January 12, 2022
Is My History Less Important?
The impact of curriculum underrepresentation in our schools
By Tyler Terrell
As a Black and Korean-American boy in Kentucky, I feel very unrepresented in my education, one centered on the perspective of the straight white man.
Thinking back to elementary school, I remember hating learning about Black history. Most of the history gave me nightmares. Why would someone enslave people who look like me? Why would all people around the world hurt people who look like me?
The thoughts didn’t slow down when I learned that Black people are still being discriminated against. The history I was shown in school only showed me that I should be cautious. I would only hang out with kids who looked like me. It made me separate myself from my white peers or peers of any ethnicity. It made me only feel safe with people with more melanated skin.
I thought that my history was ugly. But it all changed in middle school when I learned more about Black history.
In 6th grade, my class participated in National History Day, which is a project where a student does research on a topic they are interested in based on the theme of that year. The theme was “Breaking Barriers” and I chose the Harlem Renaissance.
The Harlem Renaissance was an artistic movement before the Great Depression. It was where Black artists used their skills to uplift and empower other people of color. The research I conducted on my own helped me realize that Black history wasn’t just tragedy, it was also groundbreaking. It helped me realize that even though Black people were discriminated against, we were still able to contribute a lot to American life.
Whereas my Black/African-American history had been misrepresented, my Asian/Asian-American history was rarely shown at all. The lack of representation of my history had me subconsciously disregard my Asian identity. I had never bothered to learn the Korean language because it felt uninteresting to me. I had never learned to cook Korean food because I put aside my cultural background constantly. It wasn’t until the pandemic when I took an interest in it. The Stop Asian Hate movement helped me realize that my Black side wasn’t the only side of me that had a complex history.
I didn’t know, for example, that a major number of Korean Americans first immigrated to Hawaii. I didn’t know that they moved because of the offer to work as sugar planters there. I didn’t even know that America and South Korea are allies. And as with my Black history, I learned all this outside of the classroom and essentially by myself.
The school curriculum’s failure to teach this history made me think that it was irrelevant. It made me think that my history was somehow less than that of others’. It made me think that white history was the superior one.
I’ve heard people say, “Why isn’t there a white history month?” And what I want to tell them is that you think of white history every day. You ask the question of why white history doesn’t get a month dedicated to it, but you fail to realize that every day is dedicated to white people.
If you read House Bills 14 and 18, you'll see that our legislators are debating whether we should even be able to talk openly about the history of people like me in the classroom. But at this point, it's hard to understand why this is even open to debate. We need our history and classroom discussion to include us—because without that—how are we to know we are also worthy?
The Kentucky Student Voice Team is a statewide organization of young people who are co-creating more just, democratic Kentucky schools & communities as research, policy & advocacy partners.
These remarks were deliverd at the Stop the Teacher Gag Bill Rally organized by the Defenders of Accurate History & the Kentucky Student Voice Team at the capitol in Frankfort on January 12, 2022.
Tyler Terrell is an 8th grader at Leestown Middle School in Lexington.