If you asked me questions concerning my Filipino identity, I would not be able to give you much information. But on the brightside, I can tell you who Alexander Hamilton was, or how the Revolutionary War started between the colonies and Britain! Great, right? Not really.
According to Dr. Ebony Elizabeth Thomas, assistant professor at the University of Pennsylvania’s Graduate School of Education, the majority of students in school are people of color. Yet why do we learn about the world through a monocultural lens? History classes exclude the knowledge and perspectives of those who were not white, straight, or male. However, ethnic studies programs provides students access to a full range perspectives of the historically underrepresented and misrepresented without being portrayed as a white man’s subordinate. Dr. Christine Sleeter analyzed California’s Social Science Framework for Public Schools and found a large gap between the real diversity of California’s students and the people we read about in textbooks. According to her research, the representation of whites ranged from 41 to 80 percent compared to Asian Americans, who were zero to eight percent found in textbooks. Despite the fact that the student population of San Diego Unified School District represents many ethnic groups and more than 60 languages, our curriculum is not reflective of this diversity. Teaching ethnic studies at high schools will allow students to understand the histories of those who speak and look like them. This will not only benefit students of color, but will also help white students empathize with race, culture, and religion. In this day and age, it is imperative for high schools to provide a safe space for students to explore racial and cultural experiences and differences.
School districts should offer students an education that is both enriching and empowering. Ethnic studies programs can teach empathy, anti-racism can be learned, and racism can be unlearned. Social injustices against minorities and women are prevalent in society, and the future generation needs frameworks to understand race, power, racism, gender, sexuality, class, and culture. Participating in ethnic studies programs increases academic performance and graduation rates. Researchers from the University of Arizona found that students who participated in Mexican-American studies classes had a 10 percent greater chance of completing high school. According to the National Education Association, the more aware students of color are about race, racism, and cultural identity, the higher their grades and graduation rates increase, and the more likely they pursue higher education.
The National Education Association published their research on textbooks in elementary, middle, and high schools. Their results show that whites appear in the widest variety of roles and receive the most recognition for their accomplishments, while African Americans are the second most represented racial group mostly due to their relationship to slavery. Native Americans are barely mentioned in textbooks as if they are only in the past. Textbooks tend to discredit the experiences of people of color as if they had no history or ethnic experience before white people took over.
It is imperative to provide courses to examining the experiences of Asian-Americans, African-Americans, and Latinos to make the understanding of American history and social movements more relevant to students who might appreciate but don’t identify with a Eurocentric approach to teaching American history and culture. Offering ethnic studies programs will bridge the gap between students’ personal experiences and the knowledge they learn in school. When students see themselves reflected in what they are learning, their experiences become more meaningful and helps them engage more deeply in school.
Staff Writer Katrina Arellano