Windows and Mirrors for all: Ethnic Studies, Florence Sprague, April 2024

One morning as I was mulling over several ideas for Windows and Mirrors, my radio was ever-tuned to MPR. There was Angela Davis talking to students and teachers at Roseville Area High School (RAHS) about Ethnic Studies! There it was.

During the 2023 legislative session a law was passed incorporating ethnic studies into social studies curriculum for Minnesota classrooms K-12. This must be done by the 2026-27 school year. The scaffold for this is still being developed by the Minnesota Department of Education, with curriculum tailored to the age and developmental needs of students. Some districts, including Roseville and St. Paul, are already offering courses in high school. My home district, ISD 622 will have a course beginning next year.

North Star Journey Live is a series of community explorations centered on “what Minnesota’s diverse communities need to thrive,” sponsored by MPR with Davis as host. On March 18 they gathered a group of teachers and students from some of the current ethnic studies programs at RAHS to talk about the concept and their experiences. The event ─ “A Wide Lens: Ethnic Studies in Minnesota Classrooms” ─ was live at RAHS on Monday morning and on the radio Thursday morning, March 21. You can watch at the MPR website, and I encourage you to take the 50 minutes needed, especially when you need an upper. It is so positive.

Minnesota Department of Education ethnic studies definition

“The interdisciplinary study of race, ethnicity, and indigeneity with a focus on the    experiences and perspectives of people of color within and beyond the United States. Ethnic studies analyzes the ways in which race and racism have been and continue to be social, cultural and political forces, and the connection of race to the stratification of other groups, including stratification based on the protected classes under
Minnesota Statutes 2022, section 363A.13.”

Phew, that’s a mouthful. In practice the students observe that the study of diverse identities supported by lived experience makes them finally feel represented and visible. The classes provide information and context on complex topics while providing a safe space for difficult conversations about different perspectives. They learn to work through uncomfortable feelings. When asked about the possibility of the courses adding to divisions, the students agreed that educating people is always good, and helping them explore uncomfortable feelings and disagreements makes them all more culturally connected and does more good than harm. Smart kids.

At Roseville, elective courses may have students of multiple grades, with some being limited to older students. Courses like USHTAAL-US History Through an African American Lens, take a traditional topic but address each time period with the focus not on the empowered class, but on the enslaved, supplementing “traditional” history. Others, like Sociology of Race, Class and Gender, are more standalone.

St. Paul schools define seven core ethnic study principles: self-love, honor, community, critical consciousness, resistance, hope and visualization.

We CAN all visualize how to live together with hope and honor for all of the community, and youth may lead the way.