For over 50 years, Berkeley High School (BHS) has boasted a unique department: African American (AFAM) Studies. While many colleges have AFAM departments, BHS is the only high school in the nation with one of its own. Even so, many complain about a lack of education when it comes to Black history at BHS.
One of the largest problems with how BHS teaches Black history is the inconsistency in the curriculum. There are five different small learning communities (SLCs) and independent studies, and each one has a different curriculum. While I can say that I learned a lot of black history within Communications Arts and Sciences (CAS), many students from other SLCs have an entirely different experience. Some seniors and juniors from Academic Choice (AC) and Berkeley International High School (BIHS) struggle to even remember learning any Black history aside from it being briefly mentioned in sophomore world history.
While it seems like some SLCs have a better history with teaching this subject, such a broad generalization can’t actually be made. Even within the larger SLCs, teachers approach their
There need to be more opportunities for every student at the school, regardless of teacher, SLC, or grade, to learn Black history.
curriculum differently. If a student actively wants to learn about Black history, it seems like they either have to get lucky enough to have a teacher who will go out of their way to teach it, or take an AFAM class with their extra elective spot.
Another problem with the way Black history is taught is the narratives shown. Through my four years in CAS, I’ve had multiple units per year on Black history, but almost every unit has focused on oppression and the movements to break free of it. Narratives free from this important yet depressing lens have been few and far between. It’s extremely important to learn how about the historic and modern systems used to oppress black people, but it’s also important to celebrate and uplift other stories too. Students have explicitly asked about learning Black history that’s free from the influence of western culture, but it’s rarely taught.
It seems as though BHS is at the forefront of implementing Black history curriculum in the US, but it’s still not enough. There need to be more opportunities for every student at the school, regardless of teacher, SLC, or grade, to learn Black history. Having AFAM classes specifically teaching Black history is incredible, but when students in other history classes have minimal knowledge on the topic, there’s a problem. All students need multiple perspectives and narratives about all types of people, not only those who are in power due to centuries of oppression.