DES MOINES, Iowa — Of the roughly 37,000 teachers in the state, less than a thousand of them are people of color. Not only is there a lack of diveristy seen in the classroom, some educators believe there is a lack of diversity in what’s taught as well.
Ankeny Centennial Social Studies teacher, Dave Richard, calls this year a golden opportunity to bring a focus to the black community and the issues it has faced and is currently dealing with but says this is an area in his lesson plans that always needs improving.
“We spend a lot of time delving into the issue of civil rights. We probably don’t do a very good job of getting at it form its core. As our curriculum changes and we move to include the Civil War there might be a better chance at having a year long conversation about the evolution of Black Americans.”
Right now, social studies instructors at Ankeny teach a month long unit on Civil Rights in Feburary during Black History Month. When asked if that puts Black History in a corner, Richard says, ” I hope not but this also a good opportunity to look into other time periods and find important events, black personalities that have been glossed over by history books that we can bring out and highlight.”
Social Studies isn’t the only area reserved for teaching about race and equality. This year the Ankeny School District is revamping its entire curriculum, taking a closer look at what is taught, how it’s taught and who makes the decision on what to teach.
“Right now our decisions are mostly made through the teachers that teach the curriculum but at some point in time there might be a good opportunity to bring in different stakeholders to help to make some of those decisions,” says Carol Eddy the Director of Curriculum and Innovation for the district. “What things should we be thinking of based on our history or experience that we aren’t aware of? We need to be actively seeking people to help answer those questions,” she says.
At Drake University, administrators are working to implipment change in what’s taught by considering to “de-colonize the cirriculum.” Dr. Erin Lain, the associate provost for campus equity and inclusion, describes that as looking at different sources of knowledge rather than from the Western European perspective.
“When you start to think about it, everything you have ever learned has come from Europe. Those thoughts all came from Europe. People may think, were there big thinkers in Africa, South America or among our indigenous people? Of coarse, there were but we just never promoted those as the people or thoughts that we should be studying,” Lain describes.
The transition towards de-colonizing the curriculum would be a complete overhaul on traditional thought and textbooks. It’s not a quick fix but one that would need transparency from educators along the way toward change.
“The other piece of it is acknowledging when you only have one source of knowledge. Teaches should say ‘hey students I want to let you know that everything we’ve been learning this semester comes from western European though and there is a whole world out there and I want to make sure your are aware of some of the biases that come along with it only looking at these sources of knowledge,'” she says.
Pearson, the largest college textbook publisher is currently reviewing and making changes to its content and is also re-examining the diversity of its authors .