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Shannon Peck-Bartle is an educator in secondary social studies. She holds an MA in applied anthropology and is currently completing a PhD in curriculum and instructional design. She is also the program director of the Rose Hill Cemetery Place-Based Learning Project.

1. Anthropology in K–12 education is often an elective, isolated as an interesting topic to explore but rarely crossing over as a pedagogical approach for critical inquiry. Few teachers feel comfortable teaching through an anthropological lens. Even fewer school districts realize the potential anthropology holds for transformative learning and teaching, by opening up new perspectives that can change understandings, beliefs, and behavior. However, students, teachers, and district leaders in the Tampa Bay area of Florida are using anthropology as a pedagogical methodology to learning that recenters the community and local history in the classroom.

2. In the past two years, nine African American cemeteries have been “rediscovered” in the counties surrounding Tampa. The historic processes leading to the erasure of local African American history and sacred space range from community abandonment and poor record keeping to the intentional removal of headstones and cemetery boundaries from official records to accommodate urban growth in the twentieth century. Communities across the United States are confronting similar historic realities of marginalization and the erasure of community identity from our landscapes.

Credit: Carla Keaton
Illustration of a woman from the shoulders up and a background that includes another group of people under a tree

3. K–12 education is heavily dependent on the written word as a source of authentic knowledge, and it can be difficult for students to understand the process of knowing when historic documents are scarce. Anthropology unlocks alternative modalities of knowing the lived past reflected in cultural landscapes. The inclusion of oral history, art, dance, song, and cultural artifacts allows teachers and students to critically engage with marginalized communities whose history is not represented in written documents. At first glance, cemeteries and anthropology do not seem to directly connect to the standards-driven curriculum. But K–12 education has opened the door for anthropology through place-based learning and object-based learning paradigms. These paradigms encourage students to critically reflect on the creation and meaning of space, place, and objects. Anthropology elevates these paradigms through the infusion of materiality and the cultural semiotics of memory to make visible hidden histories that challenge our education system’s dependency on written documents.

4. Community diversity is rarely reflected within curricula materials for social studies education; few standards directly address issues of race, ethnicity, and identity. Yet students are keenly aware of the complexity of identity. Living through the #MeToo and #BlackLivesMatter movements, today’s students frequently engage in hashtag, community, and political activism. Platforms such as Twitter, TikTok, and Instagram foster virtual communities that rely on signs, symbols, dance, song, and objects to express identity and ideology. Anthropology bridges the gap between static notions of identity often found in K–12 education and the diverse expressions of identity students find in their communities. What does it mean when the news reports the discovery of a Black cemetery? In what ways is Black identity diverse in the community? How has this diversity been erased by the destruction and removal of cemeteries belonging to the African American community?

5. The Rose Hill Cemetery Place-Based Learning Project harnesses anthropology to examine the diversity of the local African American community, the racial concept of Black, and the evolving meaning of cultural landscapes, providing students and teachers with opportunities to deconstruct ideas of identity, place, and authenticity of narrative. Curricula developed for the project directly connect anthropological pedagogy to state and national standards in American history and world history. The historic Rose Hill Cemetery (Rose Cemetery after 1970) in Tarpon Springs is the oldest intact African American cemetery in the Tampa Bay area (1890s–present). Findings at this cemetery complicate our understandings of identity and include a slave with a Confederate monument, Afro-Caribbean spongers marked by conch shells, African American veterans fighting in segregated units during World Wars I and II, and African American educators teaching tolerance in segregated schools in the Jim Crow South. The materiality of this complexity presented through grave goods, monuments, and memorials exposes students to the intricacies of identity missing from their textbooks and curriculum. Recent student projects include Unknown: Memorializing African American Cemeteries and The Butterfly Project: Ode To A Butterfly. Both of these projects connect anthropology to literacy, art, and social studies standards.

6. Unlike the historic Rose Hill Cemetery, the newly rediscovered cemeteries have been visually and materially erased. Can anthropology provide insights into both knowable history and unknowable history? The short answer is yes! Students, teachers, and the community want to know, How could this happen? Why were African American cemeteries erased from the local history? What does this mean for our local identity? Student exposure to and interactions with oral histories and ethnography show a path forward when history’s more physical and visible expressions have been removed.

7. Collaboration between K–12 institutions and anthropologists is key for transformative learning through anthropology. Responding to the discovery of Ridgewood Cemetery, a pauper cemetery buried on school district property, the Hillsborough County School District explored ways to engage students in the preservation and memorialization of cultural landscapes. The school district developed an African American History Task Force and a Historic Response Committee to help navigate questions coming from students and the community. Both committees incorporated anthropologists and archaeologists to help guide the district through best practices for research, preservation, memorialization, and educational programing. The Tampa Bay area has successfully linked school districts, museums, local civic and community leaders, the Florida Public Archaeology Network, and the Department of Anthropology at the University of South Florida through the establishment of the African American Cemetery Alliance of Tampa Bay. This alliance directly connects applied anthropology, K–12 education, and the local community, offering open dialogue and collaborative solutions to community issues.

Anthropology bridges the gap between static notions of identity often found in K–12 education and the diverse expressions of identity students find in their communities.

8. An example of this collaboration at work is the education project, Unknown: Memorializing African American Cemeteries. Funded by the Florida Council of Social Studies, the project blends anthropological pedagogy, such as semiotic inquiry and social constructivism, with arts-based learning strategies to address power structures and their interaction with historic memory and the memorialization of the past. In support of local K–12 education, the Tampa Bay History Center engages teachers in professional development workshops and education programming that highlights local African American history. The Florida Public Archaeology Network interacts with students and teachers through ground-penetrating radar demonstrations and guest presentations on ways of knowing the unseen. Local civic and community leaders interact with teachers and students at cemetery sites with unknown burials. The University of South Florida’s Department of Anthropology networks local K–12 anthropology education programs into higher education. Together, these efforts strengthen the impact of public and applied anthropology and support K–12 students and teachers interested in incorporating anthropology in the classroom.

9. Through anthropology, K–12 institutions can reexamine complex issues found in their local communities. Social justice, environmental justice, public health, migration and immigration, and economic inequality directly connect to state and national standards yet are often left unexplored. An anthropological approach to cultural landscapes and alternative modalities of knowing provides teachers with a pedagogical framework for engaging students in the community. When blended with place-based learning and object-based-learning frameworks, the discipline can develop and uplift critical thinking, problem solving, and community engagement.

10. How can the field of anthropology become more engaged in K–12 education? First, it is important for anthropologists to reach out to K–12 institutions with an understanding of the challenges, limitations, and needs of the teachers and district. Teachers are constrained by standards and time, and unlikely to incorporate anthropology in the classroom if anthropology does not directly support the curriculum in a transformative way. Second, anthropologists can network with other institutions already integrated in the education system. In addition to local museums and historical societies, anthropologists should engage with textbook and curriculum organizations and colleges of education that provide districts with new teachers. Finally, anthropologists should consider presenting the field to K–12 institutions using the vernacular of education to give students, teachers, and district leaders the opportunity to connect anthropology to their work in K–12 education. Through the inclusion of anthropological pedagogy, K–12 students can become transformative agents of community history while developing the critical inquiry skills needed to take on and solve local community issues.

Ready to get involved?
To participate in K–12 academic partnerships, sign up for Anthropologists Go Back to School or for matchmaking on Anthropology Day.
To join our ongoing conversation, join the K–12 Education Network.
K–12 educators and students can become AAA members for freeas K–12 Educator Members and Junior Anthropologist Award recipients.

Carla Keaton is a professional artist with a degree in painting and physical anthropology. Her artwork has featured in art galleries across the United States. She is also a high school art teacher and portrait artist, and has illustrated two children’s books. She lives in Tempe, Arizona, with her daughter Anansa and dogs Zoey and Snickers.


Shannon Peck-Bartle

Shannon Peck-Bartle is an educator in secondary social studies. She holds an MA in applied anthropology and is currently completing a PhD in curriculum and instructional design. She is also the program director of the Rose Hill Cemetery Place-Based Learning Project.

Cite as

Peck-Bartle, Shannon. 2021. “Ten Things about Anthropology for K–12 Education.” Anthropology News website, April 13, 2021.