LAKEWOOD, Ohio — Life is about perspective and sometimes you zoom out to get the full picture, but in Lakewood High School class 103, Austin Sparks and his students zoom in.
Lakewood is one of 60 schools across the country offering a new AP African American Studies class, district officials said currently they are on the only district in Ohio offering it.
“It’s really rewarding as a teacher because as someone who is African-American myself, I never experienced my history in high school and the fact that I’m able to give my students that experience is rewarding and humbling for me,” said Sparks,
In the year-long course students digest everything starting with African colonization to slavery, how that led to the civil rights movement, and how all of that contributes to today's activism.
“Some people talk about politics and talk about how the BLM [Black Lives Matter] movement is like this, and why are people acting like this, well looking back on history the reason why people are acting like this is because of how history was,” said LHS junior Zoe Bowers.
“I think that it’s interesting to see the difference in perspective of how you would learn about Africa in this class versus how you have ever learned about it in a US History class,” said LHS senior Sophia Boyer.
For Zoe Bowers, the perspective offered in this class is personal.
"Since I’m half black, I would like to learn more about black history mostly because US History glosses over slavery and then the civil rights movement,” said Bowers.
Apparently, a lot of Lakewood students are eager to learn, in only his fourth year teaching, Sparks hoped to get roughly 20 students registered for the inaugural course, but instead, he got 63.
“We tripled what the goal was and what it comes down to is students at the end of the day want to learn about this and it shows,” said Sparks. ”A lot of them haven’t experienced their own history, especially my black students and they’re intrigued about learning about their own culture.”
This zeal for black history comes amid a culture war in many school districts nationwide.
Early this summer some Ohio lawmakers introduced the Divisive Concepts Bill, looking ban teaching controversial or racist concepts in schools.
The curriculum taught in this AP course is regulated by the college board, because after this pilot phase students could get college credit for the class.
“For me it's incredible, I think I’m really lucky in a way to teach the community like this, I can’t speak for everyone in Lakewood but to me it’s a pretty open community to open ideas and open perspectives,” said Sparks.
“It teaches you that the things you’ve been taught aren’t necessarily always true and the perspectives and ideas that you have about the African continent are not entirely true at all,” said Boyer.
Students hope that eventually, other schools will zoom in to see that black history is a major thread in our nation's fabric today.
“Many schools around the country should have this class mostly because our country is not made up of one nationality,” said Bowers.
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