Black History Month Q&As: Mr. Steve Labenz
1. How do you incorporate talking about Black History Month and its importance in your class?
“I’ve said before [that] American history is Black history and vice versa. We’ll spend a little more time to put a spotlight on it in February, but anytime you’re talking about American history, you’re also talking about Black history.”
2. Why is Black History Month important?
“When we talk about the core democratic principles of the country, we talk about equality and opportunity. I think it’s important for us to keep those things in mind. You guys are on the cusp of going out into the wider world, and it’s a rapidly changing world. It’s important for us to help you as much as we can, to understand things, to question things, to get a better understanding of the world because a lot of times as a history teacher, I fail to realize that kids just don’t know some things, and sometimes, we assume that you guys do, and that’s a bad idea. So, I think it’s important to inform.”
3. In what ways do you think our school could do better at informing its students on the topic as a whole?
“I think we need to make it a more multi-prong thing, where you’re getting a little piece of information on the topic from all different angles across the board. I’ve always been a big fan of cross-curricular teaching, where we have the English and History block. If we’re reading about the Harlem Renaissance in English, we’re reading about it in History, maybe we look at some of the poems and the music and stuff like that in your English class or we’re playing the music in our band class. So really, you’re getting it from a lot of different directions.”
4. Who do you think are some of the most influential Black historical figures?
“I really want to talk more about the differences between Booker T. Washington and W.E.B Dubois, the turn of the century, and then juxtaposed with them and Martin Luther King and Malcolm X and make those ties across history. To see who wanted to do what and how they differ and what they wanted to do for Black Americans.”
5. What do you think is the purpose of Black History Month?
“I think kids are always surprised by the Chicano movement. We would say Latino today, Black history, of course, the Women’s Rights Movement, the Gay Rights Movement, all these things that had happened years and years ago. And I think kids are always a little surprised that so many of those things had happened back during that time. So, I think that’s a good idea to fold in some of this during February.”
6. What advice would you give to students looking to educate themselves?
“You’ve got the world at your fingertips with your phone and your computer. There’s so much information. Every time I read, it’s like, ‘okay, now I gotta get a book on this.’ It just leads me to the next thing. And just to be curious and understand the world around you and understand that we are writing this place in history because all of the people who came before us, White, Black, you name it. I think that the more you know about your country and your world, the better.”