July 15, 2020
Students, History Experts Call For Anti-Racist Curricula in K-12 Schools
In solidarity with students across the country fighting for anti-racist curricula in their schools, the Education Justice Collective’s Move School Forward team, which includes the Student Voice Team, hosted a Town Hall on Decolonizing K-12 Curriculum featuring history experts and student organizers from across the country. History experts explained the necessity of accessible, accurate history and civics education to democratic society and students told the stories about their experiences in school related to anti-racism, decolonizing curriculum and civic action.
The conversation was moderated by Avery Smedley, a student organizer with the Youth Activism Project and Montgomery County Students toward Equitable Public Schools and a senior at Albert Einstein High School in Kensington, Maryland. Smedley said, “this is the beginning, but we all have to move forward and follow up with action”, calling on students to use the Move School Forward action guide to write letters to their schools and districts calling for anti-racist curricula.
On how her experiences have influenced her advocacy for anti-racist curricula, Alexis Campbell, the Youth Engagement Coordinator at Student Voice, a youth-led national nonprofit advancing educational equity, and a rising first-year at Spelman College in Atlanta, Georgia said, “In the 9th grade, when my fellow students and I learned about genocide in history, there was a lack of empathy and caring that the teachers had towards what we were learning. They were talking as if these people throughout history weren’t human, which made me realize that there is a disconnect between how we’re viewing race in class and history. We are just taught to accept injustices from an early age, rather than being taught how to critically think about where we are in history.”
“I wish [the representativeness of history curriculums] would have gotten better since I was in school. I think a lot of it is that we didn’t see ourselves reflected in the history books, in the educational films, in the media. If you just saw what was presented in school, you’d think that all of the United States was white.” said Dr. Karen L. Ishizuka, the Chief Curator of the Japanese American National Museum, regarding her experiences with inaccurate history curricula. “With the incarceration of Japanese-Americans during World War II, when many of my friends said their parents went to a camp, their teachers just basically said that’s a lie. That sets up so much you’re called a liar by your teacher, the authority figure. You think, well am I? Are my parents? It snowballs and lasts for a while with yourself. It really proves the need for decolonization [of history curricula].”
On why anti-racist education is necessary for all students, Harmony Esqueda, a student organizer with Our Turn Los Angeles and a first-gen college student and senior at the University of Southern California said, "Learning about different histories isn't supposed to just be for people of color. It is for everybody to learn and understand so that we can have empathy for each other, so that we can learn how to best support one another. If I know your struggles and your history, I can show up and be there for you that much more. That goes for everybody, especially white people."
On why representation in history curriculums is so critical to students’ future success, Amina Salahou, a student organizer who founded CuseYouthBLM, an youth-led group working towards the removal of school resource officers in schools, and a senior at Nottingham High School in Syracuse, New York said, “Not seeing people who look like myself in history in a positive way definitely has been detrimental. It frustrates me because the concept of teaching is that you want students and young adults to become productive members of society, and when students aren’t able to see themselves or a future for themselves through school, then what do you expect them to do once they’re older? They don’t see people who look like them as leaders. They don’t see them as scientists or powerful people.”
Regarding how STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) educators can incorporate anti-racist principles into their curricula, Esqueda also said, “My environmental studies curriculum is very clinical … A lot of the environmental racism aspects or the food justice, food apartheid — things that are intrinsically related to race and socioeconomic status— a lot of this gets brushed under a clinical STEM point of view … I see decolonizing curriculum in science to be talking about accessibility and talking about the disenfranchisement of people of color.”
Student Voice Team
The Student Voice Team was founded in 2012 at the Prichard Committee, a nonpartisan, citizen-led organization working to improve education in Kentucky for all ages. Since 2021, they have been the Kentucky Student Voice Team, an independent, statewide organization organization of young people who are co-creating more just, democratic Kentucky schools & communities as research, policy & advocacy partners.
Student Voice is a by-students, for-students 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization that works in all 50 states to equip students as storytellers, organizers and institutional partners who advocate for student-driven solutions to educational inequity. Through direct civic action, Student Voice helps students hold their schools and surrounding communities accountable to the Student Bill of Rights and prepares them to become lifelong agents of social and political change. For more information about Student Voice, visit our website at StuVoice.org and follow @Stu_Voice and #StuVoice on social media.
Houston Independent School District Student Congress
Houston Independent School District Student Congress (HISD StuCon) represents more than 215,000 students in the largest school district in Texas. Founded in 2014, StuCon is an independent student-run, student-led organization that pushes stakeholders across Houston and the State of Texas to take students seriously and facilitate their agency. For more information, follow @HISDStuCon on social media.
Students Toward Equitable Public Schools
Students Toward Equitable Public Schools is a Montgomery County, Maryland, based, student-led coalition, aimed at promoting a culture of diverse, equitable learning so that all Montgomery County Public School students can reap the benefits of a world class education, regardless of where they live or how much money they make.