African-American Studies Prompts Exploration

New history course focuses on African-American history
By: Todd Martin
A new history course in Killeen ISD high schools has students searching for hidden treasure.
African-American Studies is underway for the first time this semester thanks largely to Killeen High School teacher Keina Cook’s longtime desire to teach it.
“I always wanted to incorporate more African-American history in our courses,” she said. Secondary curriculum leaders approached her about the possibility of a Saturday course before they found out the Texas Education Agency was unveiling its own course.
The first official history course specializing in African-American history in Texas schools, piloted in a few large school districts a year ago. Now, KISD students have the chance to take it.
An African-American Literature course is also debuting this year.
Already, Cook said, students are digging into the class, which is heavy on discourse and frequently brings to the forefront issues like slavery, civil rights and racial tension.
The Killeen High course is drawing a range of personal stories. Connie Crittenden, the school’s Gear-Up coordinator has offered her testimony and brought in fresh-baked biscuits, part of her family’s heritage.
Spencer Gregg, a 20-year Killeen High School band director is co-teaching the class. He has a master’s degree in African-American Studies.
While working on her master’s degree, Cook became familiar with historians like University of Texas professor Daina Berry who wrangled access for the Killeen teacher to visit a screening for a movie based on the life of Harriet Tubman.
That led to an interview with NBC, an article on the station’s website, a podcast and interest from the Washington Post.
“It’s very exciting,” Cook said. “It’s like being a first-year teacher all over again.” While TEA provides guidelines, there is no repository of lessons, so the teacher is building the course from scratch.
“It begins in Africa,” she said, explaining the origins of the story of African-Americans. The course will move through European exploration, the trans-Atlantic slave trade and colonial times, all told from an African-American view.
“We will relate modern issues to history,” Cook said. “None of it is in a bubble. There is such a gap in our learning. It really wasn’t until my post-secondary experience that I realized all the gaps.”
“I like that we’re learning more about African-American culture,” said sophomore Tiana Lee. “We don’t really touch on it in other classes. It will be good to learn more. I’m looking forward to learning where we came from – what we didn’t know before.”
“I think the course helps to debunk some of the preconceived ideas we have,” said junior Landry Searcy. “Studying this topic allows us to learn truth from different perspectives.”
“I love this class,” said junior Morris Marshall. “There is a lot of positivity, a positive mindset. I want to learn the sociology and psychology about why people think and feel the way they do about us and how to change that.”
“We’ve talked about this a long time,” said Gregg, stepping for the first time into teaching outside of music education. “It is awesome to be involved. The more you know about yourself, the more you can have an impact.”