The social studies department hosted a lunch and learn in the MLK room during second lunch on March 2. Gary Shiffman led the conversation as Curriculum Coordinator of the social studies department. 23 people attended the lunch and learn, nine of which were staff, the rest students.
Dean Scott Butchart, who along with Dean Anthony Meyer (also in attendance) organize all the lunch and learns, initiated a round of introductions where students also added why they had come to the meeting. Many of the answers were similar, the history department is lacking in connecting history to the present and many minority groups are still being taught through stereotypes.
The first question, directed towards the members of the history department, was asked by senior Donnaya Brown, “where do you think the history department is lacking concerning equity?”
Teacher Malcolm Cawthorne answered, saying that especially in 9th grade, it is very easy to teach the entire curriculum never being explicit about race, to keep the entire conversation intellectual and only talking about things as if they were from a long time ago.
Shiffman agreed, saying his 9th grade class never discussed a white person until January because he never put it in that frame. He agreed that the history department could do a better job teaching the past and bringing it to the present.
“We need to put conceptions, and how they change over time, in frame,” Shiffman said.
Junior Sophie Strassman used her Global Leadership class as an example when she denounced history classes for putting down countries by calling them “third world” and “developing.” She continued by saying that her class only taught about the poverty residing in India and never talked about the complexities of the culture. She believes this kind of teaching perpetuates stereotypes, is offensive and doesn’t reflect how people of that culture want to be received.
There were plenty of allegations against the history textbook used to teach 11th grade U.S. history. Many students agreed that the textbook revolved around the upper class white men and captors were awkwardly added on to the end about women and minorities, as an afterthought.
The most pressing demand that students had was to connect history with current events. Especially pertaining to race, students can be led to think that racism no longer exists because no ties are made between history and the present, according to junior Maya Morris.
Senior Hal Friedman added that history is taught removed from the experiences of people, and all that is being remembered is the number of years a dictator was in a certain country and how he was overthrown.
Brown said that she believes the history department is teaching racism wrong.
“They’re teaching it as a vantage in forms of race, and only talk about the civil rights movement, and black and white history when there are discussions about racism,” she said. “Racism affected many more people and cultures, most of whose history has been erased. Racism is not black people being hosed, it’s much bigger than that.”
Students believed that senior history electives such as Asian American history or African American studies shouldn’t be necessary because those cultures should be taught in regular curriculums. Another proposition is to create a more rigorous class centered around minorities, instead of a class such as AP Euro.
Overall students believed all parts of history should be celebrated, not only the difficult parts, history needs to be connected to current events and the conversations around race need to improve, and that there need to be follow up discussions after learning about traumatic events or ideas.