LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) – Fifth- and eighth-grade students in Jefferson County Public Schools will learn lessons about the importance of Juneteenth in social studies classes starting next year as the district moves toward diversifying its history curriculum.
The transition, which includes revamping a high school elective on Black history that will be called developing Black historical consciousness, comes amid protests against police violence toward Black people in cities throughout the U.S. and pushes to make Juneteenth national and state holidays.
Gov. Andy Beshear, who signed a proclamation Thursday recognizing June 19 as Juneteenth National Freedom Day, said he would urge the legislature next year to make Juneteenth a state holiday. Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer on Friday made the date a city holiday starting next year.
But Ryan New, instructional lead for social studies at JCPS, says the updated social studies curriculum was revised last school year to better align with the district’s racial equity policy and make history lessons in JCPS less Eurocentric.
Too often, he said, history texts don’t focus on the lived experiences of people of color or women.
“Part of what we’re trying to do then is to redirect our understanding of how we talk about history with a y, which signifies sort of a single story, to move to histories with an i-e-s to signal all the different histories of the lived experiences of the people who came before and now,” New said.
While Juneteenth is explicitly mentioned in fifth- and eighth-grade sections of the district’s social studies curriculum, New said teachers in any grade level can incorporate the date on which Union troops enforced the Emancipation Proclamation in Galveston, Texas, in 1865 and ended slavery throughout the U.S. into their lessons.
Students in fifth grade will be asked to consider why Americans celebrate the Fourth of July and Juneteenth as part of an analysis of the development of the U.S. government and how conflict and collaboration have shaped the founding of the country.
Students in eighth grade will be tasked with exploring how African-Americans view Juneteenth versus the 13th Amendment, including how people have challenged legal precedents denying them civil rights and the factors impacting forced and voluntary migration in the U.S. from 1600 to 1877.
“Traditionally curriculums that include African-American stories in them typically have three major parts,” New said. “There’s enslavement, reconstruction and the civil rights movement. We think and have built a curriculum that sees that racism has been a part of this country from the very beginning.”
“We’re not going to fall into the trap of these larger areas where it fits conveniently into the curriculum,” he said. “We’re going to honor the experiences of those who came before and their histories throughout all of our curriculum.”
JCPS is also redesigning its Black history elective for students in high school, which can be offered either for half the school year or for its entirety.
New says the course, called developing Black historical consciousness, will be grounded in principles like agency and oppression, perseverance and resistance, and Black joy and love.
“We’ve redesigned it in a way that has questions that are looking at really what is both historically and contemporarily important to people of color, specifically Black communities and specifically to the Black communities in Jefferson County,” he said.
Teachers will be offered professional development opportunities from LaGarrett King of the University of Missouri, a champion of Black historical consciousness, and national organizations like Facing History and Ourselves, he said.
“The ultimate goal of a course like this is to change the way that we think about educating our kids,” New said. “Too often we’ve allowed only one dominant narrative to be taught to our kids.”
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