The adoption of a new History Social Science (HSS) curriculum as a result of new HSS standards that were finalized in 2016 is an opportune time to assess the inclusivity of the curriculum and whether the stories and contributions of a diverse America are being told. For example, when children study California history in 4th grade, are we teaching them about the Chinese immigrants that built the railroads and labored in mines? When children learn about Ellis Island, do they also learn about Angel Island? As a K-8 district, Belmont-Redwood Shores is not directly impacted by the proposed Ethnic Studies curriculum; however, we recently adopted a new HSS curriculum and would like to share with you our journey towards increasing the cultural competency of our students and staff through the adoption process.
From a Board / District perspective, what are the politics, policies, and challenges of establish a rich inclusive curriculum? The most important thing is for the entire school community to believe that an inclusive curriculum is important. About 5 years ago, our district established a strategic plan with the involvement of a broad spectrum of stakeholders – staff, parents, students, and community members. One of the strategic pillars was to foster responsible global citizenship which included the desire for our children to respect, understand, and engage others within and beyond their own experience. An inclusive curriculum representing the contributions of a diverse America and world fits into our strategic plan.
With the strategic plan as context, the BRSSD adoption process was teacher driven because teachers who are part of adoption committee can be teacher leaders and early adopters of the curriculum:
How can we help educate the public on “unconscious bias,” and understanding the “why” of inclusion? Ultimately, what is the goal of the inclusive curriculum? Before we can educate the public, we need align as a district. As a school board, we are participating in the San Mateo County School Board Association’s Equity Network which is patterned after CSBA’s equity network. We are learning about unconscious bias, how to define equity, and lead the change as policy makers. All of our staff participated in an unconscious bias training earlier this year; while we received mostly positive reviews, there were questions from some teachers of why we are doing this? Therefore, we still have more work to do in reaching alignment internally why inclusion matters. Ultimately, the goal of an inclusive curriculum is to enable students to create connections to their community, be engaged in the classroom, and to understand that people from different backgrounds have made a difference and have been leaders. It enables students to appreciate each other and to have the confidence to push themselves and try new things. API’s have stereotypically been seen as hard working followers, with stories that highlight their impact on society, our API students can see themselves being leaders.
Describe how Districts implement and provide professional training for educators. How do we educate parents and the broader community?
Our journey towards increasing cross cultural understanding and improving the connections across our community through the curriculum adoption process is ongoing. No out of the box curriculum is perfect and every community has different needs; therefore, it is critical that we continue to foster teacher learning communities by grade level, by school, and across the district to assess the effectiveness and impact of what we focus on inside and outside of the classroom and identify supplementary materials that are necessary to plug gaps in the curriculum.
The State legislature passed AB2016 during 2015-16 session. The law set up a formalized ethnic studies curriculum for public middle and high schools in California. A model curriculum was supposed to be adopted by the State Board of Education by March 2020. The curriculum submitted has been criticized as being riddled with jargon, propaganda, and opinion. It was rejected and tabled until next year. Critics charge the program as politically motivated and unfit for general education. Jewish and other minority communities are upset by their severe lack of representation.
These criticisms are valid and deserve to be addressed in a second draft. The controversy needs immediate attention because it is delaying a dialogue that needs immediate attention. Ethnic Studies offers students from multi cultural, minority, and impoverished backgrounds essential support. The students will be empowered to embrace their cultural backgrounds and understand their history from a socio-historical context. They will learn to not blame themselves for their struggles. These are the means for survival and success.
Further, having an Ethnic Studies requirement for the 9th grade will allow our students to increase their engagement in the core curriculum including other electives. The design of the ethnic studies curriculum will enhance future studies since students will learn about their culture and others which affected subjects in history and other social sciences. Over 300 California high schools have an Ethnic studies base class. A majority of these high schools utilize this curriculum in this manner.
The Sacramento City Unified School District undertook Ethnic Studies as a high school graduation requirement by 2020 several years ago. Working with partners at inter alia, Sacramento State University, Sacramento City College, and Consumnes River College to name a few, were solicited for their contributions. The "Our Stories in Our Voices" was born. The textbook explores local, national, and international settings and events past and present times.
There are four philosophical questions through a multiethnic lens.
The stories contained are similar to and different from each other. Hopefully, these stories will inspire others to self-discover and provide outward exploration of the world around us.
Ethnic Studies is far from complete, since Ethnic Studies is ever changing and ever evolving. "Our Stories in Our Voices" are stories of people and of California. Hopefully, they can use the impetuous to talk about ourselves, have pride in ourselves and empathy for those around us.