Why Does Anyone Need To Take An African American Studies Course?

by John Hawkins | July 28, 2003 1:58 pm

While the controversy that this article[1] discusses is infuriating, it obscures the deeper issue…

“A group of Oberlin parents is adamant that one type of person should never teach their children about African-American history.

A white person.

These parents are furious that a scheduling conflict might cause administrators to reassign the black teacher who has taught the subject in the high school for seven years.

The parents, in protesting to the school board, have hit on a touchy racial issue that has bedeviled educators for years.

Some experts say the best qualified teacher, white or black, should teach African-American history – or any class, for that matter. But others, like the Oberlin parents, say a black teacher brings more credibility and compassion to the subject. A white teacher may know the dates and events, but can a white person ever truly understand the culture?”

While the article is addressing whether a white person should teach African-American studies, a better question would be why should a high school be teaching African American studies in the first place? Seriously — do they teach white-American studies? What about Jewish-American studies? Chinese-American, Irish-American, & Arab American studies? So Why do they feel the need have a separate course to talk about black history?

When the kids are taught American history they should be taught about all the important black figures throughout the history of our nation. So what is the point of the class? Judging by some of the responses, it sounds like the real point of the class is to encourage separatism…

“It would be a problem for A.G. Miller, an associate professor of American and African religious history at Oberlin College. In Oberlin’s case, he said, placing a white teacher in the African-American history course would send the wrong message to black high school students.

“The message is that we are not concerned about the importance of your historical background . . . that that is less important than a schedule conflict,” said Miller, whose three children graduated from Oberlin High School.

Jaqui Willis, a black Oberlin parent, sees Kurt Russell as more than a teacher – he’s a role model, she said. She, too, worries what message children will get if they see the class taken from Russell.

…Oberlin School Board President Tony Marshall, who is black, agrees. The phrase “color-struck” might mean nothing to a white person, he said, but a black teacher would know that it suggests a black person who prefers lighter-skinned blacks to darker-skinned blacks.

“A black teacher brings an experience and understanding of being black that no else can bring,” Marshall said.

Phyllis Yarber Hogan, a member of the Oberlin Black Alliance for Progress, makes the point even more strongly.

“When you talk about slavery, students need to understand it is not our fault,” she said. “Our ancestors did nothing wrong to be enslaved.

“How do you work through that when the person teaching it is the same type of person who did the enslaving?”

When the color of a teacher of a course is designed to send some kind of “message” to the kids, is that message really worth hearing? Furthermore, what does having an “understanding of being black” have to do with teaching a kid history? I bet that School Board President would go out of his mind (& rightfully so) if someone suggested that a black teacher wasn’t qualified to teach white kids because he didn’t have an “understanding of being white.” Then there’s Phyllis Yarber Hogan there at the end who sounds like she’s still consumed with anger over the Civil War.

Maybe this may sound like a crazy suggestion to some people, but why don’t we just teach these kids American history? Not black history, not white history, but American history. The race of the professor teaching the class doesn’t matter, the racial make-up of the class doesn’t matter, let’s just be color blind and treat all the kids like what they are, Americans. Wouldn’t our country be a better place to live if we did that?

  1. this article: http://www.cleveland.com/news/plaindealer/index.ssf?/base/lorain/1059211974250121.xml

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