Monday, February 7, 2011

Shaping History

by Yvonne Yates
Director of School Services, KLRN

Past events have helped shape our country to be what it is today. Students will often ask you “Why are we learning this?” In regard to the subject of history, the typical answer is “so history will not repeat itself.”

February is “Black History Month,” a time to commemorate African Americans who have shaped history. This celebration began in 1926 when Dr. Carter G. Woodson, of Harvard, initiated “Negro History Week.” Dr. Woodson, who was a historian, chose the second week in February because it included the birthdays of Frederick Douglass and President Abraham Lincoln. It was extended in 1976 to the entire month of February.

During the month of February, we remember those exceptional African Americans who helped shape our nation. We remember Rosa Parks and her stand against inequality, abolitionist and former slave Frederick Douglass, and Harriet Tubman and the Underground Railroad. Students, for the most part, are familiar with these individuals. They might not, however, know who Benjamin Banneker and James Van Der Zee were. Teachers need to not only teach students about those well known famous individuals, but also those individuals who have shaped history but might not be in their textbooks.

Carl L. Becker said that history is the memory of things said and done. Every time a teacher recounts the history of our country, students are led down a path of critical thinking. Questions arise in classrooms over our state. How could this have been prevented? Why did this happen?

As cliché as it might be, one thing I always urged my students to remember is that “one person can make a difference.” One such person was Blanche Kelso Bruce, who was the first African American to serve a full term in the U.S Senate. He fought for the rights of minority groups from 1875-1881 while serving as a U.S. Senator. People can shape the history of our country with just one simple act or a few simple words speaking out for equality.