Adequate representation of black in U.S. history -- a controversy that generated student protest and created black history courses during the 1960s -- has been resolved in D.C. public schools. At least according to school officials.
The D.C. public school system no longer offers black history courses in most of its classrooms. School officials say lack of student demand led to their elimination.
Publishers has assimilated black history into American history textbooks, they say, so there is no longer a need for black history courses.
"It is a natural progression," Frances Powell, supervising director of social studies for D.C. public school system, said. "The textbook publishing companies have cooperated and included more information on blacks in their books. If you look at the earlier editions you will see that blacks were almost totally excluded from history."
Powell said she and other school officials feel that having separate black history courses segregates the teaching of history.
However, historian Lorraine A. Williams, vice president of academic affairs at Howard University and former chairman of the history department there, said D.C. public schools textbooks do not offer enough about the contributions of blacks in history.
"I think there should be more information more black contributions integrated in various parts of history. I'm a historian by training and I know so much about contributions blacks have made. It is not enough to have the constant mentioning of well-known figures like Phillip Wheatley or Frederick Douglas."
Williams said there are "many, many more contributions that blacks have made" and the D.C. public school textbooks could do much more to teach students about the role of blacks in history.
Not all D.C. history teachers agree that the school system is properly teaching students about black history. "Unfortunately black history is not stressed as it should be," a teacher in a Northwest Washington high school said.
Although the information is available to students who want it, she said, many teachers gloss over the textbook material and do not give it proper emphasis, "I never rely on the textbook as the final word," she added explaining that the supplements the history material.
While some teachers criticize the way black history is taught in some D.C. schools, James Guines, associate superintendent for instruction, said he believes the school system is doing a good job teaching the subject: "We have learned that America is not a melting pot. It is really a pickle barrel where all minorities have made their contributions."
The school system, Guines said, has made a conscious effort to include black history and the history of other minorities within regular history courses. We also have black studies books available in the school libraries and teachers often supplement the regular history textbooks with additional information."
In addition, the school system will soon be considering a proposal by its social studies department that could require students to know accomplishments of blacks and other minorities before the students graduate.
The recommendation, which is slated to go before the Board of Education soon, would test students on their knowledge of American minority contributions in politics, economics, science and culture.
Student interest in black-studies courses declined, in part, Powell said, because students -- both black and white -- found they had to study just as hard for black studies as for regular history courses. They had apparently expected the courses to be easier than conventional courses.
At several D.C. pulbic high schools visited by a reporter last week, black history books were available in student libraries and on nearby bulletin boards, elaborate displays were being prepared for Black History Month.
Gloria Brent, school librarian at McKinley High School, said: "We have so many students asking for black-studies books we have to keep some of them on reserve so they will be available and students won't be disappointed."
She explained while there was a student demand for additional black-studies books, there was no demand for additional courses in black-studies.
Black history has always been an elective, an optional course students may choose to fill out their required schedule. In rare cases -- school officials could name only one instance, at McKinley High School -- courses are still available if enough students elect to take them. School officials says, however, it is unusual when eight to 10 students -- the number required to establish in elective course -- choose to take black studies separately.
Rising costs, which eliminate elective courses, often hit black history courses first, and many black-studies courses in both secondary schools and colleges have been cut. This has contributed to a nationwide decline in high school students' interest in those courses.
Only a decade ago student concern for creating black history courses was particularly intense because history books provided little if any information on the subject. This has changed, however. One high school textbook used by D.C. public high school students, "Rise of the American Nation," for example, gives information about black colonists, the role of black sailors during the war of 1812, how blacks supported the New Deal and the Civil Rights movement.
Calvin R. Lockridge, recently elected school board president, said he is particularly concerned that blacks have a prominent place in D.C. history courses equal to the period when black history courses were taught separately: "I fought for black studies in Chicago back in 1962. I feel it should have a distinction in the public school system." CAPTION: Picture, Black and white U.S. sailors cheer victory in the Battle of Lake Champlain during War of 1812. Illustration from "Rise of the American Nation"; Copyright (c) 1977, Harcourt Bruce and Jovanovich Inc., reprinted from "A Pictoria History of Black American"; Copyright (c) 1974. Used with permission of publisher.