• March 2nd, 2024
  • Saturday, 02:44:23 AM

Students of Color Must Have Opportunity to Learn Their Histories


 

Gerardo Muñoz

Gerardo Muñoz

 

A lawsuit was recently filed against the Florida Department of Education challenging its efforts to silence the voices and perspectives of historically underrepresented voices in history classrooms across the state. As a Chicano from the east side of Denver, I know personally how important it is for students to see themselves in classroom curriculum. And as a high school ethnic studies and history educator for 23 years, I saw the power and hope my own students found when they saw that they too are a part of the American narrative.

 

Denver has come a long way since 1993, when my high school American history teacher told me that my people were illiterate. The Chicana, Chicano, and Mexican American students at my high school demanded access to Mexican American history classes at my school and our history teacher responded that “we don’t have anyone on staff qualified to teach Hispano American History” and that “Hispanics really depend on the oral tradition” as justification that the class could not — should not — exist.

 

Even for the time, our city was ahead of the pack with district-approved courses for African American, Hispano American, and Native American history, as well as advanced courses in Chicano/Mexican American studies and The Black Experience Today. Unfortunately, my school had declined to offer any of them. My teacher didn’t acknowledge this. It wasn’t until I reached college that I finally experienced the healing power of history, and learned that my people are brilliant and they matter and therefore, by extension, I matter.

 

Students need courses like Chicano studies and AP African American History, and that work toward a more honest retelling of our country’s history. Students of all backgrounds want this, and as a nation as a whole, we need it. I taught ethnic studies to high school students in Colorado’s most diverse district, and the result was always the same. My students, including my white students, asked me frequently, “Why hasn’t anyone taught us this before?” My students expressed gratitude: “Thank you for teaching us that our history matters.” A few months ago, I received a message from a former student, who sat in my classroom nearly 20 years ago: “I have my own kids, and I make sure they know their history. Thank you.”

 

Although here in Denver we may feel isolated from the culture wars that are dominating the news cycle in much of the rest of the nation, I caution that we cannot become complacent. The Holocaust happened because good people saw what was happening “over there” and said nothing. We are not too far from 1993 when my own teacher said my history did not matter.

 

Although Florida might feel far from us, our collective social and moral compass should lead us to speak up and oppose this ban in Florida and any other state where it may be proposed. Students of color must have the opportunity to learn their histories and legacies — of which they are a part. White students must also be allowed to learn that this nation’s diversity is its greatest strength, and the only path to healing.

 

 

Gerardo Muñoz is a 2021 Colorado State Teacher of the Year. This article is republished from Colorado Newsline under a Creative Commons license.