The Gaps in Equity Within the Traditional School Curriculum

By Nicole Chedraoui

Eq·ui·ty: noun

The quality of being fair and impartial

Growing up, did your parents ever tell you life isn’t fair? That not all people were good, and not all things work like they should? That people that appear different than you–whether it be race, gender, or sexual orientation–will always just be treated differently. For a lot of us, we are taught right vs. wrong at a very young age, raised on core beliefs and traditions that are engraved into our minds. However, as we grow older and receive our own education, we begin to form our own opinions about the world based on a strict curriculum that is taught to us from K-12. These curriculums have been with us from the beginning of times, classic literature, the history and foundation of our country, and arithmetic passed down from generation to generation. While this curriculum may be serving its original purpose, there is no questioning that, as time has gone on, we as humans have become more progressive in our beliefs. Unfortunately, as much progress as we’ve made from the past, there is still so much that needs to be done to help make traditional learning more equitable. Today, I’m here to educate you on why an equitable curriculum is so immensely important for our youth to receive, as well as revisiting traditional curriculum as a whole. 

The gaps in equity within the classroom start from a young age, much younger than you would ever think. Below is a conversation between a fourth grader, a female Afircan American, and her teacher. 

  1. “Why didn’t you use your flesh color to color in the picture?” 
  2. “I did! I used the flesh colored pencil. Did I not do it right?”
  3. “Well, peach isn’t your flesh color. You should use one of the browns.”
  4. “Oh. I never knew my skin color was flesh, too.”
  5. “‘Flesh’ just means ‘skin.’ It’s ok. I’ll give you another picture, and you can try again.”

That child was the only African American student in her class, one of only three in the fourth grade, and one of only ten in her K-12 school. Few of any of the books topics or characters she encountered reflected her own beautiful brown skin, curly hair, or family background. The 2020 census shows us that the majority of students enrolled into school last fall were from minority backgrounds. While our country’s demographics continue to rapidly change, the increase of children of color, disability, and from varied socioeconomic backgrounds continues to grow, and the representation of such minorities in a traditional educational curriculum is rare, if there is any at all. While teachers work their hardest to do as much as they can in the classrooms, some teachers may find it hard to teach what they do not know or understand. As far as teachers go, statistics show that historically the population of teachers remains largely being made up of white middle-class women. While there is no doubt that these teachers try their best to build a safe and diverse curriculum, their inherent privilege in skin color and class may make it hard to reach children who are different from them. 

Before addressing specific things in traditional curriculum that need to be revisited, I must stress that I am in no way blaming the hardworking teachers who spend countless amounts of time teaching us these various topics, I am simply bringing attention to the inherited traditions of classic lessons that these teachers are required to teach. 

Literature

Literature and reading are a powerful thing for children of all ages. So when kids go into their English classes and are assigned to read pages of a novel that they in no way can relate to, you can see how that can prohibit their understanding of the novel, and their ability to relate to the various characters within the story–think Moby Dick or Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. Let’s begin where it all starts for some–Dr. Seuss. While many of his books may appear to be just fun tongue twisters and poems, book critics around the world have recently called him out on some of his stereotyping regarding different races through subtle images in his book. While there are several examples of images that may be offensive to certain viewers, one image that really stuck out was from the Dr. Seuss book, And To Think That I Saw It on Mulberry Street. In this book, there is an image drawn of a little boy of Asian ethnicity who’s running down the street with a bowl of rice in his hand and chopsticks while wearing a silk robe, coolie hat, and platform sandals. He captioned the picture with cleverly thought out rhyming words, continually just making the racial stereotyping worse. Readers called these books stereotypical, offensive, and inappropriate. While we need all the diverse representation we can get so all children feel included, going about it in the way Dr. Seuss did is highly inappropriate and offensive to Asian culture. 

There seems to be no balance when it comes to children’s literature between offensive cultural representation, and no representation at all. Think of your classic picture books. Charlotte’s Web, Amelia Bedilia, and Harold and the Purple Crayon. None of these novels have any sort of racial or ethnic representation; with solely white illustrations, kids are taught that white is the color of flesh. As kids grow up to coming of age books such as Junie B. Jones, Diary of a Wimpy Kid,  and Judy Bloom books, the representation does not get any better. Coming of age books (books for tweens) are one of the most crucial age groups to diversify literature, for it is at this age where kids will begin to change, and ultimately accept their true identities. These classic novels have no diverse characters, illustration of young girls with textured hair, or LGBTQ+ content. As kids move on to highschool, they read Shakespearean plays such as Hamlet and Romeo and Juliet, portraying nothing but heterosexual relationships and white characters. By building a basis of heteronormative and predominately white charcaters and storylines in books for kids of a young age, we are creating children who are closed-minded towards those who are different from them through no fault of their own.

History 

If I were to ask you what you remember learning about African Americans in history class, what would you say? Because I would say slavery. My friends all said slavery. My parents and grandparents say slavery. How awful is that. While slavery is an imporant topic to be educated on because it was such a large part of history and how far we have come in racial injustice, slavery is literally ALL we learned  about when it comes to African Americans. I bet you didn’t know that Lewis Latimer was the third person that was working with Thomas Edison and Alexander Graham Bell to create the lightbulb. IN fact, he invented the carbon filament that is found inside every single light bulb in order for it to work. Latimer contributed more to the lightbulb than Thomas Edison and Graham-Bell combined, but yet we never hear his name in our history books.  George Washington Carver created instant coffee. Yeah he literally INVENTED the coffee that most of the world makes and drinks every morning.  I don’t know about y’all, but I think this guy deserves a Nobel Peace Prize. Garret Morgan was the first inventor of the gas mask, used to save millions of Americans lives in both of the world wars. He also invented the first ever traffic signal, yet I’ve never once heard his name uttered in a classroom before.  While I just gave a few examples of some of the brilliant African Americans who have achieved incredible things for the development of our world, I think you get the point. We were taught about people such as Ruby Bridges and her life of discriminations, the underground railroad, and the horror stories of slaves and their masters, but not once were we ever taught about black success stories. Inventors, scientists, beautiful authors, and wonderfully talented singers and art makers, with nobody to tell their stories. 

Christopher Colombus 

In Elementary school, you learn the phrase: Christopher Coloumbus sailed the ocean blue in 1400-92. Now I’m not saying that all school’s taught this history of Columbus the same, but I was taught from a young age that Columbus was an American hero. He discovered America, he was a hardworking, admirable, explorer who discovered our great nation. It wasn’t until I did my research outside the classroom that I realized who Columbus really was. First of all, Columbus didn’t discover America first by accident, he didn’t discover America first AT ALL.  The Vikings, led by Leif Eriksson, beat him to it by about half a millennium. But the most important point is that there were native peoples living on this land for about 20,000 years prior to that. It may have been a “New World” for Europeans, but it was already home to generations of natives. 

Not only did Columbus take credit for something he didn’t actually do first, he also enslaved natives. To Columbus and his men, the indigenous tribe of Taino men were lesser people, who were good for nothing but servants. Before long, the Spaniards removed these men from their native home and forced them into hard labor, while native women were raped and taken as wives. He and his men are also solely responsible for bringing and spreading disease that the natives weren’t immune to such as smallpox, influenza, and the Bubonic Plague, effectively killing the majority of the natives. 

Final Words

The last thing I would want to do is bring heat to any of the amazing humans who teach young minds for a living, so this is in no way a criticism to them, it is simply a criticism to traditional curriculum, crafted and taught to generations of humans. As we move forward and become more progressive in representation of all people, I hope we can create a society more loving and most importantly more accepting. However these morals are taught to us from a young age, and by revisiting traditional curriculum, we can really make a difference in kids’ lives around the world. 

Revised

Eq·ui·ty: noun

The quality of being fair and impartial

Growing up, did your parents ever tell you life isn’t fair? That not all people were good, and not all things work as they should? That people that appear different than you whether it be race, gender, or sexual orientation will always just be treated differently. For a lot of us, we are taught right vs. wrong at a very young age, raised on core beliefs and traditions that are engraved into our minds. However, as we grow older and receive our education, we begin to form our own opinions about the world based on a strict curriculum that is taught to us from K-12. These curriculums have been with us from the beginning of times, classic literature, the history and foundation of our country, and arithmetic passed down from generation to generation. While this curriculum may be serving its original purpose, there is no questioning that as time has gone on, we as humans have become more progressive in our beliefs. Unfortunately as much progress we are making from the past, there is still so much that needs to be done to help make traditional learning more equitable. Today I’m here to educate you on why an equitable curriculum is so immensely important for our youth to receive, as well as revisiting traditional curriculum as a whole. 

The gaps inequity within the classroom starting from a young age, much younger than you would ever think. Below is a conversation between a fourth-grader, a female African American, and her teacher. 

  1. Why didn’t you use your flesh color to color in the picture?” 
  2. “I did it! I used a flesh-colored pencil. Did I not do it right?”
  3. “Well, peach isn’t your flesh color. You should use one of the browns.”
  4. “Oh. I never knew my skin color was flesh, too.”
  5. “‘Flesh’ just means ‘skin.’ It’s ok. I’ll give you another picture and you can try again.”

That child was the only African American student in her class, one of only three in the fourth grade, and one of only ten in her K-12 school. Few of any of the book’s topics or characters she encountered reflected her beautiful brown skin, curly hair, or family background. The 2020 census shows us that the majority of students enrolled in school last fall were from minority backgrounds. While our country’s demographics continue to rapidly change, the increase of children of color, disability, and from varied socioeconomic backgrounds continues to grow, and the representation of such minorities in a traditional educational curriculum is rare if there is any at all. While teachers work their hardest to do as much as they can in the classrooms, some teachers may find it hard to teach what they do not know or understand. As far as teachers go statistics show that historically the population of teachers remains largely being made up of white middle-class women. While there is no doubt that these teachers try their best to build a safe and diverse curriculum, their inherent privilege in skin color and class may make it hard to reach children who are different from them. 

Before addressing specific things in traditional curriculum that need to be revisited, I must stress that I am in no way blaming the hardworking teachers who spend countless amounts of time teaching us these various topics, I am simply bringing attention to the inherited traditions of classic lessons that these teachers are required to teach. 

Literature

Literature and reading are a powerful thing for children of all ages. So when kids go into their English classes and are assigned to read pages of a novel that they in no way can relate to, you can see how that can prohibit their understanding of the novel, and their ability to relate to the various characters within the story. Starting with books you read at a young age like Dr. Seuss. While many of his books may appear to be just fun tongue twisters and poems, book critics around the world have recently called him out on some of his stereotyping regarding different races through subtle images in his book. While there are several examples of images that may be offensive to certain viewers, one image that stuck out was from the Dr. Seuss book, And To Think That I Saw It on Mulberry Street. In this book, there is an image drawn of a little boy, of Asian ethnicity, who’s running down the street with a bowl of rice in his hand and chopsticks while wearing a silk robe, coolie hat, and platform sandals. He captioned the picture with cleverly thought out rhyming words, continually just making the racial stereotyping worse. Readers called these books stereotypical, offensive, and inappropriate. While we need all the diverse representation we can get so all children feel included, going about it in the way Dr. Seuss did is highly inappropriate and offensive to Asian culture. 

There seems to be no balance when it comes to children’s literature between offensive cultural representation, and no representation at all. Think of your classic picture books. Charlotte’s Web, Amelia Bedilia, and Harold and the Purple Crayon.  None of these novels have any sort of racial or ethnic representation, with solely white illustrations, kids are taught that white is the standard color of flesh. As kids grow up to coming of age books such as Junie B. Jones, Diary of a Wimpy Kid, and Judy Bloom books, the representation does not get any better. Coming of age books (books for tweens) are one of the most crucial age groups to diversify literature, for it is at this age where kids will begin to change, and ultimately accept their true identities. These classic novels have no diverse characters, illustrations of young girls with textured hair, or homosexual relationships. As kids move on to high school they read Shakespearean plays such as Hamlet and Romeo and Juliet, portraying nothing but heterosexual relationships and white characters. By building a basis of heteronormative and predominately white characters and storylines in books for kids of a young age, we are creating children who are judgemental and closed-minded towards those who are different from them. 

History 

If I were to ask you what you remember learning about African Americans in history class, what would you say? Because I would save slavery. My friends all said slavery. My parents and grandparents say slavery. How awful is that? While slavery is an important topic to be educated on because it was such a large part of history and how far we have come in racial injustice, slavery is literally ALL we learned about when it comes to African Americans. I bet you didn’t know that Lewis Latimer was the third person that was working with Thomas Edison and Alexander Graham Bell to create the lightbulb. In fact, he invented the carbon filament that is found inside every single light bulb in order for it to work. Latimer contributed more to the lightbulb than Thomas Edison and Graham- Bell combined but yet we never hear his name in our history books. George Washington Carver created instant coffee. Yeah, he literally INVENTED the coffee that most of the world makes and drinks every morning. I don’t know about y’all but I think this guy deserves a Noble peace prize. Garret Morgan was the first inventor of the gas mask, used to save millions of Americans living in both of the world wars. He also invented the first-ever traffic signal, yet I’ve never once heard his name uttered in a classroom before. While I just gave a few examples of some of the brilliant African Americans who have achieved incredible things for the development of our world, I think you get the point. We were taught about people such as Ruby Bridges and her life of discrimination, the underground railroad, and the horror stories of slaves and their masters, but not once were we ever taught about black success stories. Inventors, scientists, beautiful authors, and wonderfully talented singers and art makers, with nobody willing to tell their stories. 

Christopher Colombus 

In Elementary school you learn the phrase: Christopher Columbus sailed the ocean blue in 1400-92. Now I’m not saying that all school’s taught this history of Columbus the same, but I was taught from a young age that Columbus was an American hero. He discovered America, he was a hardworking, admirable, explorer who discovered our great nation. It wasn’t until I did my research outside the classroom that I realized who Columbus really was. First of all, Columbus didn’t discover America first by accident, he didn’t discover America first AT ALL. The Vikings, led by Leif Eriksson, beat him to it by about half a millennium. But the most important point is that there were native peoples living on this land for about 20,000 years prior to that. It may have been a “New World” for Europeans, but it was already home to generations of natives. 

Not only did Columbus take credit for something he didn’t actually do first, but he also enslaved natives. To Columbus and his men, the indigenous tribe of Taino men was lesser people, who were good for nothing but servants. Before long the Spaniards removed these men from their native home and forced them into hard labor, while native women were raped and taken as wives. He and his men are also solely responsible for bringing and spreading diseases that the natives weren’t immune to such as smallpox, influenza, and the Bubonic Plague, effectively killing the majority of the natives. 

The last thing I would want to do is bring the heat to any of the amazing humans who teach young minds for a living, so this is in no way a criticism to them, it is simply a criticism of traditional curriculum, crafted and taught to generations of humans. As we move forward and become more progressive in the representation of all people, I hope we can create a society more loving and most importantly more accepting. However these morals are taught to us from a young age, and by revisiting the traditional curriculum, we can really make a difference in kids’ lives around the world. 

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