The Liberated Learner

Last week, millions of Americans celebrated Juneteenth, commemorating the emancipation of slavery.  For so many, it is their true Liberation Day.  Back when I was in the classroom, I taught in a year that was responsible for covering US History.  The school was made up of 100% students of color.  I am ashamed to say that I don’t recall ever teaching about this important day in our history, and even more ashamed to admit that I probably did not even know about it myself.  Most likely it was not covered in the curriculum or the history textbooks that I taught from, and certainly not the ones I learned from as a child.  Seemingly, not much has changed in that most curriculums (including homeschool curriculums) related to history contain a predominately “white” narrative, with minority voices of history being silenced and forgotten. 

Ronda Darby, Unsplash

It didn’t take very long into our homeschooling journey before I realized that using a standard curriculum was not for us.  To be pigeon-holed into one particular view of what is “essential to know” about history (or any subject) would be no different than having my children sit under the teaching of an oppressive history narrative in school.  I promise you that if you begin to read through those history textbooks through the lens of a person of color, it will make you cringe. 

“History is always written by the winners. When two cultures clash, the loser is obliterated, and the winner writes the history books-books which glorify their own cause and disparage the conquered foe. As Napoleon once said, ‘What is history, but a fable agreed upon?”.

-Dan Brown, The Da Vinci Code

But here’s the thing: As homeschoolers we have the great benefit of being able to teach our children a multi-faceted narrative of history.  A more accurate, truthful, and yes, ugly-at-times narrative.  And that’s ok. The only way we will be able to live rightly in the present and make changes for our future is if we have an accurate understanding of the past.  

When you choose to take your child’s education into your own hands, it can feel like a pretty weighty responsibility, and it is.  But beneath any sense of doubt or worry should be a feeling of liberation.  We are free to learn and to teach important, relevant issues of the past that directly relate to the present.   We are free to really think and to feel- to pause and let some of these stories of our history and current events sink in and mess with our minds and hearts.  We are free act- to get together with other families and discuss heavy issues in a way that builds understanding and empathy.  Our children are free to explore a narrative that tells their story.  

We so often assume that schools are giving kids (especially the underprivileged and students of color) the best chance at equality and success when, instead, the system so often reinforces the ideologies of those in power.  

Here, Akilah Richards explains the concept of “unschooling”, the freedom she’s found in not being bound to a curriculum, and how “raising a free child” can be done by anyone, regardless of class or color.

It’s our responsibility as parents to accurately understand our historical narrative so we can call out those times when we see or hear bias in that narrative whether it be found in a history book, a novel, a movie, or elsewhere.  

Here are some books to get you started unlearning what you may have learned in school:

A People’s History of the United States by Howard Zinn

Lies my Teacher Told Me (and others in the “Lies” series) by James Loewen

An Indigenous People’s History of the United States by Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz

Creating Black Africans: African-American History and Its Meanings, 1619 to the Present by Nell Irvin Painter

1491 by Charles C. Mann

Rethinking Columbus by Bill Bigelow

Or for smaller doses, you can use these calendars:

This Day in History from the Zinn Education Project

A History of Racial Injustice from the Equal Justice Initiative

Ideally, we should be reading history about certain people groups written by people from within that people group.

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