Black history curriculum unveiled

State's voluntary studies for 4th to 8th grades tied to new Baltimore museum

December 18, 2003|By Mike Bowler | Mike Bowler,SUN STAFF

Maryland education officials unveiled a new course of studies yesterday that is designed to vastly increase children's exposure to African-American history and culture.

The curriculum, tied to the exhibits of the new Reginald F. Lewis museum nearing completion in downtown Baltimore, consists of 80 lessons geared toward pupils in the fourth through eighth grades.

"This goes beyond familiar blacks and beyond show and tell," said Charles M. Christian, a University of Maryland, College Park professor who coordinated the writing of the lessons.

FOR THE RECORD - An article yesterday incorrectly identified the organization that paid for development of a Maryland public school curriculum on African-American history and culture. The money came from the William and Victorine Adams Foundation. The Sun regrets the error.

Christian ceremoniously handed the lesson plans to state schools Superintendent Nancy S. Grasmick at State Education Department headquarters in Baltimore.

Grasmick said that although instruction in black history and culture is required in Maryland schools, "the truth is that it's awfully thin. Teachers either have to do it on their own or cover it in a very superficial way. So we have a lot of attention paid in February, but very little the rest of the year."

Rick Wright, a fourth-grade teacher at Harford Hills Elementary School in Baltimore County, agreed that the black history curriculum in his school "is quite shallow. We're always looking for things to supplement it."

Though adopting the curriculum is voluntary, Grasmick said she expected local school systems to "jump at the opportunity, particularly since this curriculum is aligned" with Maryland academic standards and statewide tests.

Under the partnership between Grasmick's department and the museum, pupils will combine studies in African-American culture and history with field trips to the museum.

The curriculum covers seven historical periods from 1600 to the present, focusing on Maryland. "This state has one of the richest African-American experiences in the nation," said Christian, a social geographer and author of Black Saga, a chronicle of black history.

Christian said the curriculum writers tried to cover "the famous and the not-so-famous." Harriet R. Tubman, the heroine of the Underground Railroad, is there, as is pediatric neurosurgeon Benjamin S. Carson. But so, too, are lesser-known figures such as Harlem renaissance collage artist Romare Bearden and former Maryland poet laureate Lucille Clifton, Christian said.

"I was struck by how much the African-American past in Maryland is a part of the present in Maryland," said Marcie Taylor-Thoma, who wrote part of the curriculum on the freeing of slaves. "As a result of manumission, Maryland had the largest free black population in the nation, which added immensely to the diversity of the state forever."

Grasmick said the new curriculum will have a pilot run in several schools next summer and fall, and participating teachers will be trained. The task force Christian leads, she said, will now produce a curriculum aimed at high school students.

"I expect that there will be some complaints about this being just something else piled on," Grasmick said, "but it wasn't intended as an add-on. It's intended to be interwoven with the existing curriculum in English and language arts, history, social studies and the arts."

Museum officials said they intended all along to make education a major part of the institution's mission. Money for the curriculum has been raised privately, much of it from the foundation established after the death 10 years ago of the museum's namesake, a Baltimore native who was head of TLC Beatrice International.

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