The debate over an ethnic studies class is seemingly at a standstill. While students have expressed interest in such a course, the logistics — teacher choice, scheduling and funding — don’t work out right now, according to the administration.
Another nuanced barrier to senior Gabi Alvarado’s ethnic studies proposal is the addition of new classes and curricula this year. For example, sophomore World Cultures teacher Bill Crabb allows his students to pick topics of interest through open-ended projects, and English teacher Brooke Wells includes books with diverse perspectives in his sophomore class.
Wells cited the widening range of texts in history and English classes as further examples of attention to ethnic studies woven into the curriculum.
It’s true — ethnic studies is slowly being integrated into classes. But because of said integration and the recent changes in teachers, pinpointing weak spots in Country Day’s coverage of ethnic studies is difficult. Until classes and instructors are settled, the creation of an ethnic studies course will likely continue to be an uphill battle.
Furthermore, while we welcome weaving ethnic history into current classes, at some point, integration isn’t enough. The argument shouldn’t be that the curriculum is already becoming suitably diverse and “widely inclusive” — rather, it should be that there’s still room for pivotal change.
A multi-week ethnic studies seminar in history class sophomore year could be that change.
It’s not a full-length ethnic studies course, but it’s a step toward formulating one and a way to gauge how students will respond to future suggestions.
Additionally, history teacher Chris Kuipers noted one caveat with Alvarado’s ethnic studies proposal: Her vision is a “sociology class.” But he said social studies itself is still a good idea.
The problem is that most students wouldn’t know what such a course would entail, which could keep them from trying it.
Students first need to gain exposure as to what kind of course they’d be signing up for. And while the recent changes in teachers and curricula are a barrier to creating a full course, they could actually be beneficial for creating a seminar.
Due to switch-ups, course content isn’t set for several classes, namely Crabb’s World Cultures and history teacher Tucker Foehl’s U.S. History.
Such malleability is rare; the school should take advantage by creating a seminar, a potential step toward a full class.
Country Day wouldn’t be the first school to do so — the Urban School of San Francisco has a six-week identity and ethnic studies course as part of its service-learning curriculum.
Here, though, the goal of the seminar would be to give exposure without overloading students or a teacher, as well as measure potential interest in an ethnic studies class without waiting years to make it happen.
Even a two- or three-week seminar could help. If held near the end of the year, the seminar could delve into California’s various racial and ethnic groups as an introduction to U.S. History.
Alternatively, if the idea is geared too much toward sociology, the seminar could work equally well during the beginning of the year in Wells’ English class, as it already focuses on American journeys.
An ethnic studies class needn’t be all or nothing. The seminar, while not a full-year investment, would allow time to schedule a future ethnic studies class and find a teacher.
Ultimately, students want more than just bringing ethnicity, race and nationality into class conversations; that will never be the same as a designated ethnic studies course.
And while Country Day is small, there’s a growing need for full ethnic studies courses here and in California as a whole.
For one, alumni, particularly the class of ’18, have repeatedly noted the importance college ethnic studies courses. Esme Bruce-Romo, ’18, said her Chicana/o Latina/o Studies class at Loyola Marymount University made her realize how much information she’d been missing throughout her education.
Second, at a national level, ethnic studies is becoming more important. Studies show it can lead to increased academic success; the National Education Association, for example, found “considerable research evidence that well-designed and welltaught ethnic studies curricula have positive academic and social outcomes for students.”
Oregon and Indiana have even passed laws requiring students in public schools to take ethnic studies. A similar bill in California, AB 2772, was vetoed by Governor Jerry Brown in September to avoid adding more graduation requirements for students, but Brown said he still “(recognized) the value of these courses.” Before the veto, the State Assembly approved the bill with a bipartisan 54-19 vote, showing sizable support for ethnic studies in high school.
All students can benefit from ethnic studies, regardless of race or how much they’ve indirectly learned through other classes. So why not move toward an ethnic studies class before other California schools?
Originally published in the Jan. 15 edition of the Octagon.