The Fight to Keep Black History Curriculum in American Schools

Parents of mostly white students in Utah had a change of heart about their kids’ being able to opt-out of Black History Month curriculum. Less than a week ago an opt-out form was sent to families of students attending Maria Montessori Academy in North Ogden, Utah, essentially saying that if their children didn’t want to learn about Black history, it was all good and they wouldn’t have to.

However, after considerable outrage at the announcement, the school rescinded the option, and the 70 percent white-majority student body will have to learn about the accomplishments, hardships and degradation of Black Americans.

Micah Hirokawa, the Director of the Maria Montessori Academy, initially said on the school’s Facebook page that he “reluctantly” issued a letter explaining families are allowed “to exercise their civil rights to not participate in Black History Month at the school.” After the outrage, he then said the school regretted an opt-out form being sent out “concerning activities planned during this month of celebration.”

The small school with a student population of 322 is alleged to only have three Black students enrolled. The Ogden chapter of the NAACP contacted the Academy to voice its complaints about the curriculum being optional, eventually leading to the decision being reversed.

Utah, however, is not the only state in the 21st-century seeking to avoid teaching Black history curriculum to its students. In Arkansas, students of the Arkansas Arts Academy protested the firing of an educator that was terminated after he sent emails to state lawmakers criticizing a bill prohibiting the use of public funds to teach the 1619 Project curriculum.

According to a report from Arkansas’s 5 News, the school said the email “violated their personal technology agreements and the educators’ code of ethics set for faculty and staff.” For what it’s worth the teacher, Josh Depner’s letter to the lawmakers did begin with the greeting “Dear Fascist White Supremacists”, which probably did ruffle their feathers a bit.

He also told them to stay the fuck out of his curriculum in the letter, which is the kind of heroic energy we need from educators in 2021. But, I digress.

In an era of heightened polarization when a former president formed a commission to try to obliterate teachings about American slavery, it is not surprising to see schools in predominantly white/rural areas attempt to erase the Black narrative in American history.

White students cannot be convinced of American benevolence if the history of American abuse is taught to them. White students cannot be sold on the idea that white men and women singularly made America what it is if they are being taught about the substantial contributions of Black Americans, and other citizens of color.

Teaching an honest history about Black America is a threat to systemic oppression and disruption to the notion of white supremacy/Black inferiority that reinforces power dynamics outside the classroom. Therefore, it is a matter of convenience for many school districts to perpetuate historical falsehoods, especially if they have a minimal amount of minority students to answer to.

Which is why the community cannot let school systems or state officials get away with suppressing or distorting the truth of what this country is and has been since its inception.

About the Author

Donney Rose is a poet, essayist, Kennedy Center Citizen Artist Fellow, advocate, and Chief Content Editor at The North Star. He believes in telling how it is and how it should be