Social Studies in JCPS

Kumar Rashad

It’s that time of the decade where we revise certain standards.  This year we have math, english, and social studies. Math and English are no surprise but with new social studies standards we are positioned to do what no other school district in the state or perhaps even the country has done which is to “Tell the Truth”.

The truth has always evaded our textbooks.  For example, who invented the lightbulb? The first answer most would say is Thomas Edison.  The history books never discuss the people on Edison’s team who worked until exhaustion to make these products a reality.  An African-American named Lewis Latimer was one of those team members.

Latimer invented the carbon filament.  Before this invention, one could assume that Edison’s light bulb was a failure since it did not radiate enough light to make this product profitable.  With the inclusion of the carbon filament, the light bulb is the success we know it to be today.

Countless stories exist that demonstrate how credit is hardly if ever given to people of color for our contributions to the world.  Our text books state that the world started, then there were dinosaurs, and finally, there were people in caves until they formed wheels and made fire.  There is no mention that while Europeans were in caves, African civilizations were highly sophisticated and formed colleges (Timbuktu) and created irrigation systems with running water.

Evading the truth harms all of our children.  Children of Color are more likely to develop negative self-images because our school systems and society do not provide diverse positive images for all students.  Exclusion teaches Children of Color that they are not important and should feel lucky to live a life of servitude. This same lesson teaches Caucasian Children that they are superior because of the works of their ancestors which entitle them to the same stolen privileges.

The new social studies standards do not directly fix these gaps in our teaching.  However, they are ambiguous enough that a district can write its own curriculum. Ryan New is the new JCPS district Social Studies Lead and he has a clear and realistic take on how social studies can be presented.  He has a staff of two and a committee of teachers who meet periodically to flush out the district’s social studies needs.

The biggest obstacle is that our district is very large and to tell history from diverse perspectives requires multiple full-time (not a part-time committee) and diversity among those committee members to help facilitate this incredible feat.  The goal of using Social Studies to bring real equity requires access to outstanding resources, training for staff, and myriad of other factors that are needed to roll out a plan like this to positively affect approximately 100,000 students.  A lack of diversity on this team or lack of a full time commitment may exacerbate and advance the ignorance that plagues our already racially tense society. Kudos to JCPS for being on the frontline to address this issue. Let’s strive for exceptionalism in this task by supporting our Social Studies team and giving them the adequate support needed for their endeavor.

In conclusion, studies show that efficacy can drive motivation which in turn promotes hard work.  There is no better way to build efficacy then by enriching a child with the knowledge of him/herself.  Look how well this strategy has worked for Caucasian Children as evidenced by all testing standards. We must provide multiple lenses for all of our students to see how important they are and understand how important it is to know about the people who are different then themselves.  This is the final frontier in education and as I said at the beginning, we are in position to get it right by telling the truth. The question is “Will we?!”