About a year ago, a friend gave me the book Heroes in Black History by Dave & Neta Jackson. I decided at dinner one evening, I would ask my children if they knew of some of the Heroes. To my surprise, they only knew four of the thirteen African Americans listed.
My heart sank and I realized that my children were missing a crucial piece to their education. Of course, I was teaching them the basics, math, reading, writing, science and history, but I failed to teach them about themselves. My children were unable to see the “me” in learning.
Why it Matters?
In November 2015, then sixth grader, Marley Dias launched 1,000 Black Girl Books after complaining to her mother that her mandatory reading was about white boys and dogs. She felt that none of the books she read represented her. Marley realized there was a lack of material that was integrated into her education which depicted Black female protagonist. She realized that she could not “see herself.”
Look around your home and at your learning materials. When you survey the books, worksheets, and games for your children, do the characters or culture in those materials resemble your children or their heritage?
If the answer is, “no,” then it is time to take a step back, reassess, and make some changes. Imagine the main character of your child’s required reading looks like them. Children who can “see themselves” in their learning material develop a higher level of self-esteem and self-image.
They can relate to the characters and can envision themselves as the character. Imagine the confidence a child feels when they see themselves as the hero or heroine of a story. Integrating culturally appropriate materials and images into a child’s daily learning will positively impact their academic skill set.
Three Ways to Integrate Representation
You may be thinking, “Hey! We celebrate Kwanzaa, Black History Month, Chinese New Year…” and the list can go on. Offering your children culturally appropriate materials as an added lesson or just for a month does not count as integrating representation. Often, these lessons or activities are viewed as a bonus to students.
They enjoy the material for the time, but the information does not stick or make a lasting impression. Being intentional involves a conscientious decision to weave cultural materials into the very fabric of your materials. It also means students don’t feel like they are being punished or burdened down with an additional assignment.
Check out a few ways to be intentional:
Are your children working on their cursive handwriting? Check out African Proverbs Cursive Copywork by Dr. Sheva Quinn
Perhaps your student is looking for an online class to take. Enroll them in the Black Classical University and take a course on anything from “African American Poetry” to “xSTREAM Physical Science.”
Connect with Others
In the area we live, my children and I often end up being the minority in homeschool groups. Although being one of a few or the only person of color in my group is an experience that I grew up with, my husband and I made it a point to ensure that our children did not have to experience the same thing.
We did not want them to have to endure the feelings of isolation that I did as a child. For this reason, we became intentional about connecting to other people. Using social media and various networking opportunities, we were able to find our children a small community that did not require them to bare the weight of representing their entire race.
Each month, I pack my children up and head to our co-op meeting. Upon arriving, we are surrounded by parents and children who all have one thing in common “being connected to other like-minded people.”
It is our shared desire to intentionally integrate representation into our educational endeavors that brings us together. While attending these meetings, my children and I exchange resources, information, techniques, ideas, and enjoy being among other people who look like us.
Share your experience
For a while, I found myself afraid to tell people that I was in a co-op specifically for children of the African Diaspora. I feared their reaction.
Would they think I was racist or think I was being exclusive?
Would they understand my children’s need for desiring a space where they were not the only children of color in a room?
Could I articulate my family’s position to integrate representation into our education more than just for a given month?
In the world we live today, people are afraid to talk about race in fear they may offend the other party. Reality is, many people are silently screaming to have a real conversation with real people about real life.
I decided the best way to educate others was to share my experience. I began to intentionally mention our latest chapter book with a Black protagonist, our research project on West African Kingdoms, the list of African American inventors, not told about during Black History month, and our African American Co-Op.
This opened the doors and lines of communication to questions and an honest dialogue about the need for them, not just in my own homeschool, but in theirs as well. Sharing my experience ignited curiosity and gave a different perspective than what most normally read, heard, or saw.
Four year ago, it didn’t even cross my mind to integrate representation into our daily assignments. I didn’t make sure my children had a wide variety of materials to choose from. I didn’t connect them to other children. I certainly did not share our experience because I didn’t have one to tell.
Now, the concept is second nature and woven into our everyday learning. Integrating representation goes far beyond one’s ethnicity. It is the idea of integrating your religion, medical conditions, family dynamics, favorite hobbies, etc. into your educational journey to create a memorable learning experience that will help children change the world.
CHIME IN: How do you make sure your educational materials are culturally relevant? Tell me in the comments below!