Reading, interpreting, and teaching African American history : examining how African American history influences the curricular and pedagogical decisions of pre-service teachers
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African American history and how it is taught in classroom spaces have been a point of contention with activists, historians, and educators for decades. In it current form, African American history narratives often are ambiguous and truncated, leaving students with a disjointed construction about U.S. history. Additionally, the pedagogical decisions made by teachers regarding African American history are sometimes problematic. To fix this problem, critical scholars have surmised that both pre- and in-service teachers need to be more knowledgeable about African American history. This knowledge will help teachers move past simplistic constructions of the past and provide a transformative educational experience. In essence, these scholars believe that teachers cannot teach [African American history] because they do not know it. This study, however, examines what if they do know [African American history], will they teach it? The purpose of this study was to investigate how knowledge influences teachers’ pedagogical decisions. Using the theoretical and conceptual frameworks of cultural memory and knowledge construction, this qualitative case study explores how four pre-service teachers interpreted African American history after engaging in a summer reading program and how that knowledge was implemented in their classroom during their student teaching semester. The reader, entitled A Winding River, was a collection of scholarly journal articles, book chapters, and primary and secondary source documents. Data collection measures included three classroom observations, reflective journals, three interviews, and other classroom documents related to the participant’s student teaching experience. Findings indicate that knowledge acquisition is complex and the process to teach is a generative process. Although knowledge is an important component in teaching, sociocultural factors also influenced the divergent ways African American history was interpreted and taught. The study indicates that the access of African American history is not always a prerequisite in teaching the subject in transformative ways.