A few days ago, in the same week that the death of Chinese American poet Fay Chiang was reported, Bridgeport, Connecticut, announced that it will require high school students to take a course in African American studies, Caribbean/Latin American studies, or Perspectives on Race in order to graduate.
According to CTPost, the school board unanimously approved the measure.
People Want to Understand Who They Are
Fay Chiang was a poet who used her writing to understand who she was as a Chinese American. She worked to establish Asian American studies classes in colleges within the City University of New York system, according to the New York Times. Her quest to comprehend her identity, along with her activism, made up her life’s work.
People want to know who they are and where they came from. That may be illustrated perhaps most emphatically by the Mexican American studies classes taught in Tucson, Arizona, in which 100% of students enrolled in them graduated from high school; 85% went on to college. This is while 48% of Latino students were dropping out of high school altogether, according to NPR.
(Despite this spectacular student success, Republican lawmakers sought to ban Tucson’s Mexican American studies program, charging that the classes were indoctrinating students and teaching racial hatred against white people. The ban has since been struck down.)
“Ethnic studies works,” Artnelson Concordia, a teacher who is helping to develop an ethnic studies curriculum in San Francisco, is quoted as saying in the NPR article. He says students will see that “all of their experiences can be connected to larger issues.”
Ethnic Studies Works
Bridgeport School Board Vice-Chairperson Sauda Baraka concurs. “It is going to make a great deal of difference to our children and our families,” she told CT Post of Bridgeport’s new graduation requirement. “It will really help us with the learning process. Cultural competency has been shown to change the direction of young people and make them more interested in learning.”
Baraka has been urging the adoption of such courses for some time, the website reports. But in the Trump era, a new urgency may be leading to their proliferation across the country. According to Ravi Perry, president of the National Association for Ethnic Studies, the courses have “gained momentum” with Trump’s election, NPR reports.
According to CTPost, about half of the district’s 21,000 students are Latino and 35% are black. This demographic mix is consistent with a recent analysis done by the Pew Research Center, which states that although blacks and Hispanics make up 15.5% and 25.4% of the U.S. public school population, many attend schools where their own race or ethnicity makes up at least half of the students.
Bridgeport students will take a half-year ethnic studies course of their choosing that will be paired with a half-year civics course. Eventually the city may add similar courses to its middle schools.
For more, go to CTPost.