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The Importance of Diversifying the History and English Curriculums in Schools

By: Akshara Santoshkumar and Reya Singh

All throughout students’ school careers, school is instrumental in the development of a young person. They learn about the world and form their opinions about different things.”Specific age ranges such as from 12-18 and 19-24 years old may also be used to classify impressionable years.” With this in mind, there have been widespread debates about the importance of diversifying school curriculums in regards to History and English classes because the things learned in these classes make an impact on a person.

One of the main subjects in which diversifying the curriculum has been brought up has been in history Class. Traditionally students within the US have been taught based on a eurocentric curriculum. Eurocentric refers to how “progress happens intrinsically for the West, and is then forced on everyone in the East.” To some extent, this does make sense because western colonialism has largely shaped the geopolitics of the world starting from the late 18th century to the present day. However, under this lens of this teaching style, the history of other groups, ex: Asian and Middle Eastern are largely ignored or the West is painted as the group that influences their history and their progress within society. This notion is not ideal because it leads to people perceiving the history of Africa, Asia, and the Middle East from the lens of Europe and North America which unintentionally creates a bias towards other nations and cultures, as the other countries are depicted as having a more passive role.

However, with the ever-changing social climate more and more minority groups have started to speak out about how they don’t feel adequately represented in school curriculums. This has led to some reform from school to school with Asian American and African American History starting to be taught over the past 3 years. There have been major benefits to teaching students about ethnic studies. According to the Century Foundation, Stanford University researchers looked at the data from a San Francisco pilot program where students who were at risk of dropping out had then enrolled in ethnic studies. The results were monumental. “Attendance rose by 21 percentage points, while grade-point averages rose by 1.4 points. Students enrolled in in ethnic-studies courses earned 23 more credits toward graduation, on average, than those who did not.” By diversifying the history curriculum, minority students can feel accurately respected at school, history can be told with more complexity and students can broaden their horizons to learn about people who are not like them, further developing a greater sense of empathy for others.

As a student, the books assigned in school shape our perception of the world. However, it is important to note that not only the content of the book, but the author is crucial to a student’s knowledge. Lack of diversity is a pressing issue in education and we are seeing authors of color get little to no attention for the books they write. This is causing a scattered curriculum and authors of color being underrepresented on English curriculums. This is creating negative perceptions of people of color, as POC authors are looked upon as “not good enough” compared to their fellow white authors. This is leading to negative stereotypes about minorities. According to a 2019 study by the Diversity and Baseline Survey by Lee and Low Books, 76% of published books were by white authors. This speaks to just how much domination that non-POC authors have, how they are ‘trusted’ more by publishers. As stated by a senior-level publicist at a major publishing imprint (who chose to withhold her identity), “Authors of color were often not a priority therefore there was NO budget for them, whereas that was not the case for white authors.The effect on Black publishers sent the crushing message about the value of nurturing new Black talent, and by setting up Black books for failure, they, also set up their colleagues for failure as well.” Not only are POC authors being stripped away of the hard work they put into writing these books, but they are also gaining negative stereotypes in society. Furthermore, as a student, I see that there is an unchanging nature of English curriculum. We are taught using the same material and content that was used decades ago. Studying using “the classics” is not going to help change the perception of students’ for the better. In fact, the unchanging nature of English curriculum is not allowing us to grow from the very history our country holds.

The generations to come are impacted by what they see and learn throughout their years of schooling. Whatever they are exposed to will have a crucial factor in their biases and perceptions. It is imperative that we start not only accepting the truth, but make a change for the better. As the leaders of today, we need to start looking past our differences. We need to honor the hard work that everyone puts into their work, regardless of their race or any other factor. Do your part and acknowledge minorities. Stand up for them when they are being oppressed. In a country where a POC has been elected the President of the United States, it may be hard for some to believe that our country has not moved past racial oppression. However, even though we have made improvements, there is still a lot of change that needs to be done. The first step that students can take is to go online and look for any of the voices from marginalized communities. In History classes, we should mandate POC studies - learning about all different aspects of continents like Asia or Africa. Ethnic classes for all students will open their perspective and allow them to gain valuable information. In addition, a similar effect may be initiated when students start to read books that are written by POC authors. Their personal stories and experiences will greatly inform your point of view. Try to find the opportunity to spend time with someone from a marginalized group, it could even be a fellow classmate! You must focus on listening to them to learn as much as you can. Use the space you have to educate your community. Speak out against the injustices you see and confront the bad treatment. Teachers can start implementing these measures into their daily lessons. As students, we are so much more capable than we might be shown, try to make a difference in your community to help our countries minorities.

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