SOAPing American History

I’ve previously shared that I didn’t use textbooks as a teacher. I knew the history textbooks were whitewashed and void of the whole truth. Thankfully, there was a Black-owned bookstore around the corner from where I taught; LaUnique Bookstore at 111 North 6th Street in Camden was at my disposal. I found numerous gems in that store; Africa’s Gift to America by J.A. Rogers comes to mind.

While I suggest that every history teacher (and non-history teacher alike) should visit a Black-owned bookstore to find that and similar gems, teachers and students alike have access to resources online that are free; there to teach them the very history of America that modern and previous textbooks omit. Three such resources come to mind: The 1619 Project, The Great Fire and Abolition for the People.

The critically acclaimed 1619 Project, spearheaded by New York Times writer Nikole Hannah-Jones, is a compilation of essays that detail how slavery served as the economic, social, and political foundation on which the United States was built, and how that foundation continues to negatively impact Black people in the present. The Great Fire is the special issue of Vanity Fair Magazine, edited by author Ta-Nehisi Coates, weaves together the destruction and exploitation of Black bodies and the legacy of enslavement to explain the roots and perseverance of Black activism. Abolition for the People is a project produced by Colin Kaepernick’s company, Kaepernick Publishing, in partnership with LEVEL on the Medium platform. The project will, over the next four weeks, publish 30 stories from organizers, political prisoners, scholars, and advocates — all of which point to the crucial conclusion that policing and prisons do not serve as catch-all solutions for the issues and people the state deems social problems.

Again, these resources are FREE. Any teacher can craft a U.S. history curriculum or course using these resources as their texts; I certainly would. I would also use these texts to craft professional development for teachers – specifically those teachers looking to incorporate texts written by authors of color and information on how to use those resources to teach in culturally competent ways.

According to an Education Week survey, only 14% of teachers report that they have both the resources and training to do the sort of antiracist work that involves incorporating such resources as these in the classroom. Only 18% of teachers said they’ve received such training in their teacher prep programs.

The long and short of it, many teachers may be willing, but are unprepared to teach using resources that completely challenge the conventional frame of American exceptionalism; a frame they possibly (more like probably) were taught to believe in. It may be particularly hard to use these resources if you yourself have never learned or wrestled with such truths. Here is where I hope to help.

I want to introduce the concept of soaping American history.

We use soap to clean; dishes, clothing and our bodies. Soap allows us to renew and revive our materials and ourselves to be of fresh use. Unfortunately, misinformation and disinformation about history has dirtied our minds and our thoughts. But thank goodness for such resources as mentioned above; they are the soap to cleanse us of the dirt that has polluted many of our perspectives around race, history and justice.

My pastor introduced soaping to me as a way to breakdown biblical texts to get meaning as a devotional tool. I want to present it to you – educators – as a way to do the same for historical text that maybe different from what you’re use to reading.

The process of soaping is simple. I choose a text to read and I dive in. I record my thoughts, jot down how I can apply what I learned and then I act. It’s that simple. Here is the structure of a soap:

S – Script – Announce the script (text) you read and share a brief portion of the text

O – Observation – Make observations about what you’ve read in the selected text and connect them to society

A – Application – Brainstorm concrete measures of applying what you’ve observed/learned from the text in ways that address the problems laid out in the text

P – Participation – This part is twofold. 1) Write a one paragraph response to the author of the article (and send it to them) and 2) actually apply the applications you wrote down

Over the next few weeks, I will soap American history using these bodies of work as the text. Once a week (hopefully once a week), I’ll choose an article and soap it according to the layout above. I encourage each of you to read the article I choose and do your own soap; read the text, write your observations, apply what you’ve learned and reach out to the author – they would love to hear from you.

Attached to this blog is a soaping American history worksheet log that you can print out each week we start a new article. You can print that out with the article for the week (I’ll post the link), and your response. You can file them as your own personal antiracist handbook of sorts that you can apply both inside and outside the classroom. I encourage teachers and students to join me on this journey. I also encourage teachers to replicate this in their classrooms for current event assignments.

Now I must warn you… these articles include truths that you may have never heard before. It may cause you to recoil and initially deny what you’re reading. But like good sleuths, do the research to confirm what you’re reading. I can assure you however that the authors have done their homework. The authors of these texts are respected scholars and journalists with the reputation to back up their work. More importantly, many of these authors, if not all of them, are Black. These are the voices not found in textbooks; these are the voices you need to hear.

So, join me. Invite your friends; invite your colleagues and your students. Get a pen, a highlighter and your thinking caps. Get sticky notes, tabs and talk back to the text. Engage with the text. Internalize the text. Let’s use these texts to wipe away the stains of racism, white supremacy and the misinformation and disinformation thereof.

Let’s continue to push towards the mark!


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