By Sarah Bender
The need for anti-racist teaching has always been present. However, world crises have a way of shedding light on already existing issues, which is why the conversation around racism grew. For over 200 years, many people stayed complacent during the building of America. Since the pandemic stopped our fast-paced lifestyle, activists have been spotlighted to bring attention to these inequalities. A significant issue about the American lifestyle is that we live with the same expectations for prosperity and success our founding fathers dreamt of. Such expectations are not necessarily a bad thing, but American patriotism has taken a large amount of room in the ways we teach our students. I have created this resource document as a guide to create more critical, creative, and ethical students. Most importantly, this document highlights the anti-racist education system that works for students to acknowledge the flaws of the United States while providing the right tools students can use to create a more equitable and equal future for all.
The majority of schools have a mission statement. This statement announces to parents and guardians that their kids will achieve resources to be the most successful. Mission statements and goals are good; we need to look at the specific expectations our education system puts on students. The suggested materials and resources given in this document reflect the standards set by the Pennsylvania Education System. This document is not able to cover every unjust system in the United States today. In this document, I mainly focus on race, ethnicity, and gender. How- ever, there are a lot of unjust systems that need to be addressed as well.
Not everyone is racist, but many people, who may know it or not, are large contributors to the sustained racism in our nation. With our current political climate, the word anti-racism has begun to be used more. Anti-racism is the active participation in opposing racism. Currently, most people are performative allies, meaning that people oppose racism, yet do not do their part to intervene when racism is present. Anti-racism requires continuous education and the acknowledgment that there will be frequent. For white people, this begins with becoming aware of their privilege. Once privilege is acknowledged, people must educate themselves on the systemic racism rooted in our country’s systems. The next steps are to recognize racism and use privilege to change these unjust systems. People with privilege have been given a platform that allows their voices to be taken more seriously than the voices of minorities. The next steps are to take the lessons learned and to educate those who are unaware.
Pennsylvania Standard Aligned System
Developed by Pennsylvania’s Department of Education, the Standard Aligned System “is a comprehensive, researched-based resource to improve student achievement.” The website allows people to search standards for each grade and subject, assessments, curriculum framework, instructions, and materials & resources. For this specific document, I emphasize the importance of a holistic and interdisciplinary curriculum. I went over the standards for arts & humanities, social studies, ELA, and science & technology to contribute to a holistic curriculum.
What’s the Goal?
Our current education system is built to have those with privilege succeed. This is why our school’s curriculum must change. A curriculum should be reflective of all the world’s diversity, especially in the United States that teaches its students that the United States is the “melting pot” of the world. If the United States were truly a melting pot, our curriculum would include the experiences of Indigenous people, the executions of civil rights ac- activists, and how the words written in our constitution don’t apply to everyone. Currently, we have a system that divides us between gender, race, sexual orientation, religion, and political beliefs. This division is sustained by biased curriculums that leave out the failures of the nation. If education is the gateway to success, then we are failing. Our goal is to give students the tools to analyze, criticize, and solve the experiences they will later face.
Bethlehem Area High School District
Earlier, I talked about the importance of a mission statement. The mission statement for the BASD’s Framework for Citizenship says:
“The Bethlehem Area School District, in partnership with the home and community, is committed to providing a safe and supportive environment in which each student will attain the knowledge, skills, and attitudes necessary to become a productive citizen and lifelong learner in our technologically demanding and culturally diverse society.”
The most important part of this mission statement is the last two lines. Becoming a productive citizen and lifelong learner is ideal yet complicated in the United States. First, you must ask, what makes someone a citizen? Currently,
we are living in a world where we claim unity through citizenship, yet if you don’t conform to expected social norms, you are shunned from society. So, I bring up the question: Do the materials, lessons, and skills taught work for our current reality or the one we want to believe we have? The answer is no. Former students have called their schools back asking why they hadn’t learned about the history they see in the news today. If our goal is to teach people how “to become a productive citizen and lifelong learner,” then we have failed.
The framework that leads to citizenship is laid out as the following:
With every curriculum, there is also a hidden curriculum. A hidden curriculum is when norms, values, and beliefs are learned. This means that teachers don’t only teach information but also influence how kids think. The values listed include essential values such as courage and empathy to self-discipline, and work ethic. As I looked through the list of values, I noticed one that didn’t seem to fit with the others – patriotism. Patriotism is defined by the “love for or devotion to one’s country.” Patriotism is not wrong, but describing it as a universal value places importance primarily on US pride. It’s hard to become patriotic if students look back on their education and question how accurate the material was. It’s hard to become patriotic when their skin tone, religion, or ethnicity isn’t seen as necessary as white students. By having patriotism as one of the foundations for the school district, you alter the teaching material to create patriots. BASD’s mission refers to culturally diverse societies, which is larger than the perspective of a US citizen. It is never a school’s job to teach patriotism but to help students build the skills to think, analyze and understand the world around them critically. In my opinion, more students would be more patriotic if they learned the whole truth of our flaws and are given the skills to do work that betters the community.
We all strive for excellence, yet some students can achieve excellence more easily than others. Students from low-income families may not have the resources that will allow their children to find their academic passions. How are the students supposed to stay after school for a computer science extracurricular when they need to take care of siblings or work after school to support the family? Students of color are disproportionally more likely to work jobs or care for families. It’s hard for students to succeed when our institutions don’t believe everyone deserves excellence
The goal is to create a universal understanding of other cultures, races, and individual characteristics. Looking through the curriculum, I wonder if this foundation is being built. History is taught from the winner’s perspective. Most of those winners are white. Books, movies, and materials should include a diverse group of authors. All identities deserve a place in the materials. Young students are constantly asked, “what do you want to be when you grow up?” Students are more likely to believe they can obtain these goals if they can see someone who looks like them in that position. To have global understandings, we must value the learning of all perspectives.
Community service is more complicated than it might seem. I know of many schools that require a certain amount of hours a student must complete. This is not an effective way to teach citizenship because it creates the idea that these are tasks that need to be done instead of be- ing seen as a way to be an active member of a community. I hear more people use the term community engagement now because community service creates an “us vs. them” relationship. Community engagement suggests that we are all one community, and we engage in our community because we are a part of it. Creating projects and initiatives between the school, certain class years or extracurriculars, and the community allows students to create better connections with their community members. Community engagement also helps students recognize power and privilege. Bethlehem is an excellent place for community engagement since the area has a diverse population.
In my opinion, the standards for our education systems should be centered on learning the tools and skills that will make every student a successful global citizen. This would mean admitting to the flaws currently present in our systems and directly working to change the programs that haven’t worked. Schools can shape entire generations of kids, yet our children will never fully succeed if we do not give them an unbiased education. Reforming the curriculum could allow students to become more well-rounded and learn how to develop their own opinions and identify their own emotions about our country by teaching them how Americans can make a change.
It’s always hard to tell if we are doing enough. It’s important to remember that change takes time. The first step is to try. Everyone will make mistakes, but it is a part of the learning process. The next step is teaching allyship. We learn how to be performative allies in our schools, but a real ally means actively fighting against oppression. All too often, we rely on BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, and People of Color) to educate White people, which is an unfair expectation. In addition, educators and staff members need to make a community guideline agreement that allows students to feel more comfortable discussing complex topics. By setting these community standards at a young age, students will grow up to communicate with others more maturely. Lastly, I recommend looking at curriculum, lesson plans, reading, movies, and other activities through the following lenses:
• Cultural Acceptance
• Racial Justice
• Fun & Interactive Learning • Community Engagement
• Implicit Bias Training
It is not our goal to force students to become social justice warriors. However, education should allow students
to understand the world from different perspectives, critically think, and form their own opinions based on education rather than blindly following the opinions of others.