A Call for Anti-Racist Curriculum in Lake Zurich School District 95
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In light of the recent protests around the nation, now is a more important time than ever to come forward in support of the Black Lives Matter movement and work to change the perpetuation of systemic racism ingrained in our institutions. This refers to anti-Blackness, in addition to the erasure of Indigenous, Latinx, and Asian people in the United States. As a school district in a predominantly white suburb, Lake Zurich School District 95 has the power to actively engage in anti-racist work in relation to school curriculum — yet has failed to do so.
In four years of LZHS English classes, students may read The Joy Luck Club, To Kill a Mockingbird and/or Their Eyes Were Watching God. Four years of education and a small selection of assigned books that discuss race — and To Kill a Mockingbird centers a white man as the savior of Black people in his community. For students to graduate having read mostly white-authored, white-centered literature is a failure on the behalf of the district. The curriculum reading is nowhere near diverse, representative, or intersectional. There are countless Black, Indigenous, Latinx, and Asian authors that have contributed to the canon of American and English literature. Black, Indigenous, Latinx, and Asian students would benefit from reading books that relate to their lived experiences and identities; white students would benefit from learning about experiences different from their own. Reading, analyzing, and discussing work by these authors would not only give a voice to those whose voices have often been silenced, but would provide a greater understanding of various cultures, histories, and stories. Toni Morrison. Octavia E. Butler. Esmeralda Santiago. Ocean Vuong. Louise Erdrich. James Baldwin. Ta-Nehisi Coates. Celeste Ng. Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. Claudia Rankine. Tommy Orange. Gabriel García Márquez. Maya Angelou. Alice Walker. This is a non-exhaustive list.
Despite the extensive U.S. history courses students take in District 95 schools, the history taught is highly selective. While addressing certain historical events such as the Civil War or the Civil Rights Movement, the curriculum and books mention anti-Blackness in the U.S. as if it is a thing of the past. These lessons focus on a one-sided, whitewashed view of U.S. history and fail to acknowledge that racism is systemic, built into systems that still exist today. They brush over the enslavement of Black people that continued long past the Emancipation Proclamation, the violent and forced migrations of Indigenous people, the internment of Japanese and Japanese-Americans during World War II, and other historical events that cast the U.S. government and white Americans in an unfavorable light. Students spend more time learning about the Holocaust than they do about the genocide of Indigenous people that occurred in the Chicagoland area. They do not truly learn the history of the stolen lands of this region — lands that originally belonged to Indigenous people, most notably the Potawatomi, Odawa, and Ojibwe nations, who Americans then forcefully removed from the region. We cannot learn world history if we do not first learn the history that has occurred beneath our feet. Furthermore, the curriculum and books do not fully acknowledge or address the contributions that Black, Indigenous, Latinx, and Asian people have made in the U.S. — and these contributions reach practically every aspect of American life, from sports to music to science.
The work of anti-racism and curriculum revision can be applied across the board, beginning in elementary school and covering various subjects. Children are the most impressionable age group, using their creativity and curiosity in a way many adults lack. Anti-racist curriculum and practices should begin then. There are childrens’ books written about race; there is a plethora of Internet resources created specifically for parents and educators about how to talk to their children about these issues. Spanish classes could include a unit on Latinx history in America. Science classes could discuss racial bias within the sciences and acknowledge the accomplishments of Black, Indigenous, Latinx, and Asian scientists within their respective fields. Economics classes could discuss disparities between racial groups in America. Again, this is a non-exhaustive list. Although some teachers may already address these topics, they need to be thoroughly addressed within the curriculum and applied across the board.
In order to best serve its students, faculty, and the surrounding community, Lake Zurich School District 95 needs an active plan for how the district plans to consistently and meaningfully engage in anti-racist work, including but not limited to:
- Acknowledging complicity within the education field and former racist practices;
- A change in curriculum that works to center voices of Black, Indigenous, Latinx, and Asian authors, activists, historians, scientists, mathematicians, and artists;
- Acknowledgement of the historical and present-day struggles of Black, Indigenous, Latinx, and Asian people in the U.S.;
- Acknowledgement of the beneficial contributions Black, Indigenous, Latinx, and Asian people have made to the U.S., shown through cultural events, curriculum revisions, and guest speakers;
- Active representation and diversification in the curriculum, faculty, staff, and school board of Black, Indigenous, Latinx, and Asian people;
- Consultation with Black, Indigenous, Latinx, and Asian educators and activists on developing a plan for anti-racist work, and proper financial compensation for their work;
- Regular anti-racist trainings, workshops, and speakers for students, faculty, and staff, with follow-up steps as to how to continue the material presented in trainings, workshops, and talks outside of those events.
By doing so, District 95 will both work to acknowledge and validate the lived experiences of Black, Indigenous, Latinx, and Asian students and engage students in critical, meaningful anti-racist work. As a majority-white community, it is crucial for the district to focus on diversifying the curriculum both to represent Black, Indigenous, Latinx, and Asian students within the community and to educate all students to learn about the experiences of racial groups different from their own. The requested changes are by no means overnight, but they are necessary. Once implemented, they will create a generation of young people who are fully educated on the country in which they live, and the many Black, Indigenous, Latinx, and Asian people who have made that country what it is today. This is a time of change, and by taking appropriate action, District 95 will pave the way for other districts and future students in years to come.
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