February is Black History Month. Initiated by Carter G. Woodson in 1926, Black History Month is justly a staple in school curricula in the United States. Far, far be it from me to second-guess Dr. Woodson or any of the proponents of Black History Month, but I have never been entirely at ease with the concept of one month of the year set aside for the study of the myriad and vital contributions Americans of African descent have made to our nation, because I think it is insufficient. It seems to me, when studying the history of the United States from the colonial period to yesterday, every month ought to be Black History Month. African Americans are an integral part of the history of the United States, and the U.S. History curriculum really ought to reflect that.
At the same time, I appreciate the opportunity to teach material that isn’t part of the standard curriculum. For the next four weeks, I’ll post reading assignments from a unit I developed to attend the film The Great Debaters, directed by and starring Denzel Washington. After watching the movie for the first time, it struck me that it would serve nicely as the foundation of a unit on both Black History and using prior knowledge to understand new material. I outlined a unit plan, fleshed it out, and began using it to great success. I’ve yet to present it to a class that wasn’t immediately interested in and engaged by the material–it has been that successful with the students I serve. The fundamental educative goal for this unit is to provide students with prior knowledge of the personalities and events–to wit, the 1935 Wiley College Debate Team led by Melvin B. Tolson–by way of reading comprehension worksheets and discussion in class. The first five lessons of the unit work to prepare students for a viewing of the film.
So, here, in the first of three Weekly Texts on The Great Debaters, is the first reading from the unit, on Historically Black Colleges and Universities.
If you find typos in these documents, I would appreciate a notification. And, as always, if you find this material useful in your practice, I would be grateful to hear what you think of it. I seek your peer review.