Texas appears likely to add an African American studies course to its curriculum, making it the second ethnic studies course to be added following a controversial Mexican American studies class, District Administration reports.
The course outline, which was developed by Dallas Independent School District educators, begins not with the arrival of African slaves in America, but centuries prior to the period of enslavement, with experts saying the push to shift the curriculum timeline backward was "unquestionably important" and intended to show students African civilizations existed pre-slavery and were as sophisticated as those in Europe.
Texas State Board of Education member Pat Hardy, a Republican, indicated to the Houston Chronicle the approval of the African American studies class is a given. If approved, it could be taught as early as fall 2020.
While more states are implementing ethnic studies curricula as part of a growing effort around inclusivity and diversity in education, some face an uphill battle with opposing views over what can be politically charged topics.
California, for example, is notably struggling with an ethnic studies curriculum that was accused of being anti-Semitic. The intention was to develop curriculum that encouraged cultural sensitivity, allowed districts to tailor courses for their communities while remaining within the state’s history and social studies standards, and encouraged critical thinking and student empowerment.
But backlash to the proposed curriculum plan also included fierce criticism for perceived political bias and insensitivity to ethnic and religious groups. The 350-page document received 5,000 responses that were mostly negative.
Efforts to make curricula culturally reflective, however, may prove worth the trouble. Research shows ethnic studies classes tend to improve attendance and increase the grades of some students who may be at risk of dropping out.
Suneal Kolluri, a doctoral student in the Pullias Center for Higher Education at the University of Southern California, has urged the College Board to launch AP ethnic studies courses partially on those grounds. For example, attendance reportedly increased 29% in the San Francisco Unified School District after ethnic studies were added.
The New York City Department of Education also recently adopted a culturally sensitive curriculum after the NYC Coalition for Educational Justice in a February report noted a “lack of representation, diversity and inclusivity” in the city's curriculum.
States recently requiring or strongly encouraging multicultural curricula include Vermont, Oregon and Washington.