Curriculum to include blacks' role

Lewis Museum was instrumental in developing plan

October 24, 2003|By Chris Kaltenbach | Chris Kaltenbach,SUN STAFF

The contributions of African-Americans to Maryland's history, art and culture will be highlighted in a new curriculum to be introduced to Maryland's public schools next year.

The curriculum was drawn up by the state Department of Education, working closely with the planned Reginald F. Lewis Museum of Maryland African American History and Culture. It will become part of the instructional plan for students in grades 3 through 12 beginning in September, said state schools Superintendent Nancy S. Grasmick, whose office took on responsibility for coming up with the curriculum.

"This is a pretty exciting project," Grasmick said, noting it marks the most ambitious attempt yet by a public school system to integrate African-American studies into the teaching of social studies. By the time students graduate, she said, "there should be a great knowledge and appreciation of the contributions of African-Americans to our heritage."

The plan was put together over the past 18 months by a group of 10 writers under the leadership of Charles Christian, a teacher of history and geography at the University of Maryland and author of Black Saga: The African American Experience: A Chronology. Details of the curriculum were to be announced during a press conference this morning at the Joseph Meyerhoff Symphony Hall.

The curriculum will be incorporated into current class offerings, Grasmick said, and will be broken down into three phases each year. First, students will spend classroom time preparing for a specific experience relating to African-American history. Second, students will undertake a project, which could include a trip to the museum or other outside activity. Then, students will spend time reflecting on what they learned.

"We want to examine all aspects of African-American culture," Grasmick said. "Everybody already knows about Thurgood Marshall, Benjamin Banneker, people like that. We want to go beyond what people already are familiar with."

As an example, she said, students will study the Underground Railroad, a network of safe houses and abolitionists that helped runaway slaves seeking their freedom. Elementary-age students will study the role Maryland women have played in the civil rights movement.

There will even be a unit on black watermen, she said. "On the Eastern Shore, there is very little recognition and appreciation of the important role they played," she said.

Curriculum planners were careful to tailor their efforts to what would be available at the Lewis Museum, Grasmick said. That facility, in a new building at Pratt and President streets near the Inner Harbor, is slated to open next year.

NAACP President Kweisi Mfume praised both the project and the state's role in putting it together.

"It speaks volumes about the commitment of the state, at least, to do something that has been long overdue," he said. Studying the role of African-Americans in the state's culture and history "really enhances all of us, at the end of the day, giving us an appreciation and an understanding of our shared history."

Also at this morning's press conference, museum officials will be announcing details of a fund-raising concert set for Dec. 11, featuring the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra, the Morgan State Choir and the Sandtown Children of Praise Choir, joined by Bill Cosby, James Earl Jones, Montel Williams and singer Nnenna Freelon.

The concert, for which Comcast has agreed to pick up the $500,000 cost, will kick off a fund-raising campaign through which officials hope to raise an additional $5 million for the museum's endowment. Ticket prices will range from $100 to $1,000.

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