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Students to school admin: Black history matters

By Tatyana Hopkins, Makaela James, Sadijah Wallace
On February 9, 2015

Howard University Middle School of Mathematics and Science protest on the campus yard following dismissal of three teachers.
Makaela James/Howard News Service

Eighth-grader Anni Dennis was in the bathroom when her social studies teacher was removed from class last week. When she returned, a lot of kids were crying and crowding the doorways to shout good-byes to their teacher, who had no opportunity to give a formal good-bye.

The teachers were in the classrooms with their students when police confronted and escorted them out of the building, students and parents told the District Chronicles at a Monday protest outside the school. 

At the time of their removal, the students were viewing the film “Posse,” the story of Buffalo Soldiers and an ostracized white soldier, all betrayed by a corrupt colonel during the Spanish-American War. In previous years the teachers had screened Spike Lee’s “Malcolm X.” 

Now the students and their parents are seeking answers from Angelicque Blackmon; principal of Howard University Middle School of Mathematics and Science. On Monday this week, they held a protest outside of the school in response to the treatment of the three social sciences teachers for allegedly teaching beyond the school’s Black-History curriculum.   

The three teachers had resigned with two-weeks notice after the school adopted the Montgomery County Public Schools social studies curriculum.  According to the county’s website, the goal of the Social Studies curriculum is “to help create historically literate and well informed citizens who actively participate in a democratic society.” 

“Concerns expressed by parents, teachers and all constituents are appreciated and will be addressed by the board in a comprehensive manner, beginning this week,” said, Dr. Wayne A. I. Frederick, a member of Howard University Middle School Board of Directors and president of Howard University. 

In a statement he issued on Tuesday, Dr. Frederick said that The Howard University Middle School of Mathematics and Science is committed to academic excellence and its mission to educate young scholars. 

“The Middle School is governed by an independent nonprofit organization, which is governed by its own board of directors and operates under agreements approved by the DC Public Charter School Board. The Middle School is also committed to following all the rules and regulations of the DC Charter School Board,” the statement said.

Dr. Frederick explained that on January 22, 2015, three teachers of the Department of Social Studies at the Middle School resigned. Their resignations were accepted, effective January 27, 2015. The teaching of African and African-American history and culture was not a factor in accepting the resignations. 

Dr. Frederick defended Blackmon’s track record of engaging African American students and teachers in culturally responsive STEM education. The social studies curriculum Blackmon is implementing at the Howard University middle school for maths and science “includes a content strand centered on an enduring understanding of African cultural systems,” he said.  

The students disagree.  The new curriculum is troubling; it excludes topics such as Kwanzaa and the late D.C. Mayor Marion Barry, they said. 

“It’s not even information,” said Dennis. “It’s all about European wars and stuff,” added eighth grader, Lauryn Renford. “We used to learn like before Africans were enslaved, and when we ruled Africa.”

Before Monday’s protest the students held two silent protests last Wednesday and Thursday. But unsatisfied with the results of those protests, the students staged a walkout with a list of demands on Monday. The walkout was held at the flagpole in the center of Howard University’s Upper Quad, familiarly known as “the Yard.”  

The demands called for an alternative means to learning Black-History despite their lack of social studies teachers and new social studies teachers “who will be treated with respect.”  Their demands also include a meeting with students to address their general concerns such as receiving “just negative attention” from administration, a “more visible” and “less antisocial” principal and a stop to “tracking students for the school to prison pipeline.”

Protests were a student initiative. India Porter, an eight-grader at the middle school started a group message for students to voice their concerns. The events were coordinated by a group of 10 student committee members and were supported by parent and staff leaders.

An Instagram user, Jaslyn Brown, said she interned in the middle school’s social studies department for three years. “Their styles were different, but they had the same goal: to teach the babies OUR HISTORY,” she said of the fired teachers. 

Of the students, Brown said she is proud to see them protest against an administration “seeking to take that right from them,” hash-tagging the post #BlackHistoryintheMaking.

Blackmon and other school administrators could not be reached for comment.

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