Bill refining black history education passes House committee

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An Evanston woman made a pitch to lawmakers about why Illinois schools need more comprehensive black history education.

Meleika Gardner of Women Empowering Women In Local Legislation, or WE WILL, a bipartisan group supporting women and children’s rights said more complete education will help with race relations.

“My nieces and nephews right now are learning that our history started in shackles and chains and that is not the truth,” Gardner said. “We were strong people and then the enslavement occurred. We contributed to medicine and technology before we became America’s technology.”

Gardner was accompanied by state Rep. La Shawn Ford, D-Chicago, Wednesday testifying for his bill that would adjust how black history is taught in Illinois, expanding to pre-slavery and teaching about earlier contributions to the world.

Ford thinks the bill is the most important one he has had as a legislator.

“If we get black history right in this state and lead the nation in how we should teach true American history, I think it would be the biggest piece of legislation that I pass,” Ford said.

The bill passed the House Elementary & Secondary Education committee, 14-7, with opposing lawmakers agreeing black history needs expanded education, but wanting Ford to wait until an existing black history curriculum task force completes an audit of schools’ history lessons.

Illinois State Board of Education co-director of legislative affairs Amanda Elliott said the task force is several months away from completing its report. She said it meets next week to finalize the survey it will distribute to school districts.

“Even if the task force finds that some school districts teach it, there’s still no real curriculum for those districts to teach pre-slavery,” Ford said. “What we need to do with this bill is make sure that we develop a curriculum so that history is taught properly, otherwise we’re miseducating not only black kids, but white kids, Hispanic kids, the whole state of Illinois and that’s embarrassing.”

Susan Hilton, Illinois Association School Boards director of government relations, said the Illinois Statewide School Management Alliance opposes all curricular mandates because schools can only adopt so many and it’s more important to wait for the task force’s report.

“We have significant concerns about being so prescriptive in statute about one particular curricular mandate because we’re afraid that’s going to create a snowball effect and then that’s going to happen with other curricular mandates and it could just be very difficult for public school districts,” Hilton said.

There is already a mandate for schools to teach black history, but some lawmakers contended some schools are having issues following it properly.

“There was a school (in my district) where the only celebration of Black History Month was playing music by black artists during the period changes in the hallways, which was horrifying for me to learn,” state Rep. Stava-Murray (D-Naperville) said.

Ford said even if the bill passes this spring, implementing the curriculum would take about two years, again emphasizing the bill should not wait for the task force.

“It’s not going to be a mandate overnight that school districts have rules,” Ford said. “We’re going to make sure that they have the aggregate accounting and a real integrated history.”

Contact Kade Heather: kheather@sj-r.com, 782-3095, twitter.com/kade_heather

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via The State Journal-Register

March 7, 2020 at 08:31AM

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