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Black History Month: A Call for Shared Celebration and Understanding

Designing Educator Learning Experiences in NTC’s Anchors for Equity

Turkesshia Moore
Sr. Director, Program Design & Innovation,
New Teacher Center

As a former educator (if one can ever really be a former educator), I spent countless hours preparing lessons for Black History Month to introduce students to little-known facts about famous and innovative Black people that were often less mentioned in traditional history books. This schoolwide effort lasted throughout February but didn’t extend throughout the year. As a young teacher, I wanted students to know about the unrecognized contributions Black people have made to support the fabric of this country.

Black History Month is a designated period to celebrate and acknowledge African Americans’ achievements, contributions, and struggles throughout history. It serves as a crucial reminder of the ongoing fight for racial equality and justice. The question of who it’s for — the intended audience and the weight of responsibility for Black History Month’s proliferation — prompts me to reflect on the continued learning we engage in at NTC: unconscious bias and how it shows up in the spaces we enter, especially learning environments.

Race is woven into the American tapestry.

Race in the United States is a social construct historically used to separate, measure, and categorize people for centuries. Waxman (2021) believes that the racial biases we carry throughout our lives are also social constructs that, through continual exposure, we internalize as truth, whether spoken or unspoken.

It’s up to us to do the work to reduce our biases and their impact on others.

That means we need to understand the brain science around bias. When we examine how the brain internalizes biases, we find that children as young as four have been found to show subtle racial biases (Waxman, 2021). It happens through repeated exposure to bias — subconscious and conscious — from adults that surround them to the gender stereotypes reinforced in the classroom, on television and other media, and in society at large.

It also happens through the absence of positive and affirming validation. Gholdy Muhammad’s “Unearthing Joy” explores how children absorb bias, documenting the historical exclusion of Black and other marginalized voices from educational curricula dating back to the 1800s (Muhammad, 2023). This systemic erasure perpetuates biases, making it challenging to propagate widespread knowledge of Black contributions, art, innovation, genius, and so much more, which is crucial for fostering an inclusive and equitable educational environment.

Research shows that teachers are less likely to show explicit bias when they have spent time internally regulating their bias over time (Devine et al., 2002). Because classrooms are fast-paced, the internal work of creating a student-centered, equity-driven learning environment cannot just happen during the school day. The internal work must be done continually until the decision-making becomes autonomous. For some teachers, fear of being labeled as biased or discriminatory leads to a reluctance to acknowledge the need for personal growth and systemic change. Conversely, some educators may acknowledge their biases but fail to address their impact on students despite the evidence (Kumar et al., 2022; Manfredi et al., 2023). This denial perpetuates harmful disparities within the school environment.

At NTC, we encourage districts to make time for teachers to do the internal work. Equity-centered teaching and learning is not a destination to reach (The Elephant in the (Class)room). It is an ongoing process that may be messy, difficult, and, at times, challenge everything we thought we knew.

So then, who is Black History Month for?

Black History Month is for the people who hold the stone of hate in their hearts for people they never took the time to understand. It’s for those who feel we’ve talked about it enough. It’s for people who want their fathers, mothers, sisters, brothers, and cousins remembered. It is for people who know that racism and bias run through the foundation of this country but still believe in the American dream. It is for non-Black parents who teach their children Black History year-round. It is also for those that don’t. Black History Month is not for Black people alone to fully shoulder the burden of explanation and celebration. It is for everyone to bear responsibility and pick up the mantle to do the work and shine the light. Black History Month is a time to celebrate, remember, and dream. Who is it for? It is for everyone.

Devine, P. G., Plant, E. A., Amodio, D. M., Harmon-Jones, E., & Vance, S. L. (2002). The regulation of explicit and implicit race bias: The role of motivations to respond without prejudice. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 82(5), 835-848.

Kumar, R., Gray, D. L., & Kaplan Toren, N. (2022). Pre-service teachers’ desire to control bias: Implications for the endorsement of culturally affirming classroom practices. Learning and Instruction, 78, 101512.

Waxman, S. R. (2021). Racial Awareness and Bias Begin Early: Developmental Entry Points, Challenges, and a Call to Action. Perspectives on Psychological Science, 16(5), 893–902.

Manfredi, M., Comfort, W. E., Marques, L. M., Rego, G. G., Egito, J. H., Romero, R. L., & Boggio, P. S. (2023). Understanding racial bias through electroencephalography. BMC psychology, 11(1), 81.

Muhammad, G. (2023). Unearthing Joy: A guide to culturally and historically responsive teaching and learning. Scholastic Inc.