Ford unveils proposal to boost Black history lessons in Illinois schools

LaShawn K. Ford

Crusader Staff Report

Alarmed that the traditional teaching of history has failed to provide students with a comprehensive education that includes the perspectives of marginalized communities, state Representative La Shawn K. Ford, (D-Chicago) on October 9 at a press conference at the DuSable Museum of African American History unveiled details of his proposal to include teaching more Black history in Illinois’ schools.

Ford joins Illinois Senate Majority Leader Kimberly Lightford, who recently participated in a hearing on the subject with the Senate Education and Higher Education Committees.

Ford’s plan would establish a commission to review and update the state’s history curriculum so that textbooks, class discussion and other course material more accurately reflect an examination of history through the inclusion of diverse perspectives. With certain credit exceptions, under Ford’s proposal, schools would shift to civics teaching instead of history teaching during the 2021-22 school year until recommendations from the commission are implemented.

“To the detriment of many, the teaching of history has often been viewed through the lens of one perspective,” Ford said.

“This limited narrative has rarely taught our children about the marginalization of women, people of color, persons with disabilities and other minority groups. As a result, this summer I worked with a diverse group of stakeholders to put together a legislative proposal that can immediately begin to update our teaching standards. I’m grateful for their input, and I look forward to taking the next step to put our plan into action.”

The commission would be expected to complete its work by the end of next year, with new curriculum fully adopted by June 30, 2022.

Ford has been an advocate for strengthening the history curriculum, previously introducing House Bill 4954 to expand instruction regarding pre-enslavement Black history and the American civil rights renaissance.

“Both of these bills, House Bill 4954 and The American History Bill, have to pass,” said advocate Meleika Gardner of We Will. “It will speak volumes of a House Representative who would vote against chipping away at systemic racism by stopping the miseducation of our children.

“Both of these bills will build better race relations starting at the kindergarten grade level because they will come to understand and respect each other’s identity in this nation. As of right now, the American History textbooks portray Caucasians as the only heroes and inventors who built this nation. We know that this is not true. Black people, Native Americans, Latinx, women, the Jewish community, and etc. helped to build this country.”

Lightford was scheduled to participate in another hearing October 14 to gain more input in a plan to teach more Black history in schools.

The hearing was the fifth one dedicated to education and workforce development, the second pillar of the Illinois Legislative Black Caucus’ agenda to rid Illinois of systemic racism.

“It’s clear that it shouldn’t be difficult for children to learn about famous figures in history,” Lightford said. “Children should also learn about Black history in a way that is relatable and empowering, while also not hiding its truth and past atrocities. The State Board of Education should mandate a curriculum that incorporates lessons about all marginalized populations into their history classes.”

The committee was joined by its House counterparts to hear testimony from the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, Noble Network of Charter Schools, Georgia State University, Chicago Public Schools, Stand for Children, Advance Illinois, the Illinois Community College Board, and the Illinois State Board of Education.

The agencies addressed ways to strengthen current student success and reenrollment programs by creating work-study programs and hybrid online and onsite programs. The groups also put an emphasis on exploring avenues to create a process to review curricula to ensure students are learning American history from a multidimensional perspective.

“Student success requires us to look beyond exams and coursework to ensure we are transitioning students out of the classroom and into the real world,” Lightford said. “Our education system needs to put a focus on growing successful adults and providing children with the skills they need to enter the workforce.”

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