Why laws that bar teaching about race, LGBTQ topics have little to block

Those topics aren't being widely taught, anyhow, a new EdTrust report attests.

Experts believe that laws restricting classroom discussions of race, LGBTQ issues and discrimination do not prohibit much of anything. Those topics aren’t being widely taught, anyhow, a new report attests.

White authors and characters remain far more present in K12 curriculum than authors and characters of any other race or ethnicity, according to the “The Search for More Complex Racial and Ethnic Representation” study by The Education Trust, the nonprofit that advocates for equity in K12 instruction.

The authors acknowledge the hard work districts and educators have done in recent years to diversify curriculum. But in a review of 300 English language arts texts, for example, the organization’s researchers found plenty of stereotypes and that “people of color centered in these books were one-dimensional, portrayed negatively, or did not have agency.”

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And many historical events and social topics were sanitized and not put into context for students to find meaning in the texts. “Despite an extremely narrow representation of people of color, the nation is witnessing a well-funded political strategy to erase the very few books schools have to prepare students to compete in a global economy by learning about people of different races and ethnicities,” Tanji Reed Marshall, a co-author of the report, warns.

“While fighting to stop book bans, advocates must also push for including books with characters of color who are fully realized and positively represented,” adds Marshall, Ed Trust’s director of P-12 practice.

How to have more comprehensive classroom discussions

Ed Trust offers six recommendations to create more representational curricula:

  • Challenge dominant norms and singular perspectives
  • Expand publisher and educator definitions of cultural relevance
  • Ask a new set of questions about representation
  • Consider how texts sit in conversation with one another
  • Expand educator choice in curated materials
  • Provide professional learning to all curriculum decision-makers, including authors and developers

“We are witnessing a literacy crisis and historic drops in student achievement, and better representation in our classroom books will help all students achieve,” says William Rodick, Ph.D., one of the study’s authors and a P12 Practice Lead at Ed Trust. “The fact is that students of color learn and perform better when they see themselves and their experiences authentically and non-stereotypically reflected in their school curricula.

“Seeing a diverse set of people in books also helps White students develop a deeper understanding of their racial and ethnic identity and the world around them, which is filled with people of varying ethnicities and cultures,” Rodick concludes.

Matt Zalaznick
Matt Zalaznick
Matt Zalaznick is a life-long journalist. Prior to writing for District Administration he worked in daily news all over the country, from the NYC suburbs to the Rocky Mountains, Silicon Valley and the U.S. Virgin Islands. He's also in a band.

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