Not Just More Talk, Real Talk: A Proposed Bill on the Inclusion of African American Studies in Public School Curriculum

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On Wednesday, March 6th, 2019, I attended the Education Committee’s public hearing at the Connecticut State Legislative Building. Walking into the room was quite overwhelming, as it was packed with people listening and testifying. The sheer amount of people pointed out to me just how dedicated people in the state are to the education of our youth. Many bills were discussed at this event, with many individuals testifying, most supporting the bills in question.

A particular bill I had the chance to witness many people testify for was HB-07082.┬áThis bill proposes an inclusion of African American history to be taught in Connecticut’s public schools. A great deal of people, both adult advocates and students testified for the passing of this bill. The first people I witnessed testifying House Bill 7082 was a pair of gentleman, one a state representative and the other the president of the Jewish Federation of Greater Hartford, both in support of the bill. The two argued that given the prior passing of a bill regarding educating students on genocides and the Holocaust, bill 7082 should too be passed. A clear argument was made by the pair, stating that inclusive education is important for our youth, and that African American history is America’s history. It should be taught in the public schools for this reason. Using the last bill as a precedent, the two men delivered a clear argument for the support of the bill in question. After the pair gave their testimony the floor opened up for more speakers.

The chairman now opened the floor to the students lined up to testify. The chairman called the first few names to the stand, however, these students were still in school. These students still being in school, even refusing to leave early, spoke volumes about how they prioritize and value their education, which made their testimonies even more powerful.

The first student I witnessed to support HB-07082 was a student from a western Connecticut school and neighborhood. The student spoke about how her and her family had immigrated to America from the Democratic Republic of the Congo when she was only six, emphasizing how she had only really known her life and education in America. The student went on to explain how as she went through schooling, she had realized she was being so neglectful to her own culture and was seen as “trying to be white.” She attributed this to the lack of education of African American history in the United States. She felt strongly that she would not have neglected her heritage and culture had there been conversations in her classes about black history in America, and not just the basics about slavery up until the Civil Rights movement. The chairman of the committee asked this student where she had been taught of African American history, to which she responded with her Honors and AP history courses. The chairman hit an important point in asking this question, pointing out that not all students are given equal opportunity to learn about such an important piece of America’s history. This important part of history should be accessible to all students, not just those who may be on track to enroll in honors and AP courses.

The second student to testify in support of the bill mentioned how she felt she grew up in a “bubble”, unaware of racism, feeling as though since she has not experienced it, it could not exist. As she grew, she began to realize racism did in fact exist, and therefore began to internalize it. She felt strongly about the passing of this bill, arguing that its passing would be a step in “dismantling systemic oppression” and would also in turn highlight privilege. Including African American history into curriculum would benefit all students.

I got the chance to discuss matters with a representative from an after-school student group who was also in-support of HB-7082. She was the advisor of many of the students testifying today. She told me how though they are in support of the bill, they want more done. Those fighting for its passing want not just an overview of African American history regarding slavery up until the Civil Rights Movement, they want matters of today taught in schools. They want students to learn about the roots of racism and its effects. Without amends this bill, students won’t learn more about African American history than the 13th amendment and words spoken by Dr. Martin Luther King. She explained how talking not just more about African American history, but talking about the real issues, like racism in this nation, is what will be most beneficial for our youth in public schools. They need to learn about the history of racism in order to understand the pressing issue in today’s day, to then fight it and make change. After all, the youth are our future.