Written by Carolyn Dixon, a member of the New Mountain Climbers
“Instruction in youth is like engraving in tone.”
No doubt many people would disagree with me when I say that being educated in a segregated school system had its advantages. While I would certainly agree that not having access to the latest equipment, books and other materials and making do with hand-me-downs from the white schools made teaching and learning more difficult, it did not prevent me and my classmates from receiving an education that prepared us to compete in a more diverse world than the one in which we had grown up.
Perhaps what was most important I our education was that we had teachers who looked like us and cared about us. They were our role models, instilled racial pride, and challenged us to become the best we could be. Excellence was not just a word but a level we were expected to achieve. They believed in us and our abilities and they made learning fun! Most of all they taught us that while we were as good as our white peers, we had to be better than they were to accomplish our goals and become successful.
Our daily studies included informal history lessons. What the textbooks didn’t include about us, our teachers did. We did reports on Mary McLeod Bethune, Frederick Douglass, W. E. B. DuBois, Carter G. Woodson, etc. Weekly assemblies often featured poetry by Langston Hughes, Paul Lawrence Dunbar, writers of the Harlem Renaissance and others read or performed by our teachers. Sometimes students also presented plays and readings of Black writers as well as music written or performed by Black composers and entertainers. We actually sang the “Negro National Anthem” more often than the “Star Spangled Banner.” Every day we were reminded that we were somebody, to dream big, to believe in ourselves prepare ourselves, and not give up even though it would be difficult.
My mother had a saying, “Half of education is knowing where to find it.” At no time in history is this more true than it is today. Knowledge is at our finger tips through technological advancements such as the computer. Yet young African Americans do not know their history. Rarely is it included in their schools’ curriculum. In an attempt to “melt” us into a homogenous blob, western European history is taught as the standard and acceptable history. Thus African American students don’t learn about themselves or people like them and often they don’t have teachers who look like them. They are left with holes in their education with few, if any, identifiable role models to emulate. As result, many African American students have lost their sense of identity, self esteem, and self respect. Too many are wandering around without knowing who they are or where they came from. They have little or no knowledge of what contributions their people have made to this country and the world.
The Community Group in Christiansburg, VA saw a need to help African American students learn about their history. With funding from the New Mountain Climbers Giving Circle, it was decided that a fun and educational event would meet that need. Perhaps it was also the political climate, the “bashing” of the first African American President of the US and the frustration of seeing future generations of all races mired in ignorance about Black history that spawned the idea of sponsoring a Black History Quiz Bowl. Whatever the reason, the seed was planted and planning began to put the project to fruition.
“History is a clock that people use to tell the cultural and political time of day. It is also a compass that people use to find themselves on the map of human geography.” – John Henrik Clarke
I was delighted to become part of the planning team made up of people who were active in the community and expressed their interest in supporting our youth. The team met on Saturday mornings to strategize and included a college professor, a high school teacher, a retired educator/counselor and a member of the Montgomery County Board of Education. After the following plans were formulated, we each took responsibility for specific actions:
- Invite all high schools in Montgomery County to participate.
- Create teams of 4 students; each team would have a coach as determined by the students’ school or provide by the Bowl committee.
- Design the Quiz Bowl in the form of the game show “Jeopardy.” (The high school teacher had previously designed and used this format for the youth at her church.)
- Develop questions in multiple categories: science, arts, history, geography, sports, etc.
- Provide questions and answers for each team to study before the Bowl.
- Identify and assign one moderator for the Bowl.
- Identify three (3) judges to resolve conflicts; provide computers to resolve questionable answers.
- Provide monetary award for each member of the winning team(s).
- Consider involving teams of different levels. i. e. high school and middle school.
- Schedule the Bowl on two (2) consecutive Saturdays: the first Saturday would be the elimination round(s); the second Saturday would be the pay-off round with the winner(s) from the elimination rounds.
- Develop and distribute applications to participate in the event.
- Set deadline for applications to be received.
- Assign person to collect applications.
- Develop and distribute materials to advertise the event in the schools and the local media.
The first Black History Quiz Bowl was held at Christiansburg High School in 2010. It was successful as a first effort with two teams participated, both from Christiansburg H. S. The students had fun and interest in future Bowls was ignited. (Update: there may be as many as eight teams in the 2012 Quiz Bowl on February 26th.)
We had encountered some difficulties with getting teams organized. In hindsight, it would have been helpful to have had a “go to” or contact person in each school to facilitate the process and help resolve issues affecting the teams. That person could have been responsible for coaching their team as well as serving as a liaison between the Planning Committee and the team(s). Also, there was a need to pay attention to conflicts in students’ schedules; often the students who want to participate are also the ones who are most busy with after school jobs and/or extra-curricular activities.
It was extremely helpful to have a member of the planning team at the high school with access to materials, equipment and personnel. And having a Board of Education member as a cheerleader and spokesperson was also a plus. Additionally, the planning committee itself generated excitement and enthusiasm about the project and willingly worked several Saturdays to ensure the success of the Bowl. Finally, the Quiz Bowl, like physical sports, was a lesson in team work and good sportsmanship. The students not only learned history they also learned to work together to achieve a goal.
If you want to use this idea/model to develop a Black History Quiz Bowl, it is not essential to be in education or even have access to educational facilities. Mainly, it takes the desire and willingness to make it happen. This activity would be ideal for churches, neighborhood groups, Greek and other social organizations, as well as community centers and scout troops. It should not be limited to high school and middle school students. Students in the elementary grades can be great and eager participants.
“Knowledge is like a garden. If it is not cultivated it cannot be harvested.” (Guinea)
It is easy to sit back and complain about what is missing in our youth. Like my teachers did so many years ago, it is up to us to find ways to educate them in spite of circumstances to fill in the missing learning gaps. As challenging as it may be, we owe it to our young people to provide them with opportunities to learn about themselves and their heritage. Equally important is teaching others about Black History to develop in them a deeper and more balanced understanding of the value of diversity within our society and in the world community. A Black History Quiz Bowl is a super way to accomplish this.
Carolyn H. Dixon, M. A. T., M. S., is a retired educator, counselor, and former Academic Advisor at Virginia Tech. She is also a member of the New Mountain Climbers Giving Circle in Christiansburg, VA.