University, was interested in a particular aspect of inequality when he founded Negro History Week — the precursor to Black History Month — ninety years ago. As Mirian Wright Edelman writes in Huffpost Politics, Dr. Woodson was especially concerned about the “mis-education” of Black children from their earliest ages — “The thought of the inferiority of the Negro is drilled into him in almost every class he enters and in almost every book he studies” — and the cumulative effects it could have:
“When you control a man’s thinking you do not have to worry about his actions. You do not have to tell him not to stand here or go yonder. He will find his ‘proper place’ and will stay in it. You do not need to send him to the back door. He will go without being told. In fact, if there is no back door, he will cut one for his special benefit. His education makes it necessary.”
In an article titled “America’s Back Door,” Edelman points out that Dr. Woodson believed teaching children about Black history and Black accomplishments was a crucial corrective step. We now understand the wisdom behind teaching not just Black children but all children Black history just as we make sure all of our American stories are being told as we prepare our next generations for our multicultural nation and world. Although Black History Month is over, every month should be Black and Native American and Latino and Asian American and women’s and non-propertied men’s history month.
Black History Month has helped infuse more multicultural attention in American education, but there is still a big struggle ahead to ensure children are taught the truth in schools in every subject including history, geography and literature. Amisleading McGraw-Hill geography textbook called American slaves “workers from Africa” and the evil slave trade just one of many “patterns of immigration.” We must vigilantly monitor and challenge false history, geography and literature that sugarcoats and mischaracterizes the horrors of slavery, lynchings and institutional racism. As scholars watch American inequality’s continual rise, Black children and other children of color remain disproportionately at risk of inferior status, discrimination and racial disparities in measure after measure. We must challenge anyone training any of our children to go around to the back door — yet too often we are still leaving some children outside it. This must stop.
We should remember that for so many Black children and youths each day in America, there is too little to celebrate:
Every day in America. We can and must do better and combat systemic, cultural, economic, and educational inequality — hidden and overt. There is no more urgent problem in America than inequality and its many progeny manifested in our education, health, and criminal justice systems and in all aspects of American life. This is the time to face the truth and to do something about our divided nation. We must all change the odds stacked against poor and non-White children so that every child in America has an equal opportunity to achieve and succeed.
Note: This article could be read here: America’s Back Door