BUSD’s Expansion of Ethnic Studies is a Positive Change – Berkeley High Jacket
In 1991, the Berkeley Unified School District (BUSD) became the first public school system in the country to mandate an ethnic studies course. For the past thirty years, this ethnic studies program has been contained in a single semester during the first year.
BUSD now plans to expand its Ethnic Studies course by integrating it into the curricula each year, which would allow course material to be spread over several semesters. Students would be introduced to concepts related to ethnic studies throughout their BUSD education in order to provide them with a better understanding of the complex racial dynamics that have long shaped the United States.
In a nation divided over how to teach racial history, BUSD is making the right decision by expanding its ethnic studies curriculum. This course explores race and ethnicity in its cultural context. It also presupposes that there have been centuries of systematic racism which cannot be solved by “color blindness” but by specific recognition of the problem. On top of that, it teaches deliberate steps that must be taken to demolish racist institutions.
One semester is nowhere near enough to teach a subject as broad as Ethnic Studies, especially because it has such complex ramifications in the real world. Having a time constraint of one semester allows little more than an overview of concepts related to ethnic studies. The fact that students learn ethnic studies at a younger age gives teachers more time to teach the necessary materials.
In more concrete terms, the expansion of ethnic studies could mean greater representation of people of color in the humanities, which is important for all students. Not only is diverse representation crucial for the development of students, but they must also be educated about the nature of the breed in the United States.
Many people will say that elementary and middle school students are too young to understand or be exposed to the racial history of this country. From a young age, children will experience complex racial dynamics, especially as children grow up with more and more homeless Internet access. This exposes them to very distorted representations of race in the United States, which can be detrimental.
Despite early exposure, children have few tools to discern and push back problematic information. Educating children in media literacy is an issue that cannot be overemphasized in this age of targeted advertising, as tweens and teens surfing the internet are targeted by political groups. Because understanding the complexity of the breed is essential to having a holistic understanding of the United States, educating children early on is essential.
An expansion of BUSD’s Ethnic Studies program from a semester course to an integrated curriculum of district-wide humanities courses will be a force for good. Ethnic studies provide the necessary social context for young students who are trying to make sense of the world. Likewise, humanities courses without proper recognition of racial factors do students a disservice.
Ultimately, early exposure to the concepts of ethnic studies will benefit the education of all BUSD students.