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I am a teacher. A history teacher. A white history teacher. That last sentence has a double meaning. I am both white and the history I teach is white history. Or at least it used to be. Praise God that I am working on no longer teaching only white history.

The school I teach at is an inner city; a classical, Christian school in Minneapolis. It is a very diverse classroom, and this is a beautiful thing. Picture two gardens. Which garden would be more beautiful? One with nothing but roses…or a garden with magnolia trees, roses, daffodils, peonies, etc. You get the point.

One thing I love about my job is I learn as much, if not more, from my students as they learn from me. And this time of year (Black History Month) I like to reflect on one particular example.

I was teaching about the industrial Revolution. I had taught it many times before. It was easy for me. I was on cruise control. Railroads: Cornelius Vanderbilt. Automobiles: Henry Ford. Telephone: Alexander Graham Bell.

White. White. White.

Then I got to the light bulb.

“Thomas Edison had a bright idea, he invented the light bulb,” I said as the slide with a picture of Thomas Edison with a light bulb over his head (signifying his bright idea) came up.

“No he didn’t. Some black guy did.” One of my 6th grade girls blurted out.

I paused.

“No, I’m pretty sure it was Thomas Edison. I’ve been teaching this for many years.” I said condescendingly. Come on; this is common knowledge.

“No, really. It was some black guy. Look at the poster in the math room,” she wouldn’t let it go.

By this time I was flustered. I was sure I was right ,and I was annoyed this student was interrupting me and was questioning not only my knowledge, but my authority as well.

“Fine. Well during our break, we can go check,” I said as I hurriedly moved on to the next Titan of Industry.

Oil: John D. Rockefeller.

White.

When we had our break and we went to the math room, I was blown away.

Lewis Latimer.

Lewis Latimer was a brilliant inventor, engineer, and draftsman. He was instrumental, not only in the invention of the light bulb, but in the telephone as well.

And it makes sense. Thomas Edison and Alexander Graham Bell didn’t create these inventions on their own. They had teams of people working on them and Lewis Latimer was a key member of both of those teams.

I love history. In high school, I took all the history classes I could. In college, I majored in Social Studies Education and minored in history. How could I have missed this?

And Lewis Latimer was only the tip of the iceberg. In my continuing research. I learned about Elijah McCoy, Granville T. Woods, Garrett Morgan and many more.

Needless to say, I apologized to my student in front of the whole class. But I also knew that apology wasn’t enough. I needed to repent of solely being a white history teacher. I needed to turn and teach history that was relevant to all my students — history that was true. Native American History, Hispanic American History, Asian American History, European American History, and African American History. This of course includes a unit on black inventors.

And it benefits all the students, because it is the truth. When they see the people of the past, those who have gone before them and shaped the world we live in, they shouldn’t see a garden of nothing but roses. They should see a garden with unending variety of truth and beauty.

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