TOLLIVER: Education is the first step to equity – University of Virginia The Cavalier Daily

As students progress through the American school system, things become more complicated. Simple arithmetic turns to algebra and geometry, learning the states turns to learning countries, and reading and writing assignments turn from paperbacks and one page papers into thick novels and essays. However, the simplification should only last until the student is capable of understanding the elaborated version. Some of these simplified subjects are never elaborated, particularly history. Inarguably, education is one of the most critical tools in helping to achieve racial equity in the eyes of the law and other aspects of our society. In my opinion, it is the most important because what is taught through school is crucial to understanding how society views itself. As of now, that portrayal is less than desirable. The context of the American school system — from primary to secondary education — is highly biased and inefficient for providing what students actually need to learn equality.

Several curricula are written from a single frame of reference which limits room for other content. While all education must be somewhat biased in order to create an organized curriculum, the American education system excludes necessary information in an effort to portray history in a certain way. Slavery is only talked about in many pre-secondary schools only to preface other events like the Civil War and segregation, though it is rarely attached to them in school. Moreover, chattel slavery is never fully explored in the American education system. Its differences from other societies who practiced some form of slavery are not acknowledged as to not address the commodification and dehumanization of America’s form of slavery, which heavily influenced the rest of American history. In fact, students are rarely given adequate explanations about any historical events involving non-white people. The subjugation of indigenous people and African people is glossed over while the various conquerors of the world are expected to be memorized. It would be more beneficial to study the country that was colonized rather than the colonizer in order to study the effects of the events, giving students context to how these countries developed over time. Yet instead, we are taught little to nothing outside of Greece and Rome, Europe and our own history

Moreover, the bias in education can be seen in Advanced Placement courses. Out of the current 36 courses and programs listed, there is no AP class for Black American history, African Diaspora or African history, despite having an AP class for European History. For AP Languages, there are no African languages listed either. These are voluntary classes created specifically for those who want more challenging educational experiences, and yet, those experiences exclude a significant portion of the world. Non-Western history is limited within the required courses for secondary school and given the lack of AP classes focused on it, any student wanting to learn will either have to engage in independent research or wait until college — options that are not available for everyone.

The bias is so implemented that it has become unconscious to many, even expected by most. Learning anything outside of American and European education is seen as an extracurricular — a voluntary lesson instead of required learning. This leads to the accepted ignorance and ignorance almost always leads to inequality. Racial equity cannot just be met with diplomacy and speeches — rather it requires a change in ideology. Moreover, the biased aspect of the school system makes it seem as if it is exhaustive. Therefore, with all the resources and supposed social consciousness of today, people may not even see a need to seek more information after going through the education system. For most, primary and secondary education is a requirement in America, and so, it is imperative that we take advantage of it. 

Some counties have already started to take action in order to evaluate and change their public education curriculums to be more modern and less biased. The point is not to make everyone think the same way, but to make sure that if there is a difference of opinion, it does not occur because of a lack of information. Other tactics that should be taken into consideration include a re-evaluation of textbooks. A committee of diverse teachers and professors could rewrite textbooks for state, U.S. and global history classes to ensure that several frames of reference are utilized. These initiatives can be funded by organizations such as the American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education, which already strives for educated school faculty. Programs could be funded to ensure that class activities, field trips, and celebrations are inclusive, culturally diverse, and most importantly, truly educational. The way in which we understand the world is through education. If education is limited or unfair in any way, so too is our understanding and we can only shape our society through the way in which we understand it.

Shaleah Tolliver is an Opinion Columnist for The Cavalier Daily. She can be reached at [email protected].

The opinions expressed in this column are not necessarily those of The Cavalier Daily. Columns represent the views of the authors alone.