The African American Museum in Cedar Rapids, Iowa deserves better. Iowa, despite having very white, has proven itself to be pretty progressive throughout history. That is why my expectations were high. Well, I left the museum dissatisfied, perplexed, and curious about Iowan classrooms. Specifically, I wonder how Black history is being taught and what of Black history is being taught in elementary and secondary school classrooms. My dissatisfaction spawned from the emptiness of the museum. The purpose of a museum is to fill in what classrooms leave blank, yet this African American Museum is just a textbook that people can physically wander through.
The African American Museum is a textbook because displayed textbook information. Additionally there was information about prominent black Iowans, but otherwise, I was given the textbook basics. The basics include the Civil War to Reconstruction Era and the 1950s through the late 1960s. In many curriculums, black people are almost nonexistent in other chapters/decades. This true for both secondary and elementary school textbooks. Often times, elementary school textbooks contain even less; perhaps knowing about America’s racist history is too much for children under the age of 11.
Similar to textbooks, museums tend to be culturally insensitive. Even with the best intentions to not water down history while still being compassionate towards the people impacted, they fall short when people outside of that demographic are in charge of content. I initially thought the African American Museum was ran by black people, and it is. Two out of the six staff members are black. The curator just so happens to be one of the four white people listed on the faculty page. However, I knew already knew this. It was obvious when I came across a piece of lynching rope incased in glass. For some reason the curator thought that was an important artifact that needed to be preserved. I thought it was quite triggering and offensive. This highlights the lack of compassion needed for multicultural education and an equitable pedagogy. This type of insensitivity and ignorance is commonly found in textbooks as well. Within a book designed to help teachers teach social studies to elementary students, I found an exercise about Rosa Parks. The creator of the lesson plan had gone out of their way to tell the “child-friendly” version of the bus story, yet the n-word was spelled out and included.
With that being said, how history is taught is left at the discretion of the people writing the textbooks, the people deciding what goes into museum exhibits, and the people teaching the information. It is important that black history can be cultivated and taught by black people. At the very least, black people should in the conversation of how the knowledge is delivered.