Does The History Curriculum Lack Representation?

Emily Harris, Editor

“We live in a community where there is a binary between being black and white, and the grayness of being of other cultures and ethnicities gets kind of pushed to the side,” said Erick Iraheta, a 12th grade Afro-Latino student at Westtown.

 According to a recent survey taken by 33 Westtown students, 12.1% of students do not feel represented in the curriculum, and 39.4% of students feel somewhat represented in the curriculum. The students who responded to the poll have all taken the Peace & Justice class. Most have taken U.S. History, and a few have taken an elective course. When asked in the survey if students believe there’s an elective focused on their culture, 27.3% of students said “no” and 24.2% said “somewhat.”

Many of the respondents had ideas about what history electives Westtown could offer in order to better represent their students and what will interest them. A few of the responses were Ancient History, a Native American experience course, African & Caribbean History pre-slavery, Judaic History, Middle Eastern History, Ancient China History, Persian History, and Latin American History. Some students want more Indian representation in the history curriculum, more courses about less known cultures, and more in courses about the colonization of different countries. The elective courses being offered in 2022-23 are Gender & Queer Studies, Micro- and Macro- Economics, Modern Africa & Asia, African American Experience, Asian American Experience, Cold War & U.S-China Relations, as well as 9/11 & U.S.-Middle Eastern Relations.

 I think when my identity is brought up, it is in the context of religion. Also, when Asian identity is talked about it focuses more on the Eastern Asian perspective rather than the western and southern voices,” said Abdullah Sabir, a 10th grade Pakistani-American student.

I am not represented in a positive way in history curriculums, I am seen only as the abused and traumatized. I’m not seen as prideful or happy or joyful in any way,” said Zaria Johnson, a 10th grade African-American student.

Additionally, teachers dug deeper into how they feel about representation in the history curriculum. 

If the metric of doing a good job is representing all cultures well then the response is a simple and resounding NO! But nor would it ever be able to. Cultures—the shared life ways of a group of people—are never static, they shift across time and space,” said T. Maurico Torres, a history teacher. Moreover, the history department is part of a broader mosaic of curricular offerings which means we have to find harmony and resonance with the offerings put forth by other departments along with outside factors like whether or not colleges and universities would accept the course,” Torres added.

“I think we need to look at the courses that we offer to see what stories and experiences and identities and ideas those courses are prioritizing and privileging and presenting and continually sort of reassess to try and add more – a greater diversity to our history offerings,” said Dan Burger-Lenehan, a history teacher.