Ethnic studies has become a topic of controversy in recent years, especially in Arizona, despite it being, in my opinion, a beneficial curriculum for students. Ethnic studies must be incorporated into K-12 schools to give children the best education they can receive.
Ethnic studies was originally created in the 1960s. Students at San Francisco State University and UC Berkeley championed the movement to address the racial discrimination they saw in their classes and for their schooling to reflect current societal issues. Ethnic studies promotes the teaching and acknowledgment of African American, Asian American, Latinx and Native American studies.
Former Arizona Sen. John Huppenthal said against ethnic studies, “teach kids that they're victims and they can't get ahead in life because somebody's holding them down, I think it's a mistake.”
Many people may agree with this perspective, but studies have proven this to not be true.
The implementation of ethnic studies is beneficial for the individuals who partake in it. A study by the Stanford Graduate School of Education (GSE) found that students who took an ethnic studies course had improved academic success.
“Attendance for those encouraged to enroll in the class increased by 21 percentage points, GPA by 1.4 grade points and credits earned by 23,” the study said. “Culturally relevant teaching, when implemented in a supportive, high-fidelity context, can provide effective support to at-risk students.”
These students excelled. They understood that racial inequities exist and everyone’s life experience is different, but they did not get discouraged. They were well-informed and became academically proficient with a diverse education.
Koji Pingry, a writer for South Seattle Emerald, a paper which seeks to “amplify the authentic narratives of south Seattle”, wrote about growing up as a mixed-race individual in a white-dominated neighborhood.
“I always felt there was something missing,” Pingry wrote. “It’s why I did not feel connected to a lot of the example math questions asking me to count foods I never saw in my lunch box.”
Children like Pingry deserve to read books written by people who look like them or watch films concerning struggles they may be facing. They need educational material they can relate to and that will help them. Exposure to various perspectives will make them feel less isolated and encourage them to embrace their ancestry.
The current curriculum across most of the United States is based on old texts written by primarily white males of European ancestry. This is not an accurate representation of the nation. Students deserve to have texts written recently with updated scientific information and issues that pertain to society in the current century.
In 2019, the Cooperative Children’s Book Center at the University of Wisconsin-Madison reported that in the U.S., out of 4,029 books only 452 were about Black individuals, 44 about Indigenous individuals, 334 about Asian individuals, 235 about Latinx and five about Pacific Islanders.
Ethnic studies allows students to feel their contributions to our society matter and they can make a difference as a minority. It could also incorporate literature by women of color, texts on systemic racism, the annexation and colonization of Puerto Rico and Hawaii and other topics that have not always been taught from every perspective.
The point of ethnic studies is to teach from multiple points of view and to share how people are affected on different levels. These topics may be uncomfortable for some people, but nothing productive happens if they are ignored or forgotten.
Arizona House Bill 2281 was enacted in 2010 and stated that a school’s curriculum must “treat and value each other as individuals and not be taught to resent or hate other races or classes of people.” Unfortunately, this law was used in an argument against ethnic studies being taught in the Tucson Unified School District, according to NPR.
By ignoring the history and the culture or whitewashing it to tell one perspective, students are not receiving the full truth. The truth is that people are different. They come from all different races, ethnicities and backgrounds and that is OK. Without this knowledge, individuals will formulate misconceptions and prejudices by not knowing the truth.
Encylcopedia.com defines ethnic prejudice as, “The holding of negative opinions, beliefs, or attitudes about people for the simple reason that they belong to a specific ethnic group.” Ethnic studies works to eliminate these preconceptions.
In 2017, HB 2281 was declared unconstitutional because it contained racial discrimination, but there is still backlash and hate toward the teaching of ethnic studies.
For students who are not of an ethnic minority, these classes can be just as beneficial. They allow students to understand the plights of people who come from different cultures, races, religions and sexualities. Ethnic studies will show students a broader perspective, allowing them to enter society as knowledgeable individuals determined to create an equitable world.
These classes teach kids to treat others with kindness even if they are different, creating space for conversations that have long been ignored and not properly addressed. Giving kids the tools to understand what the world is like and the opportunity to change the racial map, if they wanted, is something that many generations have been denied.
A world where everyone's struggles and lives are equally recognized is a world where ethnic studies is universally taught. Today’s adults must create a world where students are best equipped to go into society and achieve the most they can.
NAU also has a website about ethnic studies highlighting historical information, containing resources and information about its own curriculum.