This January, the Providence Student Union launched the #OurHistoryMatters campaign, with the primary goal of adding an ethnic studies course for all high school students in Providence to make the curriculum more culturally relevant. According to the school district, over 60 percent of Providence’s 24,000 students are Latino and 91 percent are non-white. But the 2,000-page American history book used in Providence public schools includes fewer than 100 pages dedicated to people of color, which is a great disservice to students of various cultural identities.
This lack of cultural diversity in the curriculum not only deprives students of access to information about their histories, but it also has the potential to discourage them from engaged learning. Many students expressed their frustration regarding Providence public schools’ limited curriculum, complaining about how the “whitewashed” version of history taught in their textbooks does not present the entire truth, often providing ethnocentric or inaccurate interpretations of historic events.
Providence students stated that they would be more motivated if a culturally diverse course of study were in place. Statistics actually support these sentiments, with recent studies showing that high school students perform better when race and ethnicity classes are offered. According to a Stanford University study, “Student attendance increased by 21 percent, while grade point averages surged nearly a grade and a half for those enrolled in the class.” The potential for increased academic performance as well as a more comprehensive view of history makes the push for an ethnic studies curriculum more than justified. Students deserve the opportunity to learn about their cultures rather than being force fed what American textbook writers preach. It is fundamentally unfair to deny students the right to learn about their own identities and, as a result, leave them in the dark about culturally significant happenings.
However, practically speaking, the move to an ethnic studies curriculum does not come without obstacles. Many schools across the nation are still in the process of meeting Common Core standards, and Providence schools are no exception. Educators and policymakers face difficult decisions about allocating precious resources. Should they focus on attaining proficiency on Common Core standards or prioritize ethnic studies? Moreover, Providence high schools simultaneously deal with high rates of students who do not speak English. It is undoubtedly an arduous task to take on an extra academic program in addition to these issues. But that’s not to say it can’t be done. With proper planning, Providence schools should be able to find a way to incorporate this curriculum. It’s a question of how long that change will take.
At Brown, we’re lucky enough to have a wide range of departments dedicated to exploring multicultural perspectives, allowing us to uncover the history and ways of life of a variety of groups. Because we are afforded this privilege, we can experience and realize its intrinsically educational and personal value. As a result, we should support the Providence Student Union in its campaign for the adoption of ethnic studies. Providence high school students do not have this opportunity and are consequently deprived of culturally relevant information, which is especially important for adolescents in the process of developing a sense of self. Presenting Providence students with knowledge about different cultures through a new ethnic studies curriculum would offer a relevant multicultural perspective on history and current events and, in turn, help them along the journey of self-discovery.
Samantha Savello ’18 can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.