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Monday, October 25, 2021

Our education system needs to be restructured to include a more inclusive curriculum

Decolonizing curriculum, striving towards inclusive education

The educational pipeline is a period of exploration of one’s identity, place in society and their academic interests. It is a phase where opinions are like clay in its initial stages — if well-shaped it can make a beautiful pot, but mishandling can result in long-lasting effects. The curriculum taught to children in school defines the opinions formed at this “early clay” phase but also sets them up for future academic exploration.

There are many topics and histories children aren’t exposed to until college because it was not implemented at an early age. How many people can remember receiving an adequate sex education or being exposed to LGBTQIA+ or cross-cultural histories?

While there may be diversity when it comes to student populations within some school systems, the curriculums are very eurocentric, whitewashed, sexist and heteronormative. Not everyone has access to post-secondary education, and students should not have to wait until then to become more aware of various cultures, histories and identities. An inclusive curriculum goes beyond binary narratives and allows for adaptations to represent marginalized and minority groups. Inclusive practice is more than cultural and involves ongoing awareness-raising. 

Cross-culture learning: A multiculturalism future

Cultural diversity has been increasingly emphasized within the school system but it has yet to be fully integrated into all curriculum. The awareness and diversity we are asking for are part of a larger agenda that recognizes identity politics and equity.

Being “American” has a connotation you must assimilate and conform to in order to fit into a patriotic mold. This should not require people to forgo their language and their history and their culture. There has been a history of erasing or silencing narratives of marginalized and minority communities, despite the relevance and significant impact they have.

One aspect that is crucial to integrating a multicultural education is decolonizing the current curriculum and teaching programs. When an education system lacks a multicultural education policy, it becomes even more difficult to think about equity and inclusion for all students. 

Latinx communities, APIDA communities and Indigenous nations have significant roles and presence in the U.S., but we are not taught about them when we learn “U.S. History.” Columbus Day is still considered to be a federal government holiday and some government offices close despite its sanitized and violent past. It is now being referred to as Columbus’ arrival rather than his discovery. Yet, the post-colonialism era is still in full effect, revealing the long term damage and trauma perpetually inflicted on various cultures and identities.  

Under Wisconsin Act 31, Wisconsin is one of 12 states required to teach Indigenous history and culture within public school districts. There are 11 federally recognized tribes and nations in Wisconsin.

Within Wisconsin, there is no consistency between schools for the quality of teaching being done, nor any apparent enforcement of Indigenous education. Most students lack Indigenous history coursework until college, if they seek this information at all. Additionally, the teachers do not feel adequately equipped to instruct on this curriculum when they themselves have not been exposed to it. 

The cycle of ignorance needs to end somewhere.

Current legislation is inadequate and only 12 states implement this history — resulting in limited exposure to the curriculum. Sometimes teachers will spend one lesson on it or gloss over the culture, yet still consider it teaching Indigenous history. There needs to be reform in the way it’s integrated into education. Within each state, there can be an honoring specific tribes and nations, however, there should be a multiculturalist approach to give an accurate depiction of U.S. history. 

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A decolonizing process is needed to transform the curriculum into an inclusive one, including the history, language, culture and contribution of the Indigenous people. Native American activist and writer Paula Gunn Allen stated, “the root of oppression is the loss of memory.” 

It’s about telling the true story.

Education sets up students for the real world, teaching them skills and information that will not only help them within the workforce but in society. If we want to properly equip people with the necessary tools to be socially just and inclusive, there needs to be a representation of all identities in our curriculum and a wide berth of programs provided to accommodate and be accessible to everyone. 

In a society increasingly polarized politically, curriculums on race, ethnicity and cultures are crucial to educating people on the deep roots of these issues that continue to exist. An intersectional, inclusive education will help address these notions of racism and will develop cultural sensitivity and consciousness.

Discovering freedom of gender expression and control of personal sexual health 

While representing a broader range of racial histories is one of the ways to diversify the curriculum, there are other identities to consider. In postsecondary education, Gender and Women Studies offer an intersectional perspective along the lines of race, class, ability, gender expression and sexual orientation. 

However, GWS is not a requirement in college and the topics discussed must be taught at an earlier age. The course GWS 103: Women’s Bodies in Health and Disease informs students about their bodies and explores personal health beyond the confines of social, political and medical contexts. It’s important to understand the physiological and social processes relating to health among various gender identities — especially moving away from the binary. 

In a similar vein, accurate and relevant sex education needs to be LGBTQIA+ inclusive when it comes to the learning environment and not focusing on an abstinence-only approach. There is so much more to sex education.

We need to break down the assumption everyone is heteronormative to the stop stigma and othering of the LGBTQIA+ community. This is an opportunity to break down stereotypes and prejudices by bringing awareness and inclusivity. 

This kind of curriculum is necessary for our education system and creates inclusivity of all genders. Additionally, there must be accurate depictions of women’s roles in history, as well as the history of LGBTQIA+ figures and movements in the U.S.  

Including women and gender analysis in history curricula breaks down false narratives and perpetual silencing of women because people are constantly unremembered and ignored due to their gender identity and sexuality.

Through a representative, diverse curriculum, it will challenge students to rethink history and how certain injustices and inequalities existing in our past still impact us today. Not only must there be a multiculturalist approach, but we must also bring a social justice framework including queerness. 

The classroom setting needs to move beyond the gender binary and show awareness surrounding the complexities of gender identity and expression. There should be intentionality with using proper pronouns and respecting everyone’s identity and experience.

Rather than shying away from these topics, it must be tackled and explored to teach students no matter how they identify, they are seen and play an important role in society. It is important all students are properly represented in any setting, but especially in the education system. 

Cultivating your future 

Providing students a balanced and accurate view of historical figures and gender identities is not only beneficial for them in learning more about finding their place in the world, but also having a chance to explore different career paths — without being held to it. 

An intersectional and inclusive curriculum at a school level can provide students from marginalized social and ethnic groups the impetus required to pursue academic and career goals. Such a positive step would likely be the result of marginalized folx finally being on the right side of both the past and the present, which would make them feel more confident and comfortable to dictate their own terms and not settle for specializations that they might have previously been forced into.

This would be especially beneficial for people from such groups with polymath tendencies.

Every era in history has had an era-defining advancement, some form of innovation previously inconceivable. When we look at a list of names like Leonardo Da Vinci, Aristotle, Benjamin Franklin, Jagdish Chandra Bose and Steve Jobs, we see people belonging to very different eras in history who ended up leaving behind a legacy as era-defining personalities. 

While these folx belonged to different eras — spanning from 320 BC to 2011 — and have very different backgrounds, they also share a key similarity — they are all Polymaths.

Polymaths or Renaissance people — as there are multiple terms to describe such people —  have wide-ranging interests that simply cannot fit into a pre-established mold. 

These figures have shaped our past, our present and potential future — we need similar difference-makers to step to the fore. The first step in the right direction is the introduction of general education courses like the ones listed prior, which will help marginalized folx break the glass ceiling, like those in privileged positions will understand the marginalized, and the marginalized will know their own worth. But it is not a question of simply having people with wide-ranging interests and the drive and skill to succeed.

Much like plants growing into sturdy trees in the right environment, we need to provide individuals with such potential a breeding ground — irrespective of race or identity — where they can reach their true potential and contribute to human history in unprecedented ways.

Today’s educational and economic environment celebrates specialization regardless of identity. This can be seen in how students are slowly pigeon-holed into a profession, and while this system benefits specialists, it cripples the polymath. 

After all, cutting off a bird’s wings before flight ensures that it will never fly.

Students are required to land on a major before they have even reached adulthood and then are required to stay on the same track for essentially the rest of their lives. It almost always becomes a matter of choice for students with polymath tendencies, as society makes them feel out of place and “wrong” for having a multitude of unrelated interests. 

A Gallup study conducted in 2017 found that only 33 percent of employees in the U.S. are engaged in their jobs and the Bureau of Labor Statistics states the average American changes jobs every 4.2 years, often ending up in areas very different from what they studied in college.

Not all of this dissatisfaction can definitively be attributed to education, but it is quite reasonable to suggest that many workers are dissatisfied because their education — and resulting jobs — did not allow them to pursue their interests. 

An astounding 72 percent of Generation Z students believe colleges should allow them to develop their own majors. Such a radical change would be perfect for the development of the next crop of renaissance people, as they could freely pursue interests as far apart from each other as possible, without any restrictions.

Some universities seem to responding to the shift in student mentality, with institutions like the University of Washington-Seattle and Swarthmore College allowing students to develop comprehensive plans for their own majors. This allows students to do away with required courses and develop a major of their own, often involving intersections of interests. The availability of such an option should be the norm and not an exception.

The Medici Effect — introduced by Frans Johansson — rightly suggests innovation occurs at the intersection of disciplines and ideas, something that’s likely to happen only when youth are allowed to pursue their interests and expand horizons freely. The polymaths of the Renaissance could benefit from the Medici family’s wealth to effect changes now synonymous with this period. 

Today, the existence of such dynastic families might be dwindling, but that doesn’t mean the freedom for polymath should die too. The rise of industrialization resulted in the shift to specialization, serving as further blows to multipotentiality. 

But this is a wrong that can be righted, simply by providing freedom and opportunity. It does not have to replace the existing system but should definitely be an option to foster an inclusive academic environment that fulfills potential.

Intersectional Freedom

True education is about more than just developing purpose-built humans for specific industries. It is a tool that helps maximize potential and empower those who have historically always received the short end of the stick. The coalescence of an intersectional school education and opportunity for collegiate academic freedom might not undo the damage of the past but can set up several generations for a life that they’ve always deserved.

An understanding of real history and gender dynamics will also serve the historically privileged classes well, as they can contribute to a world that could one day be far removed from the toxic status quo. 

The populace is dangerously divided and these ideas might not be revolutionary, but providing tools to the gifted shall guarantee the repairs needed to piece it all back together. 

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