The Mis-Education of This Negro: A Preservice Teacher's Quest for a Comprehensive Understanding of African American History and Social Justice

Article excerpt

As a preservice teacher who will be teaching U.S. history in a high school during the 2005-2006 academic year, I am committed to ending the mis-education of African American children originally described by Dr. Carter G. Woodson over seventy years ago:

"The same educational process which inspires and stimulates the oppressor with the thought that he is everything and has accomplished everything worth while, depresses and crushes at the same time the spark of genius in the Negro by making him feel that his race does not amount to much and never will measure up to the standards of other people." (1)

During my journey through a teacher preparation program, I realized that because my public school teachers and textbooks Omitted important information about people of African descent, I had been severely mis-educated. Instead of public school classrooms, it was in such places as my barbershop that I learned about such figures as "Hannibal" Barca, an African military leader who conquered Roman legions during the Second Punic War. When I tried to bring the knowledge that I had acquired outside of class into my high school class discussions, my teacher silenced me. Conversely, my college professors' support for my quest to learn more about African American history and the pursuit of social justice has sparked my genius, and I will graduate in May 2005 with Phi Beta Kappa honors as well as a major in history with an emphasis in African Studies.

In my efforts to ensure that my students are not mis-educated, I intend to use culturally responsive curriculum and instructional strategies that inspire and stimulate students. (2) For example, I plan to illuminate those episodes of U.S. history that have previously been omitted or distorted. (3) The Niagara Movement of 1905-1910 is one such episode. Because I was mis-educated, I did not know about the Niagara Movement until I started designing lessons for my teacher preparation courses, so I had to first educate myself.

I searched through numerous high school textbooks, district curriculum guides and standards, but I found no references to the Niagara Movement. Thus, I conducted my search on-line and found information that highlighted the Niagara Movement in trade books, academic journals, websites, and CD ROMs. As I excavated information, I learned that the Niagara Movement invoked the spirit and objectives of post-bellum organizations such as the Freedman's Bureau in hopes to finish the job that Reconstruction attempted, yet ultimately failed to accomplish. Why is it that textbooks highlight the Freedman's Bureau and not the Niagara Movement, "the first national organization of African Americans which aggressively and unconditionally demanded the same civil rights for their people which other Americans enjoyed"? (4) Why is it that the NAACP is highlighted in textbooks, but not the Niagara Movement, which sparked the NAACP?

In 1905, a consortium of 29 well educated, politically oriented, petit-bourgeois African American men met in a Canadian hotel in Fort Erie, Canada. They shared a disdain for America's wide acceptance of Booker T. Washington's ideological viewpoint of foregoing the struggle for social equality, and moreover, his prominence as the "Negro leader." (5) They formed the Niagara Movement association to challenge Washington's idea of accommodation. The collective effort from the three-day meeting produced a statement declaring their vehement opposition to economic exploitation, social degradation, and the "curtailment of [African Americans'] civil rights." (6) They vowed to agitate the system of white supremacy that barred African Americans from enjoying the fruits of freedom guaranteed by the United States Constitution. …