I have a dream that one day White students will learn about racism because as current curriculums stand, we do not do enough to teach our children about the reality of race relations past, present, and future in this country. I have a dream that little girls will one day have plenty of strong role models in their curricula and learn that they deserve every chance and opportunity in the world to be whatever they want to be. I have a dream that students of every gender and sexual identity will feel safe and included in their curricula. I have a dream that one day the United States will adopt an inclusive curriculum that does not romanticise our past, that does not deify our founding fathers, that is honest about our failures, that stops perpetuating systems of oppression, and that represents all Americans.
The current curricula of the United States tends to be pretty homogenous; most material tends to glorify and be written by White men. United States history, as it is currently understood, is the story of great white men and a collection of “firsts” ie. the first African American this or the first female that. Literature classes focus on the works of great men while largely ignoring Shakespeare’s possible bisexuality or Toni Morrison’s Black feminism. Over half of all science and math problems use men as their focus, most science and math teachers are men, and most heralded scientists and mathematicians are men.
This is not to say White men are unimportant, have not done great things, or do not deserve to be the subject of curricula. However, the overwhelming prevalence of white men in school curricula marginalizes every other identity group. It reinforces systems of oppression by teaching children that they are victims and leads to massive misconceptions about the political reality of both the past and present.
For minority students, these curricula can have permanently harmful effects on their performance. Studies show that around 7th grade female students stop participating in class because they feel as though their voices are not valued. Students of color across the board score lower in social studies and civics than White students.
In terms of race, current curricula maintains unquestioned white racial dominance through the constant promotion of white actors and the tokenization of African American history. Tokenization (or tokenism) is the practice of making only a symbolic effort in being inclusive to minority groups. This is done through only visiting minority history through specialized units and “firsts”: Black history month, Native American tribal projects, the first Latino congressman, etc.
The problem with these units is that they treat minority group history and culture as separate from society, as special subsections of knowledge that cannot and should not become a part of the whole. In other words, marginalizing these identities makes them permanently separated from the overall definition of American history and American culture. Furthermore, the discussion of minority groups separate from “normal” studies perpetuates victimization, robbing them of agency.
For the majority of U.S. History, African Americans are treated as slaves and victims of racism. They have no agency and their resistance is always framed as being either quashed or accepted by the White mainstream. This constant framing of ethnic history as being at the mercy of White society robs these groups their voices and their rightful identities as Americans.
Women and other members of the gender and sexuality spectrum face further discrimination through the erasure of their stories. Women only pop into stories or lessons to help men and are rarely the heroes of their own stories. Women are also underrepresented in the number of authors read and in other textbooks. For example, most students know who Albert Einstein and Charles Darwin are but very few know who Madame Curie is.
Non-heterosexual actors are also missing from every subject. People who had non-heteronormative relationships, such as William Shakespeare, have that part of their history erased. By concealing the stories of these groups of people, we are only perpetuating their oppression and the loss of their perspectives. The only thing that benefits from the continued misrepresentation of information is the “social norm”; social change can only come from sharing these experiences and their undeniable truths.
The legacies of these curricula is mainstream White culture’s inability to understand or empathize with continuing systems of oppression. A White student has no reason to challenge a system of institutionalized racial oppression if that student believes that Martin Luther King Jr. and the Civil Rights Movement eradicated racial issues in the United States. A male student has little incentive to pressure employers for equal pay for all genders if they do not understand sexism and how it functions in the United States. Students cannot understand what they do not learn, preventing well-intentioned people identifying social inequalities and then taking action against them. The current curricula do students a disservice by continuing the cycle of victimization and denying a real education to all students.