What is ethnic studies? Do we ever learn about it? Why is it important?  Why is ethnic studies only offered in college? I sometimes wonder why we are not offered ethnic studies in K-12th grade. Why is ethnic studies only offered in college when elementary, middle, and high school students need it the most? My mother taught me about my own history of slavery, oppression of black people, the Underground Railroad, Civil Rights Movement, 13th Amendment and many more historical events in black history. It was hard to learn and hear about what they had to go through on a daily basis. My ancestors faced all the challenges and hardships in their life so that the younger generations ahead of them could have a better one. Again, my mother taught me this — my mother sat me down and explained my family history and the history of being black when no one else would. 

The point of ethnic studies is not to make students feel uncomfortable when talking about race, but to make students feel comfortable about having these conversations that no one else is having. The more knowledge students have about ethnic studies, the easier conversations are. Learning about someone’s culture and their history is important, and the world never really takes the time to understand that. That is why ethnic studies is critical to have in grades K-12th grade. It gives all students the opportunity to learn about different cultures and histories that they did not know about before.

No one wants to hear the true story behind America’s history because we are never taught the right version.  The only American History k-12th students are taught is European History. But Americans are not just Europeans — we are African Americans, Asian Americans, Chicanos/Latinos and Native American and Indigenous people. 

How long do you spend on black history in a classroom? Usually something like one week or two class periods, and then most go right back to learning the same beginning: about how Christopher Columbus sailed the ocean blue in 1492. And most of the time, curriculums gloss over the condemning details, like Columbus’ treatment of native people. 

Who are the same three people that are always brought up for black history? Martin Luther King Jr. , Harriet Tubman, and Rosa Parks. Don’t get me wrong — these are amazing people, but we all know the story. Martin Luther King Jr. wrote the “I have a dream” speech. Harriet Tubman led the Underground Railroad and helped lead enslaved people to freedom before the Civil War. Rosa Parks was a civil rights activist who refused to relinquish her seat on a segregated bus to a white man. These people are the only face of black history when there are so many more brilliant faces behind it, such as Madam C.J Walker the self-made millionaire, astronaut Mae C. Jemison, open-heart surgeon Daniel Hale Williams and “Father of Black History” Carter G. Woodson, who established Black History Month as a nationwide celebration, among many others. These are the breathtaking and talented African Americans we need to learn about during the school year.

Ethnic studies empowers students of color to share and learn about their own culture in a classroom with their peers and teachers. It lets them use their voice and spread awareness of their own culture and ancestors. Ethnic studies also plays a part in educating white students to develop critical thinking skills and a historical perspective for all of humanity, not just Europeans. If we just sit down and learn one type of history — European history — how are students going to learn and better educate themselves in the real world as global citizens?

American history is African American, Asian American, Chicanos/Latinos, Native American, and Indigenous peoples’ history. Never forget that.