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Thursday, July 31, 2003

Teaching black history


Education is colorblind

An educational controversy erupted at Northern Ohio's Oberlin High School last week that shows the persistence of racial stereotypes even when teaching about the history and problems of race.

Because of a scheduling conflict, a black teacher who normally taught a class on black history was going to be transferred. Some Oberlin parents objected when it was suggested that a white teacher would teach the class this coming school year. The critics claimed the move would send the wrong message to students and many pledged to fight the white teacher's appointment.

What message were they talking about? That some people aren't qualified to teach because of their race?

The logic that a white teacher cannot be qualified to teach a course in African-American studies is as flawed, and as offensive, as saying a black teacher is not qualified to teach European studies. If a teacher is qualified, well trained and can communicate passion for the subject to students, he or she ought to be allowed to teach it - regardless of race.

Oberlin dealt with the controversy by reworking the teachers' schedules and putting the African-American teacher back in the affected class. We think a better solution might have been to follow the example of Cincinnati Public Schools, where African-American studies are integrated with the study of history in grades K-8. And history is taught by qualified history teachers. Several CPS high schools also offer African-American studies as electives. CPS does not use race to determine who is more or less qualified to teach courses. Teachers of different races teach these classes.

The fact that race became an issue in the teaching of African-American history is ironic. One of the purposes of the subject itself is to promote better understanding between the races.

The history of African-Americans in this country is complex. It involves enslavement and the challenges of combating racism, as well as the many contributions African-Americans have made to society.

It is incumbent upon all of us to recognize that history and gain a better understanding of it.



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