History lessons that include all cultures can boost learning
- Black and Latino students are taking more Advanced Placement classes — and the corresponding AP exams — but fewer are passing, with numbers dropping from more than 60% of Latino students passing in 1997, to 42.8% in 2012. Among black students, 35.9% passed in 1997, compared to 29.1% in 2012.
- The College Board should consider launching AP ethnic studies high school courses, Suneal Kolluri, a doctoral student in the Pullias Center for Higher Education at the University of Southern California, wrote in an opinion piece for Education Week.
- Kolluri argued that these courses would have an academic benefit, and illuminate the history of marginalized groups, citing a 2016 Stanford University study, which showed that ethnic studies classes in the San Francisco Unified School District increased attendance by 21 percentage points among 9th graders who were deemed struggling.
When students do not see themselves reflected in course material, they can feel left in the margins. In history classes, in particular, inclusiveness is important as those who are left out of a story can be forgotten. Students want to know that their own cultures and ethnic histories are important enough to be included in what they study.
Ethnic studies may also provide more context in a history curriculum, helping students understand not just about the timeline and events, but what led to a particular moment. Learning about the history of other cultures can also develop empathy among students, helping school administrators meet social and emotional learning goals within the curriculum.
A 2010 National Education Association research review, “The Academic and Social Value of Ethnic Studies," showed that elementary school children who studied the history and important figures around racism found that these lessons helped to “improve racial attitudes among White children, allowing them to see how racism affects everybody and offering them a vision for addressing it,” noted the paper.
With educators becoming more involved in choosing and evaluating curricula, administrators might want to ensure that they include materials that support students' social and emotional development goals as well as their academic growth.
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