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TEXAS VIEW: Yes, African American history will improve Texas schools - Odessa American: Texas Opinion

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TEXAS VIEW: Yes, African American history will improve Texas schools

THE POINT: Students all over the state will have an opportunity to gain insight and will be better for it.

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Posted: Thursday, December 5, 2019 2:30 am

Taught properly, history offers insight into a society as an archive of what we consider important enough to pass on to future generations. So we were elated to learn that the state Board of Education is ready to approve African American studies electives for high school students in Texas.

Over the years, we’ve criticized the State Board of Education for promoting ideology over facts in Texas history during their often contentious discussions of what students should learn in classrooms. And this resulted in major omissions, and even distortions, of the roles that Texans of color played in making this a great state.

Our hope is that this is about to change. Less than two years after the state board approved Mexican American studies, the board early next year is expected to approve its first African American studies course. “We will be passing this,” said Pat Hardy, a Fort Worth Republican member of the 15-member board responsible for setting curriculum standards and adopting textbooks for Texas public schools.

We applaud Hardy for her emphatic support, and a board that now understands the need to update curriculum to chronicle African American achievements. In 2014, many Republicans on the panel defeated a proposal to create a Mexican American studies course, arguing it would divide instead of unite students. Only after more board fights in subsequent years did the SBOE finally relent and approve the course in 2018.

It is important for high school students to learn that the history of Texas — and the United States — includes the experiences and contributions of Mexican Americans, African Americans and other people from diverse backgrounds. To tell the history of our diverse state with scant attention to trailblazers of color tells only part of a complex story. Plus it is vital that students, regardless of race, see themselves in the important parts of history.

This isn’t a squishy, feel-good wish. There’s research to support the academic benefits of ethnic studies. Between 2010 and 2014, Stanford University researchers studied the impact of an ethnic-studies curriculum on struggling ninth-grade students who had been identified as at high risk for dropping out. Attendance increased by 21 percentage points and grade-point average by 1.4 points. The largest gains occurred among boys and Hispanic students, and in the subjects of math and science.

No single study is definitive. Nonetheless, there is a growing body of evidence that minority students benefit from having a role model either in the classroom or in the course materials, and that students of other races also appreciate learning additional perspectives on history.

Such courses allow students of all backgrounds an opportunity to learn who they are and how they and their classmates connect to the broader society. Some education experts also contend the role model effect helps minority students debunk stereotypes that often impede academic performance.

The state board will create curriculum standards for the course based on the African American studies class in the Dallas Independent School District and is expected to take a final vote in April.

The African American experience is more complex than slavery and the civil rights movement. Now students all over the state will have an opportunity to gain insight into people, incidents and accomplishments that haven’t gotten their proper due in classrooms. As a state, we will be better for it.

Odessa, TX

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