What is the "Amistad Movement?"

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The Amistad Movement is a coined term to describe the recent establishment of Amistad Commissions in several states across the country. While the African-American population in the United States approaches 15%, African and African-American characters, cultures, and history are minimally represented in the texts and trade books in classrooms across America. In order to address the educational needs of all children of all ethnicities in learning about diversity through the African-American experience, several states have legislated an Amistad Commission. Each Commission has its own vision and mandate, but the message remains the same: if we intend to fully educate all children of all ethnities, we must include the history, folktales, cultural beliefs, and experiences of the African-American population in this educational process.

Of course, many schools in the United States study African-American history during the month of February. Ironically, this is the shortest month of the year, and also the month that many teachers are preparing for standardized testing. So, while we may attempt to teach African-American topics in isolation, we also choose to do so in only one short month that is already packed with test prep, Valentine's Day, and Presidents' Day. Therefore, clearly less than 5% of the school year is dedicated to learning about 15 to 20% of the population. In reality, Black History Month is a Band-Aid approach to handling a real need for diversifying our educational tools used on a daily basis.

So, how do we address this dire need for change in our schools? First of all, each teacher in each classroom across the country needs to look at the data in the classroom. How many African-American scientists are included in the science curriculum across the school year, not just during February? How many books in each classroom library depict some part of African culture, the African Diaspora, or the African-American experience? What percentage are these books of the full classroom library? Is the percentage less than 15% (the national average)? What is the demographic for the school? Does the percentage meet the demographic makeup of the student population? What percentage of the Social Studies curriculum addresses African and/or African-American culture and experiences? Are these lessons concentrated primarily during the month of February, or are they infused throughout the school year?

This type of data can really feel uncomfortable at first, but the data needs to be gathered, analyzed, and discussed by educators. This data can be a catalyst for discussion and understanding in classrooms and faculty rooms, and can lead to a celebration of the wealth of contributions that African-Americans have made to our nation's society and development. Doesn't it seem more educationally sound to examine the situation and make rational decisions for corrective measures rather than simply ignore the situation and do a disservice to all our children?

Below you will find several links to assist you in adding a richer, more developed presentation. The books link will suggest titles to read aloud to children in grades kindergarten through four, the Lessons link will provide a few sample lesson plans of books from the book lists, and the Internet link will provide links to other websites that can assist you in doing background research or that you can make available to students in the classroom.

Of course, the African-American population is not the only population that has been ignored in our classrooms. Indeed, Hispanic-American, Native American, Middle Eastern-American, and Asian-American cultures have been marginally acknowledged in the trade books and stories read to children. Indeed, only those of European-American ancestory receive continuous and consistent recognition of their heritage in many of our classrooms. This situation must be changed if we are to truly move forward in our efforts to unite our society. We can be certain that the Amistad Movement will be followed by other movements to include more ethnicities in our daily educational plans.

As more and more Amistad Commissions are launched across the country, mandated inclusion of a more well-rounded representation of the African-American population will be required throughout the curriculum. Let's stop teaching mere tolerance, and start truly embracing the rich, amazing diversity that threads together the fabric we call America.

The NJ Amistad Commission has utilized the above essay with permission. Click here to visit the Amistad Commission website.

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