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Member & Activist Spotlight

'To understand society, you have to address history'

Darren Williams is a High School Social Studies Teacher in Tulsa, Oklahoma
Darren Williams
Published: June 16, 2023

I am one of the 61 teachers across the country who were chosen to pilot the AP African American studies course. It is important to note that this is a studies course, not a history course. The difference is that it is not just a deep dive into facts, people, and dates. It is an interdisciplinary approach that brings other fields to bear on the subject. And my design is to always build a bridge from the past to today and what that means to my students, as well as how it affects them and the rest of their society.

From my perspective, the course has been fantastic. Our administrators have been supportive, which makes all the difference in the world. This course is important to students too.

In some ways, I don’t like to say this, but in other ways, I have to: In my class, some of the students that gravitate to the subject the most are my Hispanic and white students.

In the spring, we covered lynching of African Americans, and two of our white students had the biggest reactions in the class. Their perspectives were mature, and they wanted to be the ones to talk about it.

Instead of my students being ashamed or taking what happened in history as having a negative effect on them, it makes them engage the subject more. And I have to say this part: To understand society, you have to address history, and to address and understand history, it must go beyond an intellectual enterprise. You must feel the impact of what has happened. Anybody who is interested in protecting students from the feeling of what has happened is not interested in children fully learning. This actualizes social-emotional learning.

As a social studies teacher, what I know is that education is a political issue. It always has been in America, especially when it comes to either educating African American people or teaching African Americans studies. The issue is that education is being used as a weapon, and to that degree it is so politicized, if you do not see it [a certain] way, you are an enemy. The motivation behind it seems to be about political platforming. And from that perspective, it really does not have the interest of children in focus. It is driving an agenda to move a political needle. That is dangerous from my perspective.

For this fringe group pushing culture war issues, I ask one of two things: One, know what you're talking about in discussing AP African American Studies, because the pushback has been uninformed and politically motivated and driven. And so, to know what you're talking about is the best way to help educators. Second – and it's one or two – if you don't intend to be informed, get out of the way because we take our jobs and the lives and futures of our students serious enough to make sure we present information that’s going to help them to be good people first and then good citizens, with a good/balanced education.

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