Education News

Educators and NAACP persuade Hoosiers ethnic studies benefit everyone

Legislators, NAACP leaders and educators at signing of ethnic studies law

By David Sheridan

“If it can happen here, it can happen anywhere,” said teacher Hilda Kendrick after Indiana passed an ethnic studies law. “It was an astonishing and historic victory, given Indiana’s history of racism and Ku Klux Klan activity.”

Hilda Kendrick, an Indiana State Teachers Association (ISTA) activist, teaches in Jeffersonville in southern Indiana. She is confident the new law will benefit all students, not just those in more ethnically diverse Indianapolis. “Ethnic studies will help white students avoid negative stereotypes, and give students of color in small towns a feeling that they too matter.”

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Supported by ISTA, the law, which goes into effect July 1, requires Indiana high schools to offer ethnic and racial studies as an elective course at least once a year. Its surprising passage by the very conservative Indiana state legislatures was the culmination of a four-year, multi-racial campaign orchestrated by Garry Holland, the interim education chair of the NAACP branch in Indianapolis.

The campaign started out advocating for African American studies. But it wasn’t until Holland broadened the focus to include ethnic studies and organized a team of African American, Native American, Latino, and Asian cultural education experts from the faculty at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis (IUPUI) that the proposal gained momentum.

In persuading key legislators, Holland and the team relied heavily on a recent Stanford study which shows that when students of color with below 2.0 grades are provided ethnic studies, their overall academic performance improves markedly.

“I also pointed out that ethnic studies help keep students out of the school-to-prison pipeline,” says Holland, who teaches media technology in after-school programs for African American students.

Professor David Suzuki, Director of IUPUI’s Equity Institute on Race, Culture and Transformative Action, emphasized in his testimony that schools have to prepare students for today’s global economy as well as tomorrow’s increasingly diverse society. Foreign-owned companies, especially Japanese auto manufacturers and their suppliers, are now major employers in the state, and Indiana’s population is projected to grow even more racially and ethnically diverse in the coming years.

“It’s imperative that all students learn about other cultures,” says David Suzuki, a third-generation Japanese American who was born in the World War II Internment Camp.

Garry Holland and his team are now focusing on the new law’s implementation. “It is critical to consider our next steps for our well-meaning, but culturally homogeneous educational system,” says Charmayne Champion-Shaw, a Cheyenne and director of Native American and Indigenous studies at IUPUI. “We must invest and engage in important conversations about authentic and diverse curriculum.”

Indiana joins the movement to provide a fuller account of the contributions and experiences of indigenous people as well as African Americans, Latinos and Asians to correct the white-centric historical and cultural perspective commonly taught.

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