Much of the history taught in our current curriculum is White-dominated, which perpetuates racist systems and white supremacy. Counternarratives are important in gaining a better understanding of social issues today. However, the efforts to establish ethnic studies in schools and universities have not been easy. Students and professors fought for ethnic studies through strikes and protests in the 1960s. While some claim that ethnic studies teach resentment and cause a divide between racial groups, they are crucial in raising awareness of institutional and structural racism. Teaching only a narrow lens of history is more dangerous because it creates more divide when racial issues are not understood.
Opposition To Ethnic Studies
The Arizona Legislation HB 2281, passed in 2010, opposed some ethnic studies classes because it would “promote the overthrow of the U.S. government,” “resentment toward a race or class or people,” or “ethnic solidarity.” The lawmakers who wrote the legislation targeted a Mexican-studies program at a high school because they thought the material taught would increase racial tensions. On the contrary, teachers from these classes notice students “reading and writing well” and begin their classes with daily affirmations, promoting respect and love for each other. Even with the existence of ethnic studies, the future of the department faces many barriers because professors in ethnic studies are often not given tenure, like the case at Harvard with Professor Lorgia García-Peña. Furthermore, these departments often lack funding. There continues to be a lack of support for ethnics studies.
The Fight For Ethnic Studies
Stanford conducted research on the impact of ethnic studies on struggling ninth-grade students from 2010 to 2014. From the research, students have shown drastic improvement. Their attendance increased by 21%, and their grade point average increased by 1.4 points. This research highlights the importance of ethnic studies because, as Thomas S. Dee, the co-author of the study, said, “[ethnic studies] promoted their academic engagement and discouraged dropping out.” Students are more engaged when they feel empowered by learning about the history of activism and history that is relevant to them.
On the other hand, when our curriculum continues to teach a narrow lens of our history, it continues to perpetuate the marginalization of communities of color. Research has found that White people will acknowledge black and Native Americans as victims, but do not often mention Whites as the perpetrators of racism. With ethnic studies, students have a better understanding of their history and are more aware of the roles they play to change oppression. When our curriculum teaches different perspectives and histories, it contributes to a more inclusive future because no social identities would be forgotten.
With schools and universities emphasizing diversity, equity, and inclusion, it is unacceptable to not support ethnic studies. The ethnic studies department today is tokenized to portray universities as diverse, but in reality, universities provide little funding, and many professors are not given tenure. Universities cannot say they value diversity when they are erasing the history of marginalized communities.
There has been and continues to be resistance to ethnic studies, but studies have shown the positive impact it has on students. By not teaching the history of marginalized groups, it is stealing their culture away from them. To actually value diversity, equity, and inclusion, ethnic studies should be incorporated into our K-12 curriculum. At colleges, there should be more funding in ethnic studies, and professors teaching ethnic studies should be given tenure. This does not only apply to ethnic studies, but to all marginalized groups. When all social identities are included in our school’s curriculum, it plays a crucial role in building a more equitable society.