Week 1: Diversifying Our Bookshelves
In honor of Black History Month, we are reflecting on what is missing from our understanding of U.S. history. We are challenging ourselves to dig a bit deeper into an important topic related to Black history each week this month, and we hope you will join us. Each week will serve as a jumping-off point for a new topic starting today.
Let’s consider who gets to tell their story and how that affects the narrative we learn in the United States. One step toward broadening our knowledge is diversifying our bookshelf. This means taking the time to select fiction and nonfiction books that are told from the Black perspective, whether you’re choosing a book for your class to read or adding it to your own bookshelf. The overwhelmingly White publishing industry often neglects to publish and market literature and historical texts by Black authors. The intention required to ensure that a family’s reading list is diverse is all too familiar to many Black parents. N'dea Yancey-Bragg attributes her historical and cultural knowledge to her mother’s personal bookshelves, which were packed with Black authors.
Why we need to commit to doing this
Few of these books make it into the school curriculum. The evidence shows that we need a more diverse approach to history and that both students and teachers would benefit from support. A summary of the 2017 report from the Southern Poverty Law Center, entitled Teaching Hard History: American Slavery, states that:
Only 8 percent of high school seniors surveyed could identify slavery as the central cause of the Civil War. Most didn’t know an amendment to the U.S. Constitution formally ended slavery. Fewer than half (44 percent) correctly answered that slavery was legal in all colonies during the American Revolution.
While nearly all teachers (97 percent) surveyed agreed that teaching and learning about slavery are essential to understanding American history, there was a lack of deep coverage of the subject in the classroom, according to the report. More than half (58 percent) reported that they were dissatisfied with their textbooks, and 39 percent reported that their state offered little or no support for teaching about slavery.
We should advocate for change in our schools, but we can also make changes at home that ripple out into our community.
To start this journey, we are making more conscious and diverse choices in what we read, starting with The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison. We will be leading a discussion on March 7 at 2PM, RSVP to the event here. This is an event geared for 16 and up, as the novel deals with mature themes. 2020 marked the 50th anniversary of the release of The Bluest Eye, one of the great works of American literature. The novel deals with themes of race, belonging, and beauty standards and continues to resonate deeply with generations of Americans.
Please consider joining us tomorrow night, February 2nd at 7pm, for The Impact Of History Untold, where a panel of Black students, parents, and educators will be discussing what happens when Black history is not integrated into the school curriculum. Register for this event here. You can also support our effort to increase diversity on the bookshelves of Sharon Public Schools here.
Looking for another way to reflect? Attend Boston Globe’s Black History Month [Virtual] Film Festival or choose from the Boston Globe's selection of Black History Month events.