I now work in an elementary school where about 90%-95% of the students are African American. My classes, including the fourth grade group I presently teach, have always reflected this percentage. Of the remaining students, most are Hispanic/Latino with few white pupils. The ages of my students vary from those who have just turned nine to those who are eleven or close to that mark. They come from a variety of social-economic backgrounds and home situations. Their academic ability and the level of their general knowledge also vary considerably. Some are members of families with multiple problems. Few of their lives are without difficulties. Most, though not all, parents or guardians are supportive of school. Most want to be helpful but often are not sure of the best way to go about it. Often the struggles of everyday life interfere with their efforts.
At this point most students still enjoy school but not just for the academics. They are starting to understand that their school career will have some bearing on their lives beyond the present, though their actions often are influenced negatively by peer pressure, their lack of basic skills and general knowledge, difficulty in establishing long term goals, and the lack of a positive image, especially regarding their academic abilities. Nevertheless, they still have high aspirations regarding their futures.
Throughout the years I have realized that these African American students, and, in fact, almost all students, come with a fragmented knowledge of history, in particular African American history. They know the names of Martin Luther King, Jr., Rosa Parks, Cinque, and a few others, but they don't know how and where the lives of these individuals fit and interact within the flow of historical events. They know something of slavery and continuing oppression, but they tend to view these events with a combination of embarrassment and disbelief. As students interpret the past, there is almost a displaced anger that so many African Americans "tolerated" their plight. "Why didn't they fight back?" is a question they have often asked.