Increase diversity in curriculum at Assumption High School, Davenport, IA

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To the Assumption faculty and school board:

We are in yet another moment of heightened racial awareness in America. While we collectively mourn the murders of our Black Americans and navigate the path forward, it is absolutely critical to consider the impacts of these traumatic modern events, and their direct connection to Black American history, on students of all races. Not only do we need to address the emotional state of students and staff, but also make changes that create real, positive impacts on our student’s lives and collective futures.

As concerned alumni, we are calling on Assumption to ensure there is a safe learning environment for every student. We are disappointed in the lack of efforts by the faculty and school board to take deliberate anti-racist actions within communications with parents, students, and the community as a whole.

The core foundations of a student’s mindset is shaped through the educational process. We are sure you can agree that the education system is of absolute importance in the lives of America’s children, and while it has been very successful in many of its endeavors, it has also been drastically underutilized as a tool to combat racism. There are many reasons why we believe high school is the optimal time frame to introduce students to such difficult, but necessary topics.

First, completing high school represents a culmination of a student’s core educational studies— this core should educate students regarding how to be anti-racist in the classroom. K-12 education encapsulates teaching students about the most basic, fundamental components that are seen as integral to their academic pursuits, regardless of whether they choose to continue further educational paths post-graduation. While math, science, history, and English are all considered “integral academic pursuits”, so should learning to be anti-racist. We all live in America, and it is undeniable that this country was built upon the foundations of slavery in various forms.

Systemic racism is deeply entrenched and has only festered and worsened in the past few years. We live and experience our daily lives in this type of society, and it shapes the way we think about the world at an unconscious level from the very moment we are capable of speaking and interacting with others. As a result, we must strive to understand the perspectives of BIPOC communities and do everything in our power to educate those who come through our school systems.

Additionally, high school is an optimal time to incorporate anti-racist narratives into curriculum because it is the last time students will be enrolled in mandatory schooling. Not everyone chooses to attend college after 12th grade, and implementing anti-racist texts as a school requirement ensures that the majority of students passing through our school systems will have received some exposure to diversity in the classroom. Numerous colleges around this country offer ethnic studies programs as well as courses on issues of social justice, but the problem is that these course offerings create a self-selected group of individuals. Students studying these topics in college are the ones who specifically already want to do so, and are more likely to already be engaged in anti-racist activism or allyship. As a result, this leads to the development of ignorance among the rest of the student body. As we know, apathy or ignorance can be a very dangerous force to reckon with in regards to the power racial oppression has in America. Learning about these concepts in high school under the proper guidance of well-trained, qualified teachers can help expand exposure to such an important topic.

To be clear: ignoring the injustices of widespread, normalized racism and intolerance of others, or simply making a statement, is not an option. As a high school educator you are a trusted leader, mentor and role model to countless students, who will grow up to be the next generation of Americans. We expect you to teach and lead by example, exhibit kindness, provide resources, and be a safe space for all students. From here on, anything less will be considered failing to do your job.

Talks about race can be challenging but we must turn the silence into dialogue. These conversations are not reserved only for students of color but for students in predominantly white schools too. You are equally responsible for helping our students build their capacity to understand and confront racism as well as, contribute to a society where peace and justice prevail. What steps will you take TODAY to provide parents with the resources needed to guide these conversations with students at home? What steps will you take to serve the students in your schools?

Your mission is to prepare students academically, spiritually, and morally for the opportunities and responsibilities of the future. As a Catholic institution, you teach “So whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets.” (Matthew 7:12); “And this commandment we have from him: whoever loves God must also love his brother.” (1 John 4:21). To love our brothers and to treat others the way we wanted to be treated, there must be change. Pope John Paul II reminded us: “the future starts today, not tomorrow” and “as the family goes, so goes the nation and so goes the whole world in which we live.” Pope Francis says “education today is dealing with a generation that changes... every teacher and the entire Church... is called to change, in the sense of knowing how to communicate with the young people before them.”

At this moment, serving your students means openly and loudly affirming your stance as an anti-racist institution, condemning all types of violence against BIPOC in America, offering resources for both education and traumatized individuals, and committing to reconsidering how your policies, curriculums, and staff can be updated to meet this significant moment. Most importantly, you can ensure that your attitudes and actions are consistently anti-racist as a standard.

Conversations about race profoundly affect our student’s lives, and they have power to influence our society’s collective strength. We ask you to please take time to continually educate students, staff, and faculty on these matters, ask questions and take action.

Some ideas of tangible steps to be taken (inspired by similar petitions) include: 

•Including racial equity, diversity, and inclusion as part of your vision and core values.

•Releasing a detailed plan to recruit, hire, onboard, and retain educators of color.

•Developing and implementing profession training for educators on implicit bias, inclusive curricula, and classroom practices, including mindfulness and self-awareness in the classroom and after-school sports and clubs.

•Shifting the focus of curriculum to include literature and scholarship by Black, Indigenous, People of Color, and anti-racist authors. Curriculum changes can include:
I. A minimum of at least one book in every English/Literature and Comprehension class be by a person of color AND about a person/people of color’s experience(s).

II. Teachers must have autonomy to choose books which accurately portray the cultural and racial diversity of our society.

III. At least one of the mandated books be about the Black experience, due to the anti-Blackness that has existed since the inception of our nation. Fiction books adopted as part of the curriculum should be published post-civil rights movement (~1960s), to ensure that issues of race are taught with contemporary, modern-day context in mind.

IV. This implementation be enforced not only in all standard English classes, but alternatives for standard English classes such as AP programs.

V. These texts be analyzed to the same extent that any other traditional text would be analyzed in the classroom.

VI. A voluntary task force composed of teachers be created to issue guidelines that ensure these texts are taught with proper tools to ensure racial sensitivity.

We wholeheartedly understand that as a school board, you do have a specific protocol in place for the selection of new instructional materials in the classroom. While we respect these procedures the amount of thoughtfulness and dedication this review process demands, we would like to request that this proposal be granted an expedited review process in order to enact tangible change both quickly and effectively. Schools are such an instrumental tool in this long journey towards dismantling racism in this country. To be silent on these issues is to dismiss the potential of this powerful institution to actively combat racism. It is time that we enact permanent, structural change in our school system to contribute to this cause. We recognize that Assumption has a strong commitment to student success and educational endeavors, but we believe that goals could better accomplished by adopting the practices explained in this proposal. Let us diversify our narrative and utilize our school system to combat oppression in this country and work towards a more equal, just world for all.

“This is what the LORD says: ‘Do what is just and right. Rescue from the hand of the oppressor the one who has been robbed. Do no wrong or violence to the foreigner, the fatherless or the widow, and do not shed innocent blood in this place.” (Jeremiah 22:3)

Much of this letter was taken from #DiversifyOurNarratve and Rachel E. Cargle's "The Great Unlearn," template drafted by Tamara LaLande and Anna Yates.