Educators are using TikTok to teach history you might not learn in school | CNN (2024)

Educators are using TikTok to teach history you might not learn in school | CNN (1)

Ernest Crim III left his job as a history teacher to make educational content for TikTok and other platforms. He also works as a public speaker and consultant.


Scroll mindlessly through TikTok and you’re likely to come across someone doing a fit check, sharing a day in the life or performing the latest trending dance.

You might also learn something you weren’t taught in school.

Scholars and educators are increasingly using TikTok to share history that’s seldom found in textbooks — and their content is finding an audience. A 2022 survey from the online learning platform found that one in four TikTok users in the US use the platform for educational purposes, with history being one of the most popular subjects.

One of these educators is Kahlil Greene, also known on TikTok as Gen Z Historian.

In 2021, while he was a senior at Yale University, Greene posted several videos around “the intense amount of whitewashing that happens” during Martin Luther King Jr. Day, highlighting quotes from the civil rights leader that reflected his radical views on race and class.

Seeing an enthusiastic response, Greene launched a series called “hidden history,” covering lesser-known moments in the nation’s past — from the nativist origins of the Pledge of Allegiance to the “human zoos” that put people of color on display for the entertainment of White people. Greene has since amassed more than 600,000 TikTok followers, while his “hidden history” videos, as well as his other educational content around current events and popular culture, routinely rack up tens of thousands of views each.

“I always saw my work as filling in the gaps of the US education system,” Greene told CNN.

TikTok can fill in educational gaps

Educators are using TikTok to teach history you might not learn in school | CNN (2)

Kahlil Greene, known as Gen Z Historian on TikTok, is one of several educators on the platform who have built up a following around sharing little-known history.

How history is taught in US public schools can vary significantly from state to state. While most curricula cover such foundational moments in US history as slavery, the Civil War and the civil rights movement, their approach to these topics is often influenced by partisan politics and community demographics. California textbooks, for example, tend to emphasize the experiences of marginalized groups, while Texas textbooks generally downplay them, as one New York Times analysis found.

Right-wing attacks on “critical race theory” have also taken a toll on history education. Between September 2020 and July 2023, officials at the local, state and federal levels introduced nearly 700 measures to restrict teaching around race and racism, according to a tracker from the University of California, Los Angeles School of Law.

While some lawmakers and officials try to limit such instruction, that knowledge can be vital for students, said Ernest Crim III, a former high school history teacher who now makes educational content for TikTok.

Crim said he grew up in a segregated neighborhood on the South Side of Chicago and was bussed to a majority-White neighborhood for much of his schooling. While he noticed the differences between the two neighborhoods as a child, it wasn’t until he took a Black history course in college that he began to understand the systemic issues at the root of his experience.

The course inspired Crim to become an educator and for years, he taught high school US history and an elective on African and Latin history. Then in 2016, after a woman hurled the n-word at him and his wife at an outdoor festival, and after a string of high-profile police killings of Black people nationwide, he started posting educational content to Facebook and Instagram.

Educators are using TikTok to teach history you might not learn in school | CNN (3)

Crim said he hopes his videos on lesser-known Black historical figures empower young people and inspire them to transform inequitable systems.

“I felt like the curriculum wasn’t really doing enough to teach (students) about the systemic issues that they’re born into,” he said.

When TikTok became popular in the US several years later, Crim began posting snippets from his curriculum on the platform — only this time, more people were paying attention. His videos educate audiences about lesser-known Black historical figures such as historian Carter G. Woodson and the abolitionist lecturer Henry Box Brown, as well as White allies such as Red Lobster founder Bill Darden, who refused to comply with segregation in his restaurant, and civil rights activist Viola Liuzzo, who helped transport protesters to the Selma to Montgomery marches.

Crim also keeps his content relevant by adding historical context around news and current events. When the Major League Baseball season was in full swing, for example, he highlighted the oft-overlooked story of Moses Fleetwood Walker, dispelling the notion that Jackie Robinson was the first Black player to play in the MLB.

Crim’s videos have turned him into a mini-celebrity — he said people recognize him while out and about, while his followers across social media platforms include Ava DuVernay, Mo’Nique and D.L. Hughley. In fact, his educational content has resonated so widely that he left classroom teaching to make social media content full-time. He also now works as a public speaker and consultant.

“For me, it’s about sharing this information to empower, to educate and most importantly, to strategize how we can create equitable systems starting at the grassroots level,” Crim said.

TikTok educational content can empower communities

Educational content on TikTok can also provide avenues for exploring one’s identity.

Aslan Pahari, a Sydney-based creator who graduated from the Australian National University with a degree in anthropology and international relations, makes videos on the platform about ancient history, dead religions, mythology and other subjects, often with an emphasis on South Asia and Central Asia. In recent posts, he’s discussed tribal communities in India, the last pagans of Afghanistan and the real-life inspiration for “The Jungle Book.”

Pahari said his interest in these topics stemmed from wanting to know more about his own ethnicity and origins. Though he was born and raised in Australia, his family is from the provinces of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Punjab in Pakistan, and several of his videos delve into the histories, languages and cultures of the wider region.

What started as a project to cure his boredom during the pandemic has since turned into a full-time career — Pahari’s TikTok page has more than 5 million followers, and he’s cultivated a loyal and engaged community on platforms such as YouTube and Discord.

“Being in the West, a lot of our history gets overshadowed so we don’t really gain that understanding,” he said. “I think my content can assist South Asian youth in having a little more pride in who they are or just having a better idea of where they come from.”

Crim said he shares stories about trailblazing people of color with a similar intent.

“I’m trying to retrain our subconscious,” he said. “Implicitly, we’re all biased to some things, even our own groups. I want people to see themselves in a positive light.”

Don’t trust everything you see on TikTok

While there’s a wealth of information to be found on TikTok, the platform comes with its fair share of challenges, too.

Educational content from historians and scholars lives alongside videos from creators without those credentials, which can make it difficult for the average user to discern what is credible and what isn’t. Some educators share citations and sources in the background of their videos or provide viewers with more context in the comments, but even still, Pahari and others caution that educational content on TikTok shouldn’t be taken as absolute truth.

“Because a lot of the people viewing educational content aren’t really used to these fields of academia, they’re not aware that there are different perspectives on certain topics,” he said. “They’re not aware that what they’re viewing isn’t necessarily fact, but often a heavily debated point of view.”

As many scholars and educators on the platform see it, TikTok isn’t a magical substitute for reading widely or consuming longer-form content like documentaries. But it can be a useful starting point for further inquiry.

“To anyone looking to learn from TikTok, definitely widen your consumption and engage,” Greene said. “Don’t just be a passive viewer. Ask questions. Be in the comments.”

Educators are using TikTok to teach history you might not learn in school | CNN (2024)


Does TikTok help students learn? ›

We find that we can absorb and learn better through TikTok rather than sticking to the traditional lecture-based lessons and homework all the time. We also feel that this will bring the relationship between us and our teachers closer, as it is refreshing to see them step into our world.

How can TikTok be used to improve teaching and learning process? ›

Teachers can also use TikTok to create short videos on specific subjects that students can watch. This is great for explaining lesson concepts. Not only does it mean a short and to the point video, but one that can be watched multiple times so students are able to revisit the guidance when working on the task.

What is TikTok's effect on education? ›

There was a significantly positive correlation between time spent on TikTok and paying attention in class, (r = . 389, p < . 001), and completing schoolwork, (r = . 611, p < .

How can TikTok be used as a learning resource in the classroom? ›

How To Use TikTok for Education
  1. Create Condensed Lessons. Teachers may create a video that offers a condensed version of the day's lesson plan and upload it to TikTok. ...
  2. Create “Further Learning” Videos. ...
  3. Reinforce Key Concepts. ...
  4. Assign TikTok as Homework. ...
  5. Correct Common Mistakes. ...
  6. School Policies. ...
  7. Digital Privacy. ...
  8. Access to TikTok.
5 days ago

Is TikTok positive or negative? ›

TikTok is considered a social network because it offers great potential for making new friends and forming new connections. This platform has millions of users worldwide, so it can also be great for inclusiveness. Some teens are naturally shy, so making in-person friends can be difficult.

Is TikTok distracting students? ›

“It's distracting,” O'Dell said. With videos on TikTok often less than a minute long, it has shorted students' attention span, O'Dell said. On previous popular social media platforms, like Snapchat, Facebook and Instagram, users mainly interacted with people they knew.

What are the benefits of TikTok in the classroom? ›

Some teachers say they use TikTok to meet students where they are , and then engage them in deeper learning through other approaches. Many use the video-sharing platform to connect with other educators, discuss their profession, and share lesson ideas or inspiration.

How TikTok affects students academic performance? ›

The results revealed that TikTok brought a significant effect on academic achievement. The students also showed a positive response to the use of TikTok, in which 84% of the students found it easier to understand to course materials using TikTok, 80% of the students had better motivation to study course materials.

What are the benefits of TikTok? ›

5 benefits of using TikTok
  • Enhance brand identity. In 2021 TikTok had close to 78.7 million users in the United States. ...
  • Increase brand awareness. Similarly, TikTok offers opportunities for increased brand awareness. ...
  • Partner with influencers. ...
  • Take advantage of user-generated content. ...
  • Reach your target market faster.

What are the disadvantages of using TikTok? ›

Time Consumption: TikTok's addictive nature can lead to excessive time spent on the app, potentially causing users to neglect other responsibilities or important tasks. Privacy Concerns: Like any social media app, TikTok collects user data and may raise privacy concerns.

What is the advantages and disadvantages of TikTok? ›

At times, the advantages and disadvantages of TikTok can be the same. I realize I indicated using TikTok to pass the time is an advantage of TikTok. However, if you are using scrolling through TikTok to procrastinate, then spending time on TikTok becomes wasting time on TikTok which is a disadvantage of using TikTok.

Is TikTok affecting children's focus? ›

If you've noticed a change in your child's ability to focus or put down their phone, you may be witnessing the effects of “TikTok Brain.” To counter it, ensure your child's screen-time is limited, speak openly with them about the risks, and encourage them to spend time being physically active outdoors.

What is the purpose of TikTok? ›

TikTok is a social media platform for creating, sharing and discovering short videos. The app is used by young people as an outlet to express themselves through singing, dancing, comedy, and lip-syncing, and allows users to create videos and share them across a community.

How can teachers use videos in the classroom? ›

12 Ways to Use Videos for Learning in the Classroom
  1. Use Video To Introduce New Topics.
  2. Video as Pre-Lesson Preparation.
  3. Variety in Learning Materials.
  4. Videos for Expanded Experience.
  5. Videos Allow for Different Rates of Learning.
  6. Videos for Learning Remotely.
  7. Video Can Encourage Responsive Learning.
  8. Gamification Aids Engagement.

What are the benefits of doing TikTok? ›

5 benefits of using TikTok
  • Enhance brand identity. In 2021 TikTok had close to 78.7 million users in the United States. ...
  • Increase brand awareness. Similarly, TikTok offers opportunities for increased brand awareness. ...
  • Partner with influencers. ...
  • Take advantage of user-generated content. ...
  • Reach your target market faster.

Why do college students use TikTok? ›

40% of college TikTokers use the app more than Google

Not all TikTokers are on the app for fame or influence. In addition to finding community on the app, well over half (56%) of students say that TikTok has given them valuable knowledge or skills.

Is TikTok good for language learning? ›

Is TikTok good for language learning? Yes, TikTok is good for language learning, especially if you are a beginner. It is an engaging and entertaining social media platform for learning a language.

How does TikTok target college students? ›

How can institutions ensure that TikTok videos reach their intended target audiences? Via the “For You” feed, TikTok's recommendation algorithm shares universities' content with audiences who are interested in similar content. Read more about how TikTok recommends the videos in its “For You” feed here.

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