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Karen Evans: Lessons on Black History

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Karen Evans encourages kids to have an open mind when learning Black history with the online learning platform Outschool.

By Allie Justis, Photo courtesy of Karen Evans

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Local Austin educator Karen Evans has been getting to work this past year. She’s been teaching students from ages 9 to 13 about Black history, past and present. 

Using the online platform Outschool, Evans has taken the rise in online learning as an opportunity to elevate and educate students on issues she feels are not addressed as well in a traditional school setting. 

“Being African American, I have realized that a lot of the history of Blacks is not brought up in school,” says Evans. “With the climate of the country and with cases like George Floyd and Ahmaud Arbery, I thought it was important to create a course for younger folks so they can understand the history of Black injustice.”

Deep Dive Into Black History

In her courses, Evans dives deep into the history of Black issues. Helping kids become aware of how it affects today’s political climate. While Evans certainly brings her extensive knowledge to the table, she also loves it when her students meet her halfway. Bringing their own experiences into the discussion. 

“Students get to learn about slavery, they get to learn about the Civil Rights Movement,” says Evans. “We bring that all to their attention since it’s not taught in school. So most of my learners have their cameras on. When I bring up something traumatic, I can see on their faces how it’s affecting them. They engage with me by asking those questions or by sharing something that they have heard which offers up discussion. That’s really powerful.”

Back to Her Passion

Evans says that Outschool—“an online teaching society where the classes are live and interactive”—has been the perfect platform for her. It combines the excitement and connectivity of a classroom, while also keeping everyone safe during the pandemic. 

“Teaching was always my first love,” says Evans. “But for financial reasons I went down the business route for the first many years of my career. Now that I’m semi-retired, I really enjoy that passion I’ve always had. That’s why I’ve delved into Outschool, substituting and teaching at Park University.”

Evans’ main goal in teaching these classes is to prepare kids for the rest of their lives. To educate them on the kinds of people they may run into. 

“I think that kids should be aware of the racial climate out there and be aware of its history,” says Evans. “Many parents don’t know how to have these types of conversations with their kids. That allows for them to turn their child over to me so I can sort of open up that door for them to have deeper conversations in the home. I want kids to be aware that there are still racists, there’s still injustices. So they aren’t caught by surprise like I was.”

Evans Teaches from Experience

Evans recalls her own experiences with racism. Experiences which have driven her passion for educating children on how to be aware of the racial climate in this country. 

“In college I went to Illinois State University. I was assigned a white roommate,” Evans recalls. “One day during the first couple weeks of class I came home to find my roommate’s boyfriend in our room. My roommate’s boyfriend told me that my roommate did not like Black people and did not want to live with me. Then they asked me to move out.

“I was hit with that racism so unexpectedly,” says Evans. “It was a slap right in my face, which was a rude awakening. You never know when kids are going to encounter something like that. I want their eyes to be open so they know that possibility is always there and so they can be prepared.”

“Judge People as Individuals”

Parents whose children have taken Evans’ courses have given nothing but glowing reviews about the course material she covers. She has never gotten lower than a four-star rating on Outschool.com. 

“I feel like what I’m doing is making a change,” says Evans. “The response has been wonderful. The parents feel that it should be a mandatory class for all of the kids on Outschool. [They express] how eye-opening it was for their child.”

Evans’ final piece of advice for kids and parents alike when addressing race issues and having these deeper conversations was largely the same. 

“I want my kids to learn in my class to judge people as individuals,” says Evans. “I always tell them, ‘Do not group a bunch of people and stereotype them. Get to know each individual person for who they are first.’ For parents, just be honest with your kids, don’t sugarcoat things. Encourage them to have an open mind, but to also be aware.”

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