As a senior in college, I have been reflecting on my education throughout the years. In elementary, middle, and high school. I find myself angry at our country. Our schools have failed us by teaching that Martin Luther King Jr. solved racism, and Christopher Columbus was a hero who discovered America. The current political climate has divided our country into those who think our country needs work, and those who believe our country is already great. No matter what you believe, history influences the present, and most conflicts and problems stem from unsolved issues.
In his Independence Day speech at Mt. Rushmore, President Donald Trump stated that “our children are taught in school to hate their own country and to believe that the men and women who built it were not heroes but that were villains.” It got me thinking about my newly discovered embarrassment over our history and present-day politics. Humans love a “happily ever after ending,” but things don’t always work that way. This can lead to detrimental systemic issues that allow for discrimination and oppression. They say that history is taught by the winners; however, we rarely consider that the “winners” are often the ones who oppressed others and through that oppression have thrived in America. We need to identify and critique the flaws in our education system in order to better teach history and respect our country.
This summer, I began researching curriculum revisions that would help increase anti-racist teaching across all grades and coursework. I realized curriculum changes are complicated due to each state’s standards for their end goals of education. While taking this into account, I decided to look over the Pennsylvania Education Department’s expected outcomes. For example, in third grade social studies, there is an end goal of creating a better understanding of local government, in terms of liberty/freedom, democracy, justice, and equality. These are import topics to learn about, however, the way in which these principles are taught can manipulate how a young student interprets these terms in the lens of past and present. Most of the time, we teach kids that America is a melting pot where dreams can come true for anyone. Referring to America as a melting pot started in the late 1800s and early 1900s. This concept came from the mass immigration to the United States and the idea that you can assimilate and succeed no matter who you are or where you are from. We continue to teach the melting pot concept in classrooms. I believe that the goal for many state standards includes teaching patriotism, especially in Social Studies. The issue with this is that teaching patriotism allows and encourages students to overlook flaws in our history that continue to impact Americans today. Patriotism places importance on American pride, which is not always a bad thing. However, it creates a biased education system that puts the focus on the ideal rather than the reality. I also question whether this approach allows those who do not identify as white or do not follow societal gender norms to truly feel pride in our country.
In my opinion, the standards for our education systems should be centered on learning the tools and skills that will make every student a successful global citizen. This would mean admitting to the flaws currently present in our systems and directly working to change the programs that haven’t worked. Schools can shape entire generations of kids, yet our children will never fully succeed if we do not give them an unbiased education. Reforming the curriculum could allow students to become more well-rounded and learn how to develop their own opinions and identify their own emotions about our country by teaching them how Americans can make a change. I suggest the following changes to the current curriculum:
Elementary schools need to understand that kids are never too young to start learning about injustices, especially since many kids will experience different types of oppression. By saying a child is too young to learn, you allow for those privileged to stay ignorant, while those at a disadvantage have to overcome greater barriers. The books read should show diversity. Some recommendations: Grandpa, Is Everything Black Bad? by Sandy Lynne Holman, ENOUGH! 20 Protesters Who Changed America by Emily Easton, and Not My Idea by Anastasia Higginbotham.
In middle school, integrate science with anti-racist teachings such as learning about the melanin in our skins and how evolution shows that we are the same but look different from adaptations over time. Literature also needs to promote anti-racism. Some suggestions are The Hate You Give by Angie Thomas and All American Boys, by Jason Reynolds.
In high schools, we learn about western expansion, but there should be an emphasis on its flaws instead of the celebration of westernization, especially when it comes to the lives of Indigenous people. The lack of coursework on the lives of Indigenous people represents our westernized ignorance towards those who were here first. We must make sure to cover all parts of our history. This will prepare high school students to be better citizens and active participants in our democracy. Some books I suggest for high school students include The New Jim Crow by Michelle Alexander, The Untold Story of the Real Me:Young Voices from Prison edited by Tara Libert and We Should All Be Feminists by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
This is a process. The first step is to actually take the first step and try. Become an educator for friends and family around you. Remind yourself that you are always learning. Everyone will make mistakes, but it is a part of the learning process. It is not our goal to force students to become social justice warriors, but to provide an education that allows students to understand the world from different perspectives, critically think and form their own opinions based on education rather than blindly following the opinions of others.
As I reflect on my experience at The Alliance for Sustainable Communities I was able to explore what sustainability means. Prior to my internship, my idea of sustainability centered around climate change and how to be better citizens to our earth. However, sustainability isn’t just about the health of our planet, but also about the economic and social stability of our communities. We are unable to have a sustainable community when we are unable to face the systemic problems within our society.
Sarah is a senior at Lafayette College. She is a Neuroscience major and
a Women, Gender & Sexuality Studies minor. After graduation, Sarah plans
to teach English abroad and then attend grad school for Neuropsychology.