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Debate over race threatens to stifle Black History Month lessons

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Posted at 8:44 PM, Feb 07, 2022
and last updated 2022-02-08 08:47:45-05

COLORADO SPRINGS — As we celebrate Black History Month, some teachers are feeling the pressure as the debate over how race is taught in schools continues.

The holiday comes this year with increased controversy over the history of race in the United States.

"Public education and curriculum have been very politicized based on elections and that is concerning. Teachers should not feel the pressure that they're going to be scrutinized for what the state standards say to teach," said Naomi Lopez, Colorado Springs School District 11 parent, and Neighbors for Education.

Lopez just wants her Black/Hispanic/Indigenous daughter to learn about her heritage.

"She was recently learning about the Indigenous tribes of this area and the Colorado history. She chose Apache which is the nation that we come from and it was interesting to hear about herself in the third person like we use to exist a type of thing. I think it's important for her and her self-esteem to know that her voice is important and that she can see herself represented in history," said Lopez.

She's a part of a grassroots organization, Neighbors for Education, that's been educating the community about the revisions to the social studies standards.

"We wanted to make sure we were reviewing what the state was suggesting. Once we saw that, we were pleased to see they were including equity and inclusion in their social studies standards. I know there have been some voices about including those things because of fear and information of Critical Race Theory but that is not the case. It is imperative that students can see their history appropriately displayed in the curriculum and not just dismissed," said Lopez.

"Black History is so important, and it's not talked about enough. Being that we did have the Black Lives Matter stuff going on, it's way more important than it was before," said Jennifer Smith, Co-Founder and Executive Director of OneBody ENT.

Smith is another parent who wants to see more Black History taught in schools. She's made it a focus of her non-profit organization OneBody ENT to educate children in the community.

"We do our Colorado History Program that talks about the history of Colorado Springs, but they're Black people. We let the kids interact with and become those people like Tony Exum Sr. and June Waller. We've had different people in the community that are portrayed by the children," said Smith. "Having a Black History program of this caliber brings the community together to learn and it's multi-cultural so it's not just Black people."

Her organization has been asked to perform at the Pikes Peak Museum and James Madison Charter School as part of Black History Month.

"We're having the kids do a sneak peek to show how the program works. It's called promotion participation so the participants that are in it are going to do a little promotion about the program" said Smith.

Educators say this Black History Month is going to be different for some of them as they deal with restrictions on diversity education.

"Nationwide this is a conversation that's been going on in a number of states as they've passed legislation to restrict so-called divisive concepts. Topics that some people feel should not be taught inside a classroom or limited in scope with how they're taught. Critical Race Theory is something that's been discussed, and even though we do talk about race in our classrooms, we don't teach the notion of Critical Race Theory which is really steeped in law more than the pedagogy of K-12 classrooms," said Anton Schulzki, Palmer High School Social Studies Teacher and President of the National Council for Social Studies.

Schulzki says some may continue Black History Month lessons as normal, but others may be worried or uncertain about the implications of teaching Black History.

"I know there are some teachers across the country who may step aside and not address some of these issues. Honestly, that's bad education and in the end, it's our students who are not going to get a full education," said Schulzki. "Some teachers may bring it up and the reality of what's going on out there and help frame the conversation. The best teachers will ask their students to find out more about what's going on and actually have the students do a little inquiry and research."

"Even though people worry about the color of skin, that's not what it's about. It's about what really happened, and what are we doing now. Where are we at right now? How do we make sure everyone is on the same page," said Smith.

"It is imperative to not only teach about the struggles of African Americans or Indigenous peoples in this country but celebrate their accomplishments and contributions to society," said Lopez.

For more information about how to get involved with Neighbors for Education email neighborsforeducation@gmail.com.

Anyone interested in OneBody ENT's Black History Program can visit their website. Their next performance is on Feb 26. at 4 p.m. hosted by Dr. Regina Lewis at StoryChurch (2520 Airport Rd).