Year-round, curriculum-wide Black history coming to Delaware schools

Delaware state Sen. Tizzy Lockman is one of the lead sponsors of the Black history education bill. (Emma Lee/WHYY)

Delaware state Sen. Tizzy Lockman is one of the lead sponsors of the Black history education bill. (Emma Lee/WHYY)

Black history is breaking out of the one-month-a-year box under legislation given final approval by state lawmakers this week.

The Delaware Senate voted 16-5 in favor of legislation that will incorporate Black history in Delaware schools throughout the school year across multiple subjects. It passed the House earlier this month 33-7.

“It requires each school district and charter school to establish and implement a curriculum on Black history for its students from grades K through 12, incorporating contemporary events into discussions of Black history and infusing that history across the disciplines: into the arts, social studies, math, language arts, and English,” said Sen. Tizzy Lockman, a Democrat from Wilmington who served as the bill’s lead Senate sponsor. “It’s really about integrating the fullness of our history in a complete way.”

Currently, Black history lessons are predominantly taught in conjunction with Black History Month in February. Lockman said that leaves little time for discussion beyond the familiar figures like Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and Rosa Parks.

“Fundamentally, what this bill is about is that Black history is American history, and we know that education is a great equalizer,” Lockman said. “We believe this legislation will bring equity, enhance diversity, allow our students to all feel included in the educational process, and also to know one another in ways that we think will certainly be constructive and productive.”

Republican Sen. David Lawson voted against the measure, questioning the meaning of the term “white supremacy” as used in the bill.

“It’s thrown around a lot, but I’d like a definition of white supremacy,” Lawson said.

“Oh, wow,” a surprised Lockman replied, before providing Lawson a dictionary definition of the term. “The belief that white people constitute a superior race and should therefore dominate society, typically to the exclusion or detriment of other racial and ethnic groups, in particular Black or Jewish people.”

Lawson further questioned Lockman about the intent of the phrasing.

“So, from that, all white people are racist?” he asked.

Lockman responded with a matter-of-fact, “No.”

The legislation requires schools to teach about “the relationship between white supremacy, racism, and American slavery.”

Lawson summed up his argument later in the debate calling for an end to discussions of race and racism.

“How do we get over race? How do we get over racism when everything we do is based on it? It’s time to quit. This history is history. Color is not. And it’s time that we put the pigmentation aside,” he said. “It’s not necessary. If there’s an accomplishment, it shouldn’t be simply recognized because of a shade of skin. I think it’s time we grow up and do better.”

Lawson was one of five “no” votes against the legislation, all were Republicans.

Sen. Colin Bonini joined Sen. Ernie Lopez as the only Republican “yes” votes.

“This does not teach kids that one race is better than another race. It doesn’t do that. It does not teach kids that we’re going to punish people because of what their ancestors did. It doesn’t do that,” Bonini said. “You have to learn the good and the bad.”

Lead House sponsor Rep. Sherry Dorsey Walker said the bill will help ensure all students understand the context of the contributions of Black people throughout history. She stressed that the lessons will help educate students of all races and ethnicities.

“When teaching the history of our nation, the achievements, challenges, contributions, struggles, and triumphs of Black people should not be segregated, but be incorporated into the American story, just as they unfolded in history,” Dorsey Walker said. “I am grateful to the support of my colleagues, but especially to the young people who took a leadership role in advocating for and advancing this important piece of legislation.”

While the measure doesn’t specifically lay out a curriculum for schools to use, it requires individual school districts and charter schools to develop lessons that recognize the impact of racial and historical trauma, while engaging students in the roles and responsibilities of all citizens to combat racism, inequality, and discrimination.

It also calls for lessons on the tactics social movements have used to achieve change, including protests.

The history of racial discrimination in Delaware must also be taught.

The legislation got support from the Delaware Black Student Coalition, which helped lawmakers craft the legislation. The coalition will join other groups including the NAACP, Africana studies programs at Delaware State University and the University of Delaware in developing resources to help schools build out the new curriculum.

Gov. John Carney’s office didn’t immediately respond to questions about whether he would sign the legislation.

Get daily updates from WHYY News!

Want a digest of WHYY’s programs, events & stories? Sign up for our weekly newsletter.

Together we can reach 100% of WHYY’s fiscal year goal