The St. Albans Anti-Racism Alliance
Based upon Professor Michael E. Dantley's definition of a racist curriculum, the ARA derived this definition of an anti-racist curriculum: "It is one that is written from diverse points of view that purposefully reflect voices that have traditionally been underrepresented. Educators have a responsibility to consider whether students who look, sound, or learn differently are represented in every aspect of the classroom."
The Anti-Racism Alliance embarked this school year on an in-depth evaluation of the St. Albans history curriculum. We focused primarily on the pertinence of each required history class to the above definition of an "anti-racist curriculum." We divided the curriculum into grade levels, devoting two individuals in ARA to each grade "group:" seventh and eighth grade history classes, ninth and tenth grade history classes, and eleventh grade United States History, as well as providing a short comparison to similar schools in the area.
Lower School history is a microcosm for the Lower School as a whole: it aims to instill historical and pedagogical fundamentals that will serve the students in the Upper School and for years to come. No class better embodies this mission than Mr. MacIntyre’s Form I Early American history class. The Form I history curriculum is, in many ways, traditional. The course begins with Native American society and development, moving to European Colonization and the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade, and then the foundations of the United States through the Civil War. Mr. MacIntyre believes that students will be well-positioned to study history outside of the United States after developing a solid understanding of how a "multicultural, diverse democracy" took shape. US history, by definition, includes slavery, violence toward indigenous peoples, and other forms and manifestations of systemic oppression. Thus, to learn the “American tradition” is to learn about more than the nation’s European roots. In recent years, the Form I history curriculum has expanded its scope through new books. American Slavery: A Very Short Introduction and Stamped are new additions to the Form I History reading list, allowing students to form a deeper understanding of the nation’s history of racism and racial oppression.
Eighth grade history takes a similar approach. Diving into more global topics, particularly the World Wars and its many facets of international involvement, Twentieth-Century United States History emphasizes the role of the US in the context of a globalized society. Dr. Schiller uses common themes and teaching styles—from reenacting historical conferences to studying propaganda through the lens of art history—to not only learn about but truly understand and even empathize with the political and social leaders of various time periods. Through these activities, students are able to learn about the Meiji Restoration, the Treaty of Versailles, or the Berlin Airlift from perspectives other than an American one. Focusing on the role of US foreign policy throughout the most formative years of modern American society is pivotal in becoming an informed citizen and understanding current events—and the course certainly teaches that. Yet, Twentieth-Century US offers what so many courses covering the era do not: diverse human voices across the globe. History, and the decisions that shape it, is most effectively understood when students can learn from different perspectives and reenact situations with the same knowledge at hand as the original decision makers once had. Eighth grade history poses questions to its students just as frequently as answers, and it teaches students how to analyze historical events by synthesizing a wide variety of thoughts and ideas from all parts of the world—not just in order to succeed in the Upper School, but in their lives.
The Upper School history curriculum, for the most part, represents various viewpoints. World Religions covers religions that are often underrepresented in American society. While important in an Episcopalian school, the focus on the Bible for one full quarter limits the overall representation of the semester-long experience. Despite this limitation, we don’t think it needs to be changed or altered.
Cities and Civilizations is perhaps the most limited in its viewpoints. It covers ancient Mesopotamian, Greek and Persian civilizations. More room could be created for other ancient civilizations on the American, Asian, or African continents; however, this would also limit the cohesive nature of the class. If these cultures are to be integrated into the course, the methods should be left up to the teachers.
Modern World History is the most comprehensive course offered to underclassmen. Because it was recently overhauled, the course covers many important events across continents and cultures that affect today's world. While the required textbook, Kagan’s The Western Heritage, is limited to (as the name implies) Western viewpoints, the course also incorporates excerpts from other textbooks and primary sources that expand the course’s scope well beyond the West. For example, students read excerpts from Japanese primary school textbooks to understand the extent of Japanese indoctrination. In fact, certain parts of the course include activities that allow students to critique and evaluate the textbook’s narrative of various historical events.
Overall, little sticks out as in need of immediate change. Underclassmen taking all three courses learn about a wide variety of experiences, histories, and viewpoints. There are opportunities to further expand this variety, but only slightly. Any changes should be left up to the History Department’s discretion.
The St. Albans United States History course, a requirement for juniors, offers various perspectives and provides students with a comprehensive understanding of United States history.
The majority of readings, regardless of the teacher, are drawn from Give Me Liberty! An American History by Eric Foner (DeWitt Clinton Professor Emeritus of History at Columbia University). We believe that Give Me Liberty! is a satisfactory textbook. Foner uses freedom as his overarching motif, which necessitates the use of a cornucopia of diverse perspectives. He is regarded highly by colleagues and other historians—in fact, the moderate amount of criticism he receives is for being too progressive. For these reasons, we believe that Give Me Liberty! An American History by Eric Foner fits in well with the arc of United States History and with the St. Albans mission.
Students are also provided with "the reader," an assortment of primary sources compiled by the History Department; and The Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass; both of which present additional perspectives. The course deviates from the standard timeline to spend (roughly) three weeks learning about Douglass’s narrative and slavery in the United States. During this period, students discover facets of history that they might not have otherwise encountered.
The class spends a substantial amount of time focused on Reconstruction in the South. During this unit, St. Albans students learn about the specific historical events that set up the racial issues present today. This part of the course should be commended for helping students understand and learn about American perspectives that are often suppressed.
The largest problem that US History faces is one of time constraints. Nearly every year the course runs behind, and teachers end up having to cut material—often from the 1960s, which includes the Modern Civil Rights Unit. This raises the question of what belongs in a US History course. The St. Albans US history course generally moves more slowly than other courses because it spends so much time on earlier parts of US history: the Constitution, Douglass, Reconstruction, and Progressivism. Of course, the class also progresses slowly because of the canonical US History Paper, which we believe is essential to a full St. Albans education.
We have found that the St. Albans junior year US history class includes a sufficient amount of perspectives in the sections of history that it covers. An unfortunate consequence of the depth is the lack of modern history. Recent historical events contain many diverse perspectives that are essential to a well rounded understanding of our world. It would be nearly impossible, however, to include material going through the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s and keep all of the material already in the course. Despite the absence of recent history, the course emphasizes the importance of diversity in our nation’s history.
Senior year allots freedom to students with a diverse lineup of history electives. Electives are taught by a wide array of teachers and are often based upon a teacher's passion or personal interest. Due to the nature of electives, students have the choice to hear from a variety of different perspectives, and the responsibility to do so. Some examples include World at War, a WW2 class; Law, Justice, and Society; Global 1960s; and First Peoples. Seniors also have the option to enroll in the honors history program, which consists of a deep dive into a student's personal interest and culminates in a final paper.
The Anti-Racism Alliance and its opinion represent only one view of the St. Albans history curriculum. A different view might find issues that can only be found from that new perspective. St. Albans is a community of many voices, and members of this community may feel that the curriculum does not represent them in every aspect of the classroom. A good curriculum should always be changing for the better; feedback can be heard, lessons can be changed, and new classes and electives can be added all to improve the curriculum.