Racial literacy at PHS: a futile exercise

graphic by Caroline Tan

PRS has implemented a new Racial Literacy and Justice course and summer reading selection as part of the new racial literacy curriculum, with the goal of discussing challenging issues regarding race on a local and national scale to better educate students on the topic. The changes were in part a result of issues of racism in the school community, as well as events dominating national media.

As the saying goes, you can’t teach an old dog new tricks. If the district wants to provide an effective and meaningful education on race, it needs to start this education in elementary school. The way we think and act is deeply influenced by the lessons that are learned at a young age, especially in regards to our prejudices and biases. If a person is raised in an environment in which issues regarding race are not properly discussed or addressed, he/she will likely be unwilling or uninterested in addressing them in the future. That’s why it’s essential to begin educating students at a young age when it comes to such a crucial topic as race. However, teachers must leave room for open dialogue so that students can develop their own opinions. Limiting discussions to constructive and logical lines of thought is paramount so that students can find their own way and are ready to have maturer discussions than many of those currently taking the course.

The majority, if not all, of the students taking these new courses already have a desire to discuss and disseminate their opinions on race. The individuals who are taking the course are simply looking to reaffirm their beliefs and pat themselves on the back. It’s nearly impossible to have a debate or discussion that will result in the development of meaningful ideas if everyone already agrees on everything. These courses were created as a result of the lack of understanding or interest of individuals on the topic of race. Those who do not seek to engage with these issues are precisely the people who need to be taking this course. They have never sought to learn or understand the complexities regarding racial relations and divisions in the United States and around the world. Why would they be incentivized to take an optional course on a subject that they don’t care for?

Beyond this, the new summer reading selection is essentially an empty gesture to show progressivism on racial issues. For example, students in AP English IV courses have had little to no follow-up discussions on the texts that were assigned. Many students didn’t even bother to read the texts as they knew there were no expectations of studying the texts throughout the school year.

The only way these courses can truly impact individuals who are blind to the issues surrounding them is to make them mandatory. No overt racists will sign up for a course on racial literacy. Education regarding race is too important of an issue to be solved by simply creating a new optional course or introducing new literature. If the school district wants to make a meaningful change, said courses should be required and constructive for students at an earlier age. The pitfalls of the program end up negating all of its benefits by not being mandatory, and being implemented at such a late point in a student’s education.

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