What the Curriculum Change Really Means

The overdue mandate from Governor Lamont for schools to incorporate African-American, Black, Puerto Rican, and Latino studies into mainstream history courses in high schools across the state seems to have created some confusion amongst policies, terms and implementation.

The requirement is the result of a law Governor Lamont signed in 2020 – Public Act 19-12 – “that directs all regional and local boards of education to include an elective course of studies at the high school level that provides students with a better understanding of the African-American, Black, Puerto Rican, and Latino contributions to United States history, society, economy, and culture.”

“Identities matter, especially when 27 percent of our students identify as Hispanic or Latino and 13 percent identify as Black or African-American,” then-Connecticut Education Commissioner Miguel Cardona said.

Since that time,  President Biden chose Cardona as his Education Secretary, and the Senate confirmed him.

“Increasing the diversity of what we teach is critical to providing students with a better understanding of who we are as a society and where we are going,” Governor Lamont said. “Adding this course in our high schools will be an enormous benefit not only to our Black and Latino students, but to students of all backgrounds…”

The confusion and misinformation circulating is a result of a conflation of terms and definitions aimed at causing polemic and fear by groups who don’t want this curriculum change.

The state mandate allows high schools to offer the course in 2021-2022 and will require them to offer it during the school year that begins in the fall of 2022. ER9 is part of this mandate, and like all other high schools in the state, is working with panels of curriculum experts to devise a plan to implement the mandate, which will also require administrator and teacher training.

The African-American, Black, Puerto Rican, and Latino studies course will provide students with knowledge about the histories, cultures, and contributions of diverse groups of individuals and recognizes American society as pluralistic. It is a way of teaching that promotes the principles of inclusion, diversity, democracy, inquiry, critical thought, value of perspectives, and self-reflection, in order to set a more inclusive tone in the classroom.

Anti-racist pedagogy, on the other hand, is the active process of identifying and eliminating racism by changing systems, organizational structures, policies, practices and attitudes, so that power is redistributed and shared equitably.

Critical race theory involves an examination of the barriers of achieving a society that is inclusive of all races in order to create a society that is egalitarian, a society that is just, and a society that is inclusive.

ARP and CRT are subjects mostly written about and taught by well-trained educational scholars and are not part of the state mandate course electives.

In addition, ER9 and the state never use the phrase in their goals or objectives to “decolonize the curriculum.”

Therefore, the goal of incorporating the accomplishments and achievements of all Americans in order to give a more complete story of our country is not the same as asking our teachers to “indoctrinate” or “radicalize” students.

ER9 school district, administrators and teachers are all simply doing their part to implement this state mandate, with meetings, discussions and teacher training.

The goal of public school education is, and always has been, to recognize that society is dynamic and ever-changing. It prepares students for such changes and to become active participants in a democratic society. In order to become active participants, students are taught to become critical thinkers.

One of the ways students are taught to become critical thinkers is to give them all of the pieces and perspectives available, so they may come to their own informed conclusions.

This process includes being taught by teachers with different teaching styles. Education is never 100 percent neutral, educators are never 100 percent neutral,  students are never 100 percent neutral, human beings are never 100 percent neutral.

As times change, so does curriculum. We can’t expect our public school curriculum to remain the same as it was during the Civil War, Reconstruction, Segregation, the Cold War, and so on. Education, curriculum and pedagogy must reflect the times. Otherwise, it would be doing a disservice to our children by not preparing them for the outside and global world.

If parents are also teaching their children to think critically, they will not become receptacles that take in and regurgitate everything that’s taught to them, but instead will take bits and pieces of what they learn, filter it through their own processes and form their own perspectives, which is the major purpose of education. Education is not just about getting a good job, even though that happens to be a great side benefit.

Educational and psychological studies have shown that children are aware of their environments and begin shaping their thoughts from day one. As parents, we see this in toddlers as we watch them play with toys and replicate what they see around them.

They use their own creative skills to make up fantasy narratives, sometimes with imaginary friends. The truth is, they are preparing for entering the world by adapting to and imitating their environments. As they get older, and as we open up opportunities to them, we see their make believe worlds slowly fade as they are replaced with the real world.

Isn’t it a goal for all parents to want their children to be better than them, to think and do better then them? Isn’t that why many of our ancestors came here to escape prosecution and to have the chance to live freely and to offer their children better opportunities than they had?

Education is everyone’s path to freedom in order to escape indoctrination, and even sometimes the indoctrination individuals may experience from a family who wants other family members to harbor their same views.

Even if people deny that inequities, white privilege and racism exist within their towns, it can’t be denied that it exists in the world. Education is designed to help students to operate in the world, not to prepare them to function within their idyllic home towns after graduation.

As an educator, I am not worried what the world will look like with children and young adults who learn more pieces of the puzzle. The US has always been a pioneer and leader in free mass public education. I’m worried about the mistrust in public education, especially by individuals who don’t have children in the public school system and want time to stand still.

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