What Traditional Schools Won’t Teach You About Michelle Obama

Photo credit: chicagotonight.wttw.com

Michelle Obama will easily go down as one of the most powerful and influential women in history.  Aside from being the first Black FLOTUS, she is intelligent, beautiful, strong, accomplished, and an ideal role model for young girls and women everywhere.  So there’s no question as to why artist and Chicago native, Chris Devins, wants to paint a mural of Mrs. Obama on her childhood elementary school in the South Shore neighborhood.  She would join other notable figures such as Lorraine Hansberry, Louis Armstrong, and Nat King Cole whose murals have been painted in other predominantly Black neighborhoods throughout the city.  I am absolutely in love with this celebration of Black leaders through art–but I would love it even more if youth in these communities were taught the richer history behind these figures.

Before I get into it, I would be remiss not to acknowledge and applaud the educators, administrators, and parents who have worked to fill in the gaps left by CPS.  There are a number of public school students who have been made more culturally and socially aware because of your efforts.  However, Chicago Public Schools has used the same blanket education regimen for years, neglecting the depths of cultural learning that is important in the well-rounded development of youth.  Black history is limited to the month of February, Mexican and Asian heritage have a month, and students really only hear about Native Americans when Christopher Columbus stole their land.  But all year long, there’s heavy submergence in American history. Hence, another reason why having options is important.  

Charter, private, home and other alternative schooling models have power of autonomy when it comes to choosing curricula that best suits their population of students.  For example, Kwame Nkrumah Academy (a level 2+ K-8 charter school in Roseland) is named after the first president of Ghana and offers a global model of African-centered teaching and learning.  Little Learners Academy in Kenwood provides an intimate, home based, Christian learning environment with holistic family engagement.  These learning institutions make it possible for students and families to learn about and celebrate their culture, and history. And learning these things are key to shaping character, morals, values, tolerance and understanding amongst other cultures.

I say all of this to say, diversity in learning is important.  Options are important.  Knowledge of culture and history are important.  What students need to know is that before Michelle Obama was FLOTUS, she graduated from Princeton and Harvard, became a successful lawyer, writer, worked as Associate Dean of Student Services at the University of Chicago, and was Vice President of Community and External Affairs of the University of Chicago Medical Center. They can learn this at other schools outside of the traditional system.  She is a Black woman from the south-side of Chicago that was powerful before politics–and students need to know that!  We need to invest in education that not only teaches youth the basics, but also who they are and where they come from because that is how we empower and equip them to be the leaders they were born to be.  CPS works for some, but options are important for all–teach the children.

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Tanesha Peeples

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