Cornel West, Eddie Glaude Launch National Curriculum on Black History, American Democracy

Cornel West, Eddie Glaude Launch National Curriculum on Black History, American Democracy

      Princeton professors Dr. Cornel West and Dr. Eddie Glaude have teamed up with talk-show host Tavis Smiley to launch a national movement to take critical lessons of Black history and American democracy out of the classroom and into people’s homes, churches, book clubs and civic groups.  

      The Princeton professors have written an unconventional public course available online called the “Covenant Curriculum: A Study of Black Democratic Action,” and so far they may have up to 2 million students. An extensive and far-ranging reading list includes works by Thomas Jefferson, Ida B. Wells, Toni Morrison, Walt Whitman, Mark Twain and Dr. Michael Eric Dyson. The goal is to place the contributions of Black Americans into historical context and to prepare individuals and households to take action in response to the issues of health care, crime and educational disparities across the country.

      “I resist the idea that to talk about Black America is to somehow engage in a form of narrow identity politics,” says Glaude, an associate professor of religion and the acting director of Princeton’s Program in African-American Studies. “When you talk about the issue of Blacks’ access to health care, it’s not a Black issue; we’ve just rendered it in Black terms. This is a reflection of the American story, particularly to the extent that Black suffering has been an _expression of failure of American democracy.”

      The Covenant Curriculum is a companion to a book titled The Covenant with Black America, which is a product of six years worth of annual symposia hosted by Smiley to explore the challenges faced by Black Americans.

      Smiley asked West and Glaude to write the curriculum — unveiled last month at the latest State of the Black Union symposium in Houston — to serve as one of the cornerstones of a 10-city “Covenant Tour.” The curriculum and the book, which also has contributions from West, have been presented to groups of 2,500 to 3,000 people at churches in St. Louis, Atlanta and Los Angeles among other major cities.

      “What we need is an examination of ourselves, our history and our present that really raises the question, ‘What does it take for us to wake up?’” says West, the Class of 1943 University Professor of Religion at Princeton.

      “It’s time for everyday people to wake up and take power in the face of elite abusive power,” he says, adding that “this particular kind of effort and action becomes the catalyst for the expansion of democracy across the board for citizens of various colors and genders and classes and sexual orientation.”

      More than 55 million viewers tuned in to watch the original broadcast of the State of the Black Union that launched the Covenant Curriculum. And more than 2 million people have logged on to the online syllabus.

      Devised as a 15-week syllabus, the curriculum explores American democracy in the context of the struggles of Blacks in the United States by incorporating historical speeches; works of social analysis, history, politics and religion; novels and poetry; analytical essays; and movies and documentaries.

      The curriculum is based on the concept that the health of democracy is best examined by scrutinizing the people who suffer within the democratic society. It begins with W.E.B. DuBois’ examination of “the problem of the color line” in The Souls of Black Folk and moves on to a discussion of hypocrisy in the Declaration of Independence, the Civil War and the era of Jim Crow, before ending with an examination of the Black social movement and Black democratic action.

      “The covenant curriculum has been created … to help guide high school students and college students in the study of Black democratic action,” Smiley said when launching the initiative. “If you are a teacher, a professor, a parent, a community organizer, anyone who leads or works with young people, this is a tool for you. This curriculum is for anyone quite frankly who wants a history lesson and contemporary foundation for African-American progressive political movement.”

      “What we’re trying to do is get everyday people to reflect on their circumstances so they can transform their own lives,” Glaude says. “So the Covenant is just a lightening rod. We trust everyday people enough — we trust Black people enough — to make the right decisions if they are rightly informed. And we think they can change their circumstances.”



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