Diversity Alliance pushes to reform history curriculum

The U.S. history textbook used in both standard and honors classes – Austin Zhuang ’22

In a school year filled with Diversity Alliance action and calls for reform, leaders are now working with the history department and others to reform the curriculum.

     Their demands include more focus on Blacks, Asians, LGBTQ+, and women, their roles and experiences in the world and American history, and a celebration of marginalized groups and their experiences rather than a focus on their suffering. These changes would be implemented mostly in Modern World History and United States History classes.

     Sixth Form Diversity Alliance Co-Chair Ryan Ngo believes that the school’s history education must be altered to empower underrepresented groups.

     “Because we go to a single-gender, predominantly white institution, we often have our curriculums centered around manhood, a lot of white men in history, and that’s obviously the traditional history curriculum,” Ngo said. “We don’t necessarily get to view other groups in that leadership power.”

     Ngo also hopes the changes will give students more perspective and allow them to leave the school better people.

     This goal is shared by Sixth Form Diversity Alliance Vice-Chair Nachikethan Srinivasan, who believes an education that encompasses the perspectives of more peoples is beneficial.

     “There seems to be a need for a specific focus on being able to look at the course of history and how we view and how we perceive specifically Black figures, as well as other minority leaders,” Srinivasan said. 

     In-class discussion and analysis of these topics is also a must for him because he thinks it creates a better understanding of the socioeconomic effects history has had on minorities, particularly for Black people.

     History Department Chair Ms. Turlish recently listened to the Diversity Alliance Executive team’s proposals and opinions with an open mind and open ears in a meeting a few weeks ago. 

     “I think that they presented their ideas very professionally, very thoughtfully, very respectfully,” Ms. Turlish said.

     Ms. Turlish believes that many of the changes they are proposing are already in the curriculum, although she does admit that the students may not think the topics are explored enough. She also thinks that their petition could have asked for more.

    The petition “was not comprehensive,” Ms. Turlish said. “There was no request to do any Latin American history. It’s not a criticism; I’m just saying, based on who was presenting the petition, none of whom were Latinx, it would be something the kids wouldn’t put in the document.”

     And, for her, something like this highlights the need for the department and other teachers to embrace feedback and change. 

“One example [of a proposal] that’s great is the decades-long effort to demonize the Black Panther Party. That narrative has really stuck, and so, to mindfully seek to unravel that narrative is something that I think is very, very important.”

HistoRy Department Chair Ms. Hannah Turlish

     Ms. Turlish praised the team for its desire to focus on important questions not discussed enough.

     “One example [of a proposal] that’s great is the decades-long effort to demonize the Black Panther Party,” Ms. Turlish said. “That narrative has really stuck, and so, to mindfully seek to unravel that narrative is something that I think is very, very important.” 

     This new push for reform is a result of events in the past year that have caused an increased awareness of racial inequality and stimulated many social justice movements like Black Lives Matter.

     “Last summer was the catalyst for every single change we wanted to make,” Ngo said. “But now more than ever, we realize the importance [of these changes]. The fact that it’s 2021 and a lot of these issues are still prevalent is unacceptable.”

     The issue of time is important for the Diversity Alliance because it wants to see changes implemented as soon as possible.

     “Over the course of the next school year, or even within the next few school years, we’d like to see a gradual restructuring of specific electives and core history classes that aren’t necessarily meant to accommodate but rather to educate,” Srinivasan said.

     For Ngo, the promptness of the reform will determine its effectiveness and implementation.

     “These conversations have happened before; it’s not the first time ever that someone’s been pointing out that the curriculum is biased and limiting,” Ngo said. “So that change is gonna happen immediately, it’s gonna be at the forefront of their mind and they’re gonna make it happen as quickly as possible, or it’s just not going to happen at all.”