Daily file illustration by Cynthia Zhang
This year, history instruction in Evanston/Skokie School District 65 isn’t just coming from textbooks.
As part of the new History Makers Series, three speakers came to D65 schools throughout the year to talk about identity-based research and advocacy.
“I wanted to be sure that our history did not get caught up in some of the jargon that’s going around all-inclusive history,” Superintendent Devon Horton said. “Let us be a little bit more proactive around sharing and hearing from real people who are talking about their history.”
The History Makers Series invites speakers from marginalized communities to give lectures about their experiences and discuss how their teachings relate to the District 65 social studies framework. After Horton came up with the idea for the program last summer, the speakers gave Zoom lectures over the course of six months.
As the district implements a new history curriculum, it’s transitioning away from its old model of Equity Weeks to include diverse perspectives throughout the curriculum as a whole. Horton said the series complements the new curriculum by explicitly highlighting historically marginalized voices.
Ibrahima Seck, Dean Bell and Linda Matsumoto spoke about Black, Jewish and Asian American experiences. Each has participated in research or activism in their communities.
Jamila Dillard, the District 65 director of social sciences, organized the series. She said she finds people inside and outside the district for the series, looking for speakers who truly engage with the communities they highlight.
“When we say History Maker Series, we want people that are actually doing this work,” Dillard said. “They are actual history makers.”
Matsumoto, one of the presenters, is also an educator at the Dr. Bessie Rhodes School of Global Studies. She recently researched the divergence in COVID-19 responses between Asian and Western countries, and said she was invited to speak in the History Makers Series after winning an award for that research.
She said her presentation had two goals.
“One was for the certified teachers and support staff to become more familiar with Asian American communities,” Matsumoto said. “The second objective was for me to present under the umbrella of History Makers, representing the AAPI community.”
The lectures typically take place on Wednesday evenings, which Dillard said made them hard to watch live because of work schedules. However, she said the online recordings posted after the events have seen greater traffic and make the series more accessible.
The event targets everyone in the community, Dillard said.
“We would hope that our parents and grandparents and family and teachers are taking these learnings and these experiences back to our students and our children,” she said.
Looking to next year, Horton also said he wants to time the presentations so that they overlap with corresponding national heritage or history months.
In the future, he said he wants students to play a more active role.
“We’ll have a student, maybe the fifth grade or eighth grade,” he said. “We’ll work with them, say, prepare some questions for our guests before they present, and they’ll be able to engage in that conversation.”
Dillard also wants to improve attendance and said she already has a guest speaker in mind for next year. Though she said she’s excited about the speakers from this year, she acknowledged there are voices that haven’t been included yet, including those from the Latine and LGBTQ+ communities.
“We’re done for this year. And we didn’t get to get all of our voices — those voices — shared with us,” Dillard said. “But we’ll hit the ground running (at) the beginning of next school year.”
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