Ethnic Studies/History Curriculum Changes and Requirements

Nidhi Nair and Ayane Fuller

Within the past year, a major shift in views has occurred towards social issues and history. Recent events such as the Black Lives Matter movement, Trump’s election and COVID-19 have without a doubt influenced the way that students and staff perceive historical events, which has also contributed to alterations to LOHS’s history curriculum.

In 2017, Oregon passed House Bill 2845, which initiated the introduction of ethnic studies into schools’ social studies curriculum. Since then, the state has been working to incorporate the study of minority and marginalized groups to create a more inclusive environment. Bill SB513, passed earlier this year, states that 2026 is the official deadline for the complete implementation of this new curriculum. In addition, all high school students must complete half a civics credit in order to graduate high school. 

The advisory committee overseeing this project from November 2017 to June 2019 consisted of students, university professors, educators and officials of varying genders, sexual orientations and race, providing a broad view of what the general public feel students will benefit from.  

Senate Bill 227, which would fund the training of ethnic studies instructors, has also recently been undergoing discussion in the Oregon Legislature. 

Why exactly is ethnic studies beneficial and crucial to students’ education? It has become clear that Oregon is far from meeting U.S. history standards. Associates at the Fordham Institute, a think tank, determined that Oregon’s high school civics standards are poor, ranking a mere D-. The state’s current curriculum does not cover important concepts in enough depth; its standards are obscure and fail to blatantly address the true, negative footprint of social injustice and racism in U.S. history. 

With this in mind, Oregon has been working towards improving the current curriculum. What will this look like for schools? Students should expect to discuss different cultures, religions, race, gender and sexual orientations in social studies classes and will explore the experiences of marginalized groups in their communities. Some minority groups that will be focused on are African Americans, Asian Americans, the Jewish community, the LGBTQ+ community, individuals with disabilities, and specific to the state, indigenous peoples of Oregon. Curriculum for older students will also cover some topics that may be harder to talk about, such as white supremacy, unequal treatment, oppression and genocide, and how these issues were carried out through the use of politics, land and culture.

“Native American history, especially Oregon Native American history, is a part of the ethnic studies that we’re required to teach,” states LOHS social studies teacher Daniel Eizyk. “For example, in my US History class, you’ll notice that I do cover Native American history from a lot of different perspectives and sources and things like that. I’ve made sure to inject those diverse voices into my classes, and we’re having ongoing conversations with the other teachers that teach U.S. history about how we can do that better.”

Social studies teacher Gerrit Koepping says, how “the curriculum is never that static, so it’s always undergoing revision. Every year we look at what we can do to the material to make it more interesting, more relevant, more exciting and connect better with kids. But history also evolves, so [our] understanding of certain historical events is going to change based upon new interpretations and information, so history curriculum is never that static.”

“Last year, a couple of members of our department attended a professional development session with the Oregon state representative who’s helping oversee that process of updating the Ethnic Studies standards, and we decided that even though they’re not going to be officially adopted until 2024, we want to start making sure now that we’re trying to integrate those,” says social studies teacher Breck Foster. “We’ve been working within our PLC’s (Professional Learning Committees) to figure out how to do that. Especially in U.S. history classes, but also in world history classes, the story of indigenous peoples and colonization and resistance movements past and present are also alive in our curriculum.”

Although there are obviously many requirements for curriculum in history classes, the lens through which each topic is viewed is usually influenced by the teacher’s personal actions and inclusion within the classroom. Eizyk says, “In my econ classes, I have made active pushes to have more female voices, and so we do a couple of female economist mini-lessons on how four or five women have impacted the field. And then in my Criminal Justice class, I have brought in guest speakers, and I use videos and documentaries and talk about minorities and women and people that are marginalized in those classes as well. And that’s a conscious effort that I’ve made in my classes on purpose.”

Aside from the more outdated ideas and events that students regularly learn about in social studies classes, the importance of curriculum changes is additionally reflected within current events and news. “I do think this is an ongoing national debate,” Eizyk says. “You’re having …some school districts…decide that they don’t like a certain thing that they call CRT, Critical Race Theory, which actually isn’t taught in high schools, that’s a higher level law class. And I think that’s a really big problem right now in education. This is a struggle for equality that I see in the 21st century, you know, how do we get equality for a lot of students? And just like we’ve had throughout history, like in the 1950’s and in the 1960’s, whenever there’s marginalized voices that push for more inclusion, there’s going to be a counterpush, and that’s …what we’re seeing right now in my opinion.”

Additionally, there is a clear push for history to be taught from the correct perspectives with accurate knowledge. “Lots of groups have a desire to influence and manipulate what we teach in the classroom,” says Koepping. “Whether it’s bankers who want to make sure that we cover personal finance, whether it’s various interest groups who make sure their perspective is presented, it’s hardly new that we have a political process that influences what’s taught in the classroom.”

The social studies department has been making major efforts towards adapting and interchanging the curriculum to benefit the students. “I think in my eleven years here, I’ve seen and I’ve personally expanded themes, topics, and individuals to increase representation of non-dominant groups, but I think there’s still more that we could be doing for sure,” Foster states. “One thing I’ve noticed in the past couple of years is more student awareness and agency within the classroom, bringing their own knowledge to have an expectation of their teachers to engage them in these hard topics and this history. There is also a real desire for all students to be reflected in the curriculum, which is something we need to continue to strive for as educators. I think that’s an important change that I’ve seen, that kids are more aware, and expect their teachers to engage them in that way.”

It is evident that the school district and nation as a whole has made many helpful changes towards drafting a more inclusive and representative curriculum. Eizyk states, “I’m proud of Lake Oswego’s School Board and the administrators for standing up and being an explicitly anti-racist school. We made those statements public a few years ago, and there are school districts in the area which are unfortunately seeing a lot of backlash from the community because they’ve taken a different perspective and a different viewpoint, and I think theirs is the way backwards instead of forward.”