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Learner Engagement, Equity and the History Curriculum

Children who attend diverse public schools learn more, exhibit less racial prejudice, and report higher overall self-confidence. But schools must also ensure diversity exists in enrollment, classrooms, and  implementing curricula which reflects the history and culture of students of all backgrounds. Advocates for equitable education reform must be invested in diversifying not only classrooms, but everyday instruction as well.

Seeking to prepare students for college and career upon high school graduation. As children prepare for college and other post-secondary learning it is in our public schools where the learning process needs to include not only a national historical perspective, a global historical perspective, but individual cultural perspectives are also critical.

Each year, students, contemplating college, take aptitude tests and entrance exams. The purpose of these tests is to assess cumulative learning in pk-12, and covers multiple subject and content areas. Educators have been accused of teaching to the test, since testing constitutes high stakes for school ranking, reputation and funding.

The stakes are high for the students as they try to get into good colleges or schools of their choice. Areas such as math and science are, on the surface, relatively non-culturally dependent. This doesn’t however, dismiss the truths that many contributors to those fields of study are in fact, diversely represented. Schools fail to make those distinctions.

Educators will tend to focus on maintaining the system as originally designed. They do not recognize that the system is fundamentally out of sync with the conditions of today’s world. New knowledge about teaching, learning, and organizational structures has not been incorporated into the present structure.

In the age of multiculturalism and diversity, it is important that educators    approach instruction with an intentional recognition of our diversity. With regard to these high stakes tests, material covered in world history, for example includes minimum exploration of diverse cultures around the world.

When there is such content being taught, much of the national and global history is dismissive of any emphasis on African or Asian history. This is unfortunate, especially because the birth of ‘man’ is on the continent of Africa. The birth of civilization, writing, astronomy, earth science, mathematics, the concept of 365 1/4 days in a calendar year, agriculture, medicine[alcohol, etc…] all emerged out of African nations over 9,000 years ago.

The way children learn of these concepts and the origination are from eurocentric viewpoint. The evidence informs us, beyond any doubt that all of these concepts are African in origination. Europeans traveled to Africa, some 7,000 years ago, discovered their technological advances, returned to their nations and credited themselves with such innovations[100% truth-fact check it}.

World history has been rolled back in terms of those college admissions exams, and schools have reduced required knowledge in many important areas. Should colleges and universities require knowledge of Africa and African-American history, for U.S. students, there would be a necessity that it be taught more broadly.

Even U.S. History and Social Studies lacks sufficient information on African-Americans, their history and contributions. Textbooks present to students footnotes of history related to black and brown people. Textbooks also present many un-truths related to history, as it pertains to both black and whites. However, history is taught to millions of children each year as though it were fact and evidence-based, but most history is just that-his-story.

There are millions of young learners in our nation’s public school systems, who are not white, not European in origin. Yet, the curricula has not expanded its focus to reflect cultural diversity of those students in terms of their histories. Equity in education demands that in all public learning spaces, there be instruction in full intentional recognition of our diversity.

Educators focus on maintaining the system as originally designed. They do not recognize that the system is fundamentally out of sync with the conditions of today’s world. New knowledge about teaching, learning, and organizational structures has not been incorporated into the present structure.

Last year, in 2019, The College Board revealed a plan to narrow its World History Advanced Placement[AP] Exam. Subject matter now eliminates over 9,000 years of history, beginning with around 1450 in focus. This revision is a step backwards in school curriculum. It moves towards a more Eurocentric view of history in our education system. This is the same board that administers tests such as the AP and SAT[Scholastic Aptitude Test].

Their argument for this revision is that covering what we call Period 3 in history was too broad and takes more than one academic school year to study that much information. Therefore they are narrowing down world history to around 1450. Unfortunately for many students, it would be more interesting to learn the 3rd period in history. This was a time when Europeans were in the Dark Ages and the rest of the world, Africa in particular, was innovating.

The College Board’s rationale assumed that the periods where Europeans weren’t pillaging the world, would be covered in college courses. This view severely limits underprivileged students, largely black and brown in underfunded schools, ability to take an AP class in World History that covers those Pre-Colonialism ages. Besides, these courses cost schools money, average $6,500 per course. Underfunded schools would be left out, and thus the students suffer.

Starting the story in the year 1450, robs children of color their rich heritages. This determined start for history is not about their contributions, their lives and former history-rich kingdoms.  It is heavily grounded in Colonialization. That story covers what Europeans do to black people.

There is the issue of state standards. First of all, the College Board offers courses in AP World History, US. History and European History. But it offers no course on non-white world history. Eurocentric historical understandings only. Most states don’t test for specific historical understanding, but incorporate history in English Language Arts[ELA]. When history is taught, it is from a skewed perspective.

The importance of diverse history curricula is far from abstract. To teach history accurately, one must teach about the variety of ethnicities and cultures which make up our world. Eurocentrism is harmful first and foremost because it false. However, diversity in curricula is about more than just teaching a full view of history; it is proven to empower students of color.

Stanford University researchers looked at data from a pilot program in San Francisco where students considered at high risk for dropping out were enrolled in one of the state’s ethnic studies programs. The results were striking: 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. The largest improvements in test scores were found among boys and Hispanic students in math and science.

There is overwhelming evidence for the positive social and emotional effects of diverse curricula. Reading texts written by members of the ethnic groups that are underrepresented in school curricula improves the self esteem of students of that ethnic group, and caused all students to have a greater appreciation for cultural difference, according to recent research.

Despite the proven benefits of a diverse history education, many students still receive Eurocentric instruction. Studies have shown that most students lack a basic understanding of such things as slaveryrudimentary world geography, or the history of indigenous peoples.

In a 2015 study, the National Museum of African American History and Culture (NMAAHC) found that the majority of teachers considered Black history to be influential in understanding the complexity of U.S. history. Many teachers even claimed that that they, in teaching history, try to “infuse elements of Black history in every historical era, sometimes going beyond state and local standards.” However, when the study looked at how time was actually being used in U.S history classrooms, it revealed a slightly different reality: on average, only one to two lessons, or 8 to 9 percent of total class time, are devoted to Black history.

Equity is tied to engagement and both are tied to the curriculum. Integrating classrooms is a step in the right direction, but unless we similarly integrate the curriculum, there will remain status quo-black students never learning their real and true history and white children never gaining new perspectives from a broadened, more inclusive curriculum.

How do we help America face the fears and potential historical ‘guilt’ about past transgressions and reflect on their true history  around the world?  In truth, there is reconciliation, and real power and influence.  But, if not now. when?

Every child, regardless of race, ethnicity or religion, deserves to discover their roots and learn the truths about who their ancestors were and who they are. Out of these discoveries, children can naturally determine, pursue and become who they wish to be.

Engagement, equity and the curriculum.

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