Ramón Del Castillo, PhD
Sometimes, patience combined with persistence pays off. Four years ago, a group of educational activists collaborated with local legislators on a public policy—SB 1192 that passed the Senate’s Seventy-second General Assembly in the state of Colorado on Thursday, April 11th. It is headed towards the final legislative processes to become law. More specifically, it mandates Colorado schools from K-12 to “teach the history, culture and contributions of American Indians, Latinos, African Americans and Asian Americans, the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender individuals within these minority groups, the contributions and persecutions of religious minorities, and the intersectionality of significant social, and cultural features within these communities, in the teaching standards for history and civics and making an appropriation.” The time for social science research and expertise, augmented with the voices of other marginalized groups often left out of the mainstream curricula, has arrived. This, in my humble opinion, is progressive—rather late, but now authorized by the state legislature. Through a creative integration process, elements of historical and culturally specific information will be added to the curricula from K-12.
Interestingly enough, a law, similar to what passed, that I researched had already been written as early as 2003; however, it appeared that Colorado school districts had not fully implemented this law. Essentially, it was left unattended. I remember over 3 years ago a group of civic minded citizens meeting with then State Representative Joe Salazar to discuss how to best approach this matter. He convinced a rowdy group of activists to add provisions to the current law and resubmit it with a provision to include an oversight commission.
How is it that groups become invisible? Simply exclude them in the history books. The Chicana/o narrative has historically been left out of mainstream educational curricula. Our ancestors and elders can attest to never learning anything about great Meso American civilizations that were as advanced as any that existed at the time, the atrocities committed by Spanish aristocrats against indigenous populations living in this part of the world, the Mexican Revolution of 1910—the infiltration of American government to influence the outcome, and the Chicana/o Movement that was spied upon by COINTELPRO.
Chicanas/os lived in a void, unaware of how to fill it. And although, Chicana/o Studies has been in the academy for half a century, it too has also been left at the front door of many school districts. In many Colorado high schools, until recently, there were no pathways for students entering into colleges or universities, thirsty for a comprehension of their own group. There were pathways for the mainstream disciplines such as political science, sociology, anthropology, art, history, communications and other areas of inquiry. Hopefully, this type of institutionalized racism will be addressed with the new legislation.
I am proud to share locally that there has also been some movement regarding the absence of Chicana/o history and contributions to the world. The Chicana/o Studies Department at Metropolitan State University of Denver is offering Chicana/o Studies through concurrent enrollment classes wherein students take classes that meet the credits for both high school and universities at: North, West, South and Jefferson, with a request from Cherry Creek for a class. It has taken only half-a-century for this to occur. With the new mandate, K-12 grades will now have to adhere to the integrating historical information into its structure. The reality is that all students suffer when groups have been omitted in mainstream curricula. Our Anglo counterparts are left with a lopsided view of history, many times left with the stereotypes of those groups that have been created in society. Those who are being studied, once they are taught about the contributions they have made in society, begin a psychological re-building process—that includes building cultural self-esteem and self-worth.
Laws lacking oversight bodies to insure its’ implementation eventually are often hidden in law books. Those intended to benefit the most from forgotten laws are the ones that suffer the most. In this case those most significantly affected by this were Chicanas/os. To insure its success the new law includes an established education commission, representing the broad interests covered in the narrative of the law. “The purpose of the commission is to make recommendations to the State Board of Education and Department of Education to be used in conjunction with the regular six year review of the state’s education standards…The recommendations must seek to further the discovery, interpretation, and learning of history, culture, social contributions and civil government of the United States and Colorado.”
The advantage that the community has is that we do not have to re-invent the wheel. In the 1990’s, some of the same educational activists that lobbied and provided testimony for a developed, specialized Chicana/o curriculum titled, “El Alma de la Raza.” I recollect the many hours Chicana/o Studies professors and teachers from Denver Public Schools worked arduously to develop this curriculum—the time has arrived to revive this curriculum.
This column is a shout out to those liberatory educators that are interested in reviving El Alma de la Raza so that we can become visible in American society. You cannot practice authentic inclusion, cultural competency, inclusive leadership or any other form of advancing your knowledge by excluding groups that have been in the Western Hemisphere for over 25,000 years. It leaves a void.
Dr. Ramón Del Castillo is an Independent Journalist. ©4-13-2019 Ramón Del Castillo.
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