Ethnic studies so history will not be erased

It is a paradox that education is crucial for healing, in this case healing from the intergenerational traumas suffered by Indigenous peoples in the lands called the United States and Canada. And yet, who will teach these subjects? Care must be taken to avoid triggering that might occur for Indigenous educators.

The following quote references Alberta’s Teacher Qualifications Standard that I wrote about yesterday.

As the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation approaches, we can expect Canadian teachers are thinking about how they can better weave Indigenous perspectives into their lesson planning.

In the past, events like this rarely made it as national news, staying inside our Indigenous communities where the pain remained hidden from the rest of Canada. Now, teachers are talking about them with their students — how history and society influence individual situations of race-motivated violence and cultural genocide. It’s our responsibility to make sure they are equipped to teach the truth and acknowledge the important role schools play in reconciliation.

But how do we do that when many of our educators were not taught about residential schools when they were students?

This question does not have one answer. In 2016, the Hon. Justice Murray Sinclair, former chair of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, said, “Education got us into this mess and education will get us out of it.” After generations of miseducation, it will take generations of real truth-sharing and knowledge-building within our provincial education systems to achieve reconciliation.

We owe it to Indigenous educators who are triggered and challenged to deliver education around a topic like residential schools that have impacted them. Educators like me, who when viewing the images of children with their plain clothes, short hair, and empty eyes — identities stripped — still struggle to separate the pain we hold from lesson planning.

We also owe it to non-Indigenous educators who lack confidence in teaching because they weren’t taught the truth about the atrocities of the residential school system. This is a significant blocker to the successful integration of truth-telling in our classrooms, which can be solved by supporting educators in their journey of learning.

We must ensure the materials passed down to educators are written accurately by authentic voices. We need ongoing government funding and access to professional learning programs. Alberta is one province that does this well. Its Teacher Qualifications Standard requires educators to take courses in foundational knowledge of Indigenous history.

We owe it to all students to bring truth and drive reconciliation in classrooms by Linda Isaac & John Estabillo, National Observer, September 16, 2021

Education got us into this mess and education will get us out of it.

Hon. Justice Murray Sinclair

Last year, as a massive uprising against systemic racism swept across the worldactivists fighting for Black liberation and racial justice put radical demands against institutional racism on the table, such as abolishing and defunding the police. Another key step toward challenging institutional racism is the push for ethnic studies and teaching about systemic racism in U.S. schools. I am part of that fight in California.

Racism has been in the United States for over 400 years, stemming from slavery and genocide. However, Trump’s emboldening of white nationalism and last year’s protests against police violence have raised the level of urgency to fight against systemic racism. In this crucial moment, the push for ethnic studies is an important fight because accurate, anti-racist, multicultural educational curricula are vital to creating a better, more just society.

I was one of the very few African American men to graduate from Pittsburg High School and attend Stanford University, where I earned my bachelor’s in International Relations. In my decade-long teaching and writing career post-Stanford, I’ve seen how the education system is a site of institutional racism that directly impacts non-white students. I’ve also written about other forms of systemic racism, such as the police and gentrification. Ethnic studies, an educational discipline that teaches non-white students their own history and empowers them to be agents of their own destiny, is crucial to challenging institutional racism within the education system.

As ethnic studies programs grow around the country, right-wing pushback is also mounting — overlapping with efforts to ban the teaching of critical race theory in U.S. schools. Critical race theory and ethnic studies are not the same: Critical race theory is a highly academic, and rather esoteric, legal theory that analyzes the manifestations of racism in U.S. law; it is mostly taught in law schools, not in K-12 public education. Meanwhile, ethnic studies focuses on the histories, cultures and struggles of marginalized racial/ethnic groups, especially as they relate to the overall history of the United States.


7 thoughts on “Ethnic studies so history will not be erased

  1. Important points, especially education. Glad to see that Canada at least has a T and R commission. Down here in the US, some of us are calling for it, and mostly being studiously ignored.

    So, you went to HS in Pittsburgh, but now live in Canada?
    Hi, neighbor: I’m from DC, originally.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Hi Shira,
      I used to think I wrote a lot, but I’ve met my match in you 😊 No wonder you are tired. I’m looking forward to reading some of your work this weekend.
      Thanks for the offer to re-post today’s blog which I would welcome. You asked for possibilities of others. Looking back through blog post, Time for a reset – LANDBACK Friends gives an introduction to LANDBACK which might have a place sometime.
      Let me know when you would like to do a Zoom meeting. Of course there is no pressure at all to do so.
      Practicing hope,

      Liked by 2 people

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