The Providence Student Union (PSU) rallied outside the Providence School Department Wednesday to demand Ethnic Study classes be taught for credit in high school. The event served as a kickoff to the PSU’s #OurHistoryMatters campaign, to counter the lack of representation of the Latino, Black, Southeast Asian, and American Indian population in the school’s classes.
PSU was joined in their effort by representatives from PrYSM, the EJLRI, Youth in Action and DARE as well as community and labor leaders.
Recent studies have shown that high school students perform better when race and ethnicity classes are offered. A Guardian report on a Stanford University study said, “Student attendance increased by 21%, while grade-point averages surged nearly a grade and a half for those enrolled in the class – striking results, according to the researchers.”
Students spoke passionately about the lack of representation in their history classes (see video below). They also resented having to learn real history outside of school. “I just recently learned the truth about Columbus Day,” said Diane Gonzalez from Central High School. “I didn’t know who Columbus really was, until I learned it with Providence Student Union, in one of our mini workshops about oppression… I’m Guatemalan, and I have no idea about our history at all.”
“This is an undeniable problem,” said Afaf Akid, a senior at E-Cubed Academy and a PSU youth leader, in a statement. “We did an analysis of the American history textbook we use in Providence, and our results were shocking. Of our textbook’s 1,192 pages, fewer than 100 pages are dedicated to people of color. That’s less than 10% of our history curriculum, in a district where 91% of the students are people of color. That is unacceptable. And, of course, the few references to people of color are problematic as well, often treating issues like slavery and colonialism as neutral or even positive developments. We deserve better.”
“The oppression of enslaved African-Americans and Native Americans is disguised as… ‘cultural exchange,'” said Licelit Caraballo, “the hardships that Asians had to endure as they migrated to the US is viewed as just ‘seeking work’ when they were also treated as slaves. Our history books don’t cover these topics.”
A very interesting part of the presentation consisted of holding up black and white posters of famous activists of color, and asking those in attendance if they knew the people pictured. First up was Bayard Rustin, a leader in civil rights, socialism, nonviolence, and gay rights written out of civil rights history because of his homosexuality and atheism. Also held up was Fred Hampton of the Black Panther Party, Grace Lee Boggs, author, social activist, philosopher and feminist born here in Providence, Dolores Huerta, labor leader and civil rights activist and Ella Baker, civil and human rights activist.
“We think it should be pretty self-evident that Providence students need a more culturally relevant curriculum,” said Justin Hernandez, a junior at Hope High School and a PSU school delegate. “But if those in charge of our school system need convincing, we are ready. We’re used to tough fights, from ending the unfair NECAP graduation requirement to expanding bus passes. And we are excited to do whatever it takes to win ethnic studies courses and move our schools a little closer towards providing us the education we deserve.”