Neag high school initiative a great first step, but indicates larger problems 

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After decades of protest for change, recent movements have begun to achieve big changes in representation for underrepresented groups in the US. Connecticut legislation requiring high schools to offer a course on Black and Latinx history is one of the most recent of these changes. (Photo by Alexis Fauvet on Unsplash)

After Connecticut mandated all high schools must offer an elective course on Black and Latinx history, professor Alan Marcus in the University of Connecticut Neag School of Education developed a website to help high school teachers teach it. In a UConn Today article, Marcus was quoted as saying that the high school teachers were not prepared to teach these classes. 

The work that Marcus and everyone else from Neag has contributed to this program is very important and will better the education of many high school students. While this help cannot be understated, the fact that this website had to be created in the first place raises significant concerns about Connecticut’s education system. 

Schools should empower and equip teachers with the ability to properly educate their students. In the aforementioned UConn Today article, Marcus said high school teachers were “prepared to teach U.S. history very broadly, but this is very narrow.” From the perspective of the education system, why is the history of Black and Latinx peoples more difficult to incorporate into U.S. history?  

In December 2020, Governor Ned Lamont announced all Connecticut high schools would be required to have history courses focusing on Black and Latinx history. However, the requirement is merely that the courses are available as electives, not that they are mandatory. In many cases, what this likely means is if there are not enough students interested in the course, the school will not be able to offer it. Otherwise, a course may be offered but under-resourced due to a lack of interest. This threatens to become an issue, particularly in predominantly white school districts.  

Requirement of Black and Latinx history classes in CT school is a good first step for inclusivity, though it highlights some larger issues at play. General indifference from schools to make these classes mandatory limits their effectiveness unless students choose to take them. (Photo courtesy of Pixabay on Pexels)

Programs mandating the introduction of electives which explore the experience of marginalized peoples demonstrate the failure of existing curriculum to include all populations in history. An equitable education system would not explore separate electives for each marginalized group throughout history, but would instead teach history by exploring the experiences and contributions of all peoples. Efforts to implement such electives show the history currently being taught is white history.  

It would be much more beneficial for U.S. history courses to incorporate the analysis of intersectionality, which examines the ways in which different forms of violence intersect and overlap, thus creating unique identities and experiences. This perspective wouldbolster students’ abilities to not only understand how oppression and systemic violence endure, but also how they impact many different communities to this day.  

Although the website created by Neag is extremely helpful, it is a quick-fix to a much deeper, significant problem. Instead, the state — and the nation as a whole — should work to fix the education system in general and change how history is taught to be more inclusive of the perspectives of people of color. High school teachers must be prepared to teach these subjects, which should not remain as mere opt-in electives. Black and Latinx history is a significant part of U.S. history, and the importance of learning about this aspect of history cannot be trivialized. 

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