The film Hidden Figures has taken over the role of the American school system by teaching millions about important black figures. When John Glenn became the first person to orbit the earth, he received most of the praise and the people working behind the scenes went unnoticed. Hidden Figures showcases the story about three African-American women who helped launch America’s space program. Upon learning about their journey through NASA as engineers, many were left wondering why this story and many others are often unknown.
Every February, teachers gear up to tell their student stories about African American leaders for Black History Month. Outside of the usual lessons about Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Rosa Parks and Harriet Tubman, many other black leaders go unnoticed. Most children are taught a condensed lesson about slavery and segregation. They do not get the chance to learn how black people were involved in shaping the United States. “My problem with the way that Black history is taught,” said Michael Hester, African American studies professor at The University of West Georgia, “is if you teach it the same way every time, you fail to meet the goal of teaching.” As a result of repetitive learning, students are often left ignorant to most of the facts about the background of this country.
Carter G. Woodson, co-founder of the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History, created Negro History Week, which later became Black History Month, to be an observance and remembrance of important people and events related to African Americans. It was not created to be the only time that Black history is taught. “If the only time we talk about black people is during the month of February,” said Hester, “then we are not only doing a disservice to the study of American History, we are doing a disservice to Black History Month.” In schools, Black history is taught as a separate entity, Woodson hoped that one day America would recognize the contributions of Black people without needing to set aside a month.
In a study published by the Journal of Child Development, it was shown that Black students who are taught about the accomplishments of their race are more likely to succeed in school. Studying about how people of other ethnical backgrounds helped shape the United States helps to break the racial and prejudice boundaries that we see in the world today.
Black History is American history but by it being subjected to just one month, the importance is open to be questioned. Many students who attend UWG have enrolled in African American studies classes to learn about the leaders who were not in their school curriculum. “I ask the same question on the first day of every class,” said Hester, “what do you want to learn and the most popular answer is “I want to learn about the people we don’t hear about.”” If teachers continue to teach repeated lessons about Black History in school, hopefully Hollywood will continue to showcase the accomplishments of Black people to the world.