Posted July 7st, 2020 by George Farmer
I still remember to this very day sitting in my sixth grade Social Studies class and hearing the teacher say “Egypt is not in Africa, it is in the Middle East.” As my father is from Sierra Leone, I was confused by the conflicting report from the teacher. After all, we are fashioned to learn since kindergarten that teachers are considered reliable sources of information to guide students into the truth about concepts and historical facts.
It was only fitting that I went home to tell my mom, who was a tenured teacher, and my dad, who is West African, about the new information I heard about Egypt being in the Middle East. I will never forget my parent’s reactions. My mom was furious and told me emphatically that Egypt is not in the Middle East, it is in Africa and never let anyone ever tell me anything contrary. My dad was speechless and walked away.
Why is this significant? The contributions of Egyptian civilization has a rich history. The ingenuity and engineering have provided a foundation for architecture, writing, mathematics, and medicine to the world. Implying that Egypt is in the Middle East suggests Africans are incapable of creating the foundation for ancient civilization. Imagine what it would mean for young minority children to learn the value of their ancestors to the world.
I am grateful for the parental guidance and correction my parents provided. I can only wonder how many students did not discuss the inaccurate teaching of Egypt with their parents. In retrospect, my parents should have called a meeting with the school to discuss the inaccurate teaching. Holding the school accountable for accurate teaching and diversity could have been impactful for not only my classmates but those coming behind my class.
I learned a valuable lesson as a sixth-grade student, the information provided in school has a slant that would not teach me accurate information about the origin of Black History and culture. 25 years later, as a school administrator and doctoral candidate, I can empathically state nothing has changed. History books/curriculum are filled with American History that only includes slavery, civil war, and the formation of America. What is omitted are the contributions Black people have made in this country.
Granted, the Civil Rights movement was groundbreaking for America, and attention is given to the 1960s. However, the contributions of Black people fighting in wars, scholarly contributions, and the foundation of Black people that make America successful are never explored. Students deserve more than learning about Spanish Conquistadors and should discover the contributions of the Latinx community in America. For Asian Americans, imagine how their confidence can grow from learning how the Asian community significantly plays a role in American history.
The underpinnings of America are rooted in the diversity of various cultures but are never explored in school. Parents must hold schools accountable to teach diversity in the curriculum.
COVID-19 and the recent increase of calls for social justice make this a pivotal moment for change. Students must learn about the history of America in totality without a western bias. Curriculum reform must become a priority for systemic change. When students are exposed at early ages to the truths of the impact of other cultures on America, then and only then will equality become remotely tangible. Making diversity a reality will not be easy. The challenge will take a cohesive effort and persistent demand for change by parents, guardians, and caregivers.
Materializing Diversity in Education
- Parental Involvement: The power of parental involvement is grossly underestimated. Parents have more power to influence change beyond understanding. Schools serve the community. When parents understand the power of involvement in districts change will occur. A community of parents that is organized with a strategic plan can present concerns to school officials to make the changes desired in the community.
Parental involvement also means the community must show up and vote for every election particularly local elections. Parents must also stay engaged and be active participants in the Board of Education meetings. When community members are unable to attend meetings, the meeting minutes are listed on the district website for public review. Parents must seize the opportunity to make systemic changes now.
- Hold Schools Accountable: The process of holding schools accountable requires parental involvement which was addressed. The second step involves addressing, the lack of diversity, bias, or stereotypes, which are present in schools. Once the absence of diversity in curriculum, bias, or stereotypes are identified the issues must be brought to the attention of the teacher and administration. Where parents fall short is often identifying the problem but lacking the follow-through to address the problem with the school. When a lack of diversity is present, parents should call meetings with the administration to strategize on solutions for diversity in the curriculum and diversity in staff.
- Hold Elected Officials Accountable: The board of education members are elected officials that serve the community. Once parents have organized a cohesive agenda to promote change the plan must be presented to the Board of Education. The community must remind the Board of Education members that they are elected officials. Know your local Board of Education members and the agenda they presented when seeking election. Demand change by voting people into the board that will promote change and will progressively pursue diversity in education.
The state of Mississippi has recently voted to change its state flag by removing the confederate flag. Change is occurring across the country because people are choosing to get involved and demand change. A sweeping change must be made in education to include the diversity in text, curriculum, and staff. Our children deserve to see the changes we imagine. Diversity in education must become an intentional priority of all stakeholders to teach students the true fabric of equality. The only way for diversity in education to materialize is for parents, guardians, and caregivers to hold schools accountable to ensure diversity is an integral component of educational institutions.