Delaware teachers, others work to create Black History curriculum

Jarek Rutz Education, Headlines

Frederick Douglass, Rosa Parks posing for a photo

When state schools start using a Black history curriculum in the 2022-23 academic year, it won’t entail having classes focus solely on that subject for a week or weeks-long series of classes.

Instead, elements of Black history will be spread out through grades and course material.

For example, two teachers told the Brandywine School District Monday night, kindergarten through third grade will take a multidisciplinary approach through English language arts, the visual and performing arts, and social studies.

Grades four through 12 will draw upon the Delaware recommended curriculum that is currently being written, with Black history integrated into courses such as history, civics, government and economics. 

What will be taught when is being discussed by panels of teachers, their state Social Studies Coalition and Department of Education experts who are helping the schools find resources, including some through the Delaware State University and the University of Delaware.

a woman smiling for the camera

Rep. Sherry Dorsey Walker

 At the elementary level, districts of Delaware are forming an Elementary Black History Education Committee. 

At the high school level, districts will work internally to find the best places to integrate Black history into their courses. 

The focus on Black history stems from a new law signed into law in June 2021.

That law, House Bill 198, requires K-12 public and charter schools to create a curriculum that includes contributions Black individuals have made to American society, culture, art, economics and politics. It is to go into effect in the fall.

Sponsor Sherry Dorsey Walker, D-Wilmington, and members of the Delaware General Assembly’s Black Caucus wanted children to learn about “real history,” she said in an interview with Delaware LIVE. 

“Students reached out from the Delaware Black Student Union and said that they do not see themselves reflected in the classroom or any of the classroom’s lessons,” she said. “That’s when it really started burning inside of me that we need to do something for all students to have an understanding of Black history.”

Walker says she wants the curriculum to “create dialogue, help people gain a better understanding of one another, and help those who are in positions of power understand that the system has never been in favor of Black people.”

The state is following a similar path to create a curriculum including the history of the Holocaust. That is required by House Bill 318, sponsored by Rep. Deb Heffernan, D-Bellefonte. It, for example, may include part of the history in World War II classes, and part of the history in English classes, studying material such as “The Diary of Anne Frank.”

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Two Brandywine teachers outlined how the district is handling getting ready to teach more Black history, including planning days for teachers.

Monica Gant, chief academic officer of Delaware’s Department of Education, said the new Black history curriculum is intended to be “culturally responsive.”

“We define cultural responsiveness as intentionally acknowledging and valuing the diversity, contributions and experiences of every educator and learner by providing opportunities for individuals to see themselves and others in their learning, which will lead to academic achievement, cultural competence and socio-political consciousness,” Gant said. 

The state’s role in implementing the new legislation includes identifying resources that schools can use to teach Black history. 

To set a new curriculum, the state first determines exactly what the standards are, what the legislation requires, and what specifically the Department of Education can do to help schools get to that point. The DOE then creates a public list of resources for schools.

In this case, that includes the teachers’ Social Studies Coalition of Delaware, the University of Delaware and Delaware State University. All are compiling resources that best satisfy the new curriculum.

The Department of Education also has contracted the NYU Metro Center, an organization that researches and analyzes the best ways to transform schools to promote equity and justice in their teaching.

The state won’t be handing out books or other materials.

“We don’t typically procure resources,” Gant said. “That’s something that a district and charter usually does with their board. They purchase. They go to a vendor and they purchase a product.”

Schools will be required, requiring them to submit a written report to the governor and the members of the General Assembly no later than Jan.15 of each year. 

The report must detail the educational programming that is occurring and how the curriculum was implemented by each school district and charter. 

“Our partners are used to having legislation that requires them to submit reports by a certain deadline,” said Gant. 

While the state has the requirements and expectations laid out, the Department of Education’s main role is supporting and assisting the schools to help them fulfill the obligations of HB198. 

Student and faculty feedback will be the primary metric in determining the success of HB198, Gant said.

“It is really important for us to do listening sessions with students and get their perspective on their experience,” Gant said, “because no matter how we build it, if it doesn’t resonate with them, if it doesn’t reach them, that helps us find out what we need to do differently.”

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