2020_08-26 Ethnic Studies in Public Schools

Ethnic studies in public schools is necessary, however, it is lacking in the United States. A core value of the World Academy for Innovation & Entrepreneurship (WAIE) is that our young scholars’ stories matter. In this way, we emphasize the importance of learning about the past and present histories of all peoples, especially those who have been historically silenced. Gaining an appreciation for the cultures of the world is central to our communities’ development.

Most systems of education within (and outside of) the United States center white, Western schools of thought. Through colonization, the narratives of the many were erased and replaced by Euro-centric curriculum, standards of achievement, and requirements for participation. These patterns of erasure persist in most school systems today, where students are not typically encouraged to engage with the numerous cultures of the world.

The crucial differences which distinguish human societies and human beings are not biological. They are cultural.

Ruth Benedict

Ethnic Studies in Public Schools: Diverse Student Body

Despite an increasingly diverse student body, where in Washington public schools alone there are more than 200 languages spoken, the system of public education is lagging behind in uplifting their scholars. While the recent Washington state legislature has called for ethnic studies materials and resources to be made available for grades 7-12, Senate Bill 5023 unfortunately does not mandate the offering of ethnic studies courses for public school students. This effort, while it may currently fall short in promoting an intercultural appreciation in young scholars of Washington, is admirable as most U.S. states do not require any ethnic studies in their coursework.

This should concern us, as students from non-European backgrounds continue to have graduation rates, GPAs, and other academic outcomes lower than their European American counterparts. This achievement gap comes as a result of many racial inequities within U.S., though academic success continues to be one of the most significant predictors of future life successes. In most cases young scholars are as capable as, and sometimes more capable than, their European American counterparts when it comes to academic achievement but have to face biases from faculty and staff, curriculum they cannot connect with, and excessive discipline practices while trying to succeed.

Ethnic Studies in Public Schools: A Solution

The integration of a robust, multicultural focus on art, history, talent, and success promotes student achievement, individual and professional well-being. The National Education Association (NEA) found that “there is considerable research evidence that well-designed and well-taught ethnic studies curricula have positive academic and social outcomes for students.” Researchers in a 2016 Stanford University study found that access to ethnic studies courses helped high school students increase their attendance by 21%, credits earned by 23, and GPAs nearly 1.5 grade points. Beyond academic engagement and performance, students exposed to ethnic studies coursework exhibit a greater sense of understanding, respect, and appreciation for their individual and collective identities that extends into their communities.

At WAIE, the choice to include studies on the various cultures of the world was a no-brainer. As an institution committed to a global view of history, we prioritize a culturally responsive curriculum with particular emphasis on the histories of the African Diaspora, Austronesia/Pacific Islands, Mestizo/LatinX, and Indigenous American communities. We look forward to having you, our global community, involved in this exchange of ideas and inspiration.

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