“I can’t breathe!” These have been defining words for the past few months as Americans are faced with the harsh reality that racism is still rampant in our country.
Millions of people have protested, donated and signed petitions in an effort to fundamentally change how racially-marginalized groups are treated by society. In a country that relies on its education system to produce the generation of future leaders, we have to ask: what role does our education play in preventing and educating young people about racism?
Students have taken a stance to point out the racism present in CVUSD campuses. During the June 30 school board meeting, current students and alumni gave public comments expressing their experiences with racism from teachers and students. In a predominantly white community, the lack of racial awareness has become a glaring issue, which stems from how our schools approach racial and cultural education. Katelin Zhou, WHS alumna, stated during her public comment that “we have a moral obligation to talk about racism in the classroom.”
In high school, all CVUSD students are required to take four years of English, which includes reading a dizzying array of books. Topics such as cultural identity and racism are touched upon, yet none of the required reading includes books by BIPOC authors. The list of CVUSD-approved literature for high school can be found on the district website.
Although discussions about racism take place when studying novels such as “Of Mice and Men” and “To Kill a Mockingbird”, how effective can they be when they are based on the perspectives of white people only? While AP/IB classes offer a more diverse set of texts, the same opportunities are often not provided to CP students, which is the majority of the student body. Additionally, world literature texts are listed as “optional,” which gives the impression that CVUSD does not value global perspectives.
Social studies classes also fail to give a complete and racially-sensitive depiction of history. As of the 2020-2021 school year, AP World History is not offered on any CVUSD campus; students often opt to take AP European History instead of enrolling in World History CP during their sophomore year. History classes are mostly focused on the rise to power of white people through warfare and colonization, excluding the perspectives and cultures of other ethnic groups around the world.
There is a distinction between diversity and full inclusion which many schools fail to see. Racial equity isn’t a checkbox that schools can cross off and racial awareness shouldn’t only be talked about when it becomes a problem. Including books from BIPOC authors and incorporating more historical perspectives in our curriculum is only the first step in achieving an effective racial education in our district.
Discussions need to be facilitated, resources should be made available for our student body, and all staff members should be required to go through racial awareness and equity training. In addition, school-wide assemblies centered around implicit bias and combating racism need to be incorporated annually, and CVUSD needs to make an effort to hire more BIPOC teachers and administration to lead these discussions and provide their own experiences.
This change is already happening at a grassroots level. Local student-led initiatives such as Justice in the Classroom and Diversify Our Narrative have pledged to fundamentally change the way schools approach racial issues through curriculum reform and partnerships with organizations that amplify voices of minorities.
Some CVUSD board members have also responded to these proposals; two books by BIPOC authors were introduced to the public at the June 30 school board meeting and will be further discussed in August. It would be remiss to not include these concerns when “reopening and redesigning” the school district, and it’s become clearer than ever that we cannot go back to the same outdated curriculum we had pre-COVID-19.