African-American History class provides different perspective, says teacher

March 2, 2021

Rod Mullen, a history teacher, has been teaching African-American History at Central for his entire 23-year career.

During that time, Mullen doesn’t think he’s changed the class much, but he has added his own perspective and his own way of doing things. He’s also been provided with more course material, which makes teaching the class a bit easier.

“There was no textbook before I taught the class,” Mullen explained. “We have one now, it’s hard to get to, but at least we have a framework which we can work through. Also, I teach it in units now, instead of just teaching African-American History in a general sense.”

Mullen thinks this class provides what any other history class provides: the opportunity to learn about a different perspective of history.

“It’s important because you need to have a well-rounded understanding of history,” Mullen said. “And if U.S. History is taught from just a Western Civilization perspective, you’re only going to get maybe a mention of Martin Luther King Jr. here, maybe Malcolm X there, and that will be it.”

Mullen says the reason this doesn’t happen in U.S. History class is because there is a unit centered around the Civil Rights Movement, where students learn about events like the Montgomery Bus Boycott, the Little Rock Nine and the March on Washington.

Mullen made it clear he didn’t want to comment on how other teachers teach their classes, because he isn’t in those classes and doesn’t know first-hand what they teach, but he did say that he would like some of the content which he covers in African-American History to be covered in classes like World History and U.S. History, if it isn’t already.

“Make sure that you do mention the greatness of Ancient Africa and how that changed when it came to the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade,” he said. “Mention the contributions of African people to early colonial America, leading up to the Civil War. Just make sure that students understand the contributions of African-American people and the whole transition from the so-called ‘Old World’ to the ‘New World.’”

As for his own class, Mullen is certain of the change he’d like to see. Right now, African-American History is only one semester long, but he’d like to make it a full year-long class.

“That way I can expand what I teach, without having to squish it into a few weeks here and a few weeks there,” he said. “I wouldn’t get as many students, of course, but as far as just teaching the class, it would be great to see what would happen over a full year.”

Mullen thinks the perspectives that his African American History class—and classes like it—are important, because they can impact people’s lives down the road.

“The more you learn about other cultures, the better not only your life is, as far as just personal knowledge, but the better your relationships are with people outside of your particular group,” Mullen explained, “Most people are going to work with people of different backgrounds, and they’re going to go into it with preconceived notions and lack of knowledge. With the kind of knowledge that this class provides, you have a little bit better background with which to converse with people and to appreciate those other groups.”

 

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