How Ethnic Studies Can Help Students Succeed
Schools in Minneapolis and St. Paul have taken significant steps to expand the program and help improve student achievement. From 2025, ethnic studies – along with math, reading and other core courses – will be required for high school graduation.
District leaders have made the right choice to demand that more be taught about America’s diverse cultures, races, and ethnicities, as well as their experiences and contributions.
Contrary to what some opponents argue, the Minneapolis and St. Paul courts do not represent the so-called “cancel culture,” false retellings of history or teaching children to hate their country. They are not designed to make white students feel guilty or anger students of color, nor will they replace long-standing lessons about American presidents and other aspects of the nation’s history.
On the contrary, when done correctly, ethnic studies seeks to be truthful – both about the negative aspects of racism and discrimination as well as about the positive contributions of many races and cultures.
Additionally, studies have shown that this type of course helps improve attendance and achievement, especially among students of color whose experiences have not historically been included in their coursework. A Stanford study published in 2021, for example, showed that a ninth-grade class pilot program in San Francisco (a class covering the histories and struggles of multiple ethnic groups) improved attendance, grades, and grades. student graduation rate.
Minneapolis school leaders voted in 2020 to require ethnic studies for 2025 graduates, and St. Paul school board members took action in December 2021. At that time, John Brodrick, then a member of the council, a retired district social studies teacher, rebutted point-by-point any potential connection to critical race theory to establish a public record of the case for change. He then voted for the requirement.
Seven electives are currently offered at Minneapolis schools – African American, Asian American, Chicanx/Latinx, Hmong, First Nations, Somali, and Race and Identity Studies.
At a board meeting last October, Como Park High School teacher Chong Yang Thao helped differentiate what she teaches from CRT.
She said far from being divisive, her pilot course aims to create a sense of unity and community. She said she spoke in class about her childhood as a refugee and her family’s success. And she expects her students to tell their stories and ask tough questions.
Mouakong Vue, head of the ethnic studies program for St. Paul’s public schools, told a columnist this week that there are many “misconceptions” about ethnic studies. He said St. Paul’s course focused on the “lived experiences” and assets of different communities. It is about discussing sensitive issues and helping students from diverse backgrounds see, hear and understand their different and shared experiences.
Minneapolis and St. Paul aren’t alone in putting a renewed emphasis on ethnic studies. School districts across the country are wisely recognizing the value of providing an expanded image of America to students.
Minnesota’s largest cities have taken this important step ahead of the state, which is set to include ethnic studies as part of the state’s revised social studies standards currently under consideration.
This process has been particularly contentious, and we hope the state Department of Education will carefully consider the recommendation it will eventually send to an administrative law judge and the governor for final approval.
Students of all races and backgrounds will be well served by learning more about the struggles, contributions, and victories of a multicultural array of Americans. And those lessons can be taught without neglecting what has made this nation a beacon of freedom and opportunity.