At dinner recently, a friend asked, “Did you know that Native Americans were not considered citizens of the United States until 1924?” I did know, actually. I vividly remember my shock when I learned this tragic fact over a decade ago in law school. When I told her, “The Chinese Exclusion Act banned Chinese and other Asian immigrants from becoming citizens until 1943,” her jaw dropped.
Although my friend and I both graduated from well-respected Massachusetts high schools with excellent grades in Advanced Placement US History, our curriculum failed to teach us a great deal about the histories of many peoples in our country. For example, I never learned about the struggles of freed slaves after the Civil War, the Tulsa massacre, or the caveat in the 13th Amendment that allowed slavery to continue in prisons. These events put many other issues into context and should be included in public school curricula for the benefit of all Massachusetts students. After all, the goal of studying history is to avoid repeating it.
America was built by more than just white immigrants from Europe. Chinese laborers, Mexican farmworkers, and enslaved peoples contributed to the physical and cultural foundations of the country, too. Their contributions deserve to be recognized and celebrated in all Massachusetts schools. William Shakespeare, T.S. Eliot, and Harper Lee rightly deserve space in the curriculum. But so do Isabel Allende, James Baldwin, and Thi Bui. I can make parallels in STEM as well as the arts and humanities but can most succinctly summarize my position as “Representation Matters.”
The children of our Commonwealth deserve to see themselves represented across all subjects of school curricula, especially today. Merely teaching about a handful of groups to the exclusion of many diverse communities that have made significant contributions to who we are today fosters ignorance; it also reinforces the myth and misconception that only the visible identities, those that we learn about, helped shape American society and our position as a principled and influential nation. This in turn perpetuates the longstanding culture wars that have been going on for generations and define people’s opinions about who should benefit from our laws and who should be diminished and grateful for what they get, who is entitled to their successes and who is undeserving, who should be able to marry, who may openly express their gender identity or participate in competitive sports, and so on.1
Given the polarization around such issues and the corresponding increase in violence, it is more important than ever to fight these negative perceptions about historically overlooked or maligned populations. We cannot allow one group’s accomplishments to be heralded at the exclusion of all others. To do so reinforces the superiority of a privileged group, encourages stereotypes, feeds ignorance, and – in extreme cases – fuels racially motivated conflict.
In the pandemic era, for example, suspicion and prejudice grew against those perceived as Chinese, causing an explosion in hate crimes against people of Asian descent. Since the onset of COVID-19, Massachusetts has had the 6th highest number of anti-Asian hate crimes in the nation. In Quincy, a family was verbally assaulted with slurs before a man intentionally struck their father with his car and dragged him 50 feet down the road.2 Just last February, a woman was physically and verbally assaulted at an MBTA station in Somerville.3 According to a recent implicit association test out of Harvard University, 21% of white Americans explicitly believe that they are more American than their neighbors, colleagues, and peers who are of Asian descent.4
Needless to say, hate crimes against other people of color, people who identify as LGBTQ+, people with disabilities, and several faith groups are all too common as well. In 2022, Massachusetts also had the 6th highest number of antisemitic hate crimes in the nation,5 and according to the FBI, crimes targeting Jews and Muslims in Massachusetts have surged following the most recent rise in tensions between Israel and Palestine.6
The first step in effectively fighting hate crimes is not only to hold perpetrators accountable – although that is important – but to teach students how to understand and even celebrate people’s differences and commonalities. To keep excluding the contributions of overlooked members of our shared history dismisses their importance and, in a way, denies their existence.
As a member of the Massachusetts House of Representatives, I have filed a bill, H.542, An Act to promote racially inclusive curriculum in schools, which requires the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education to develop frameworks for an inclusive curriculum for all grade levels and learning abilities in our public school system. This is not a requirement for public schools to teach college-level critical race theory and is certainly not meant to make any student feel ashamed of their culture. On the contrary, these frameworks celebrate all cultures so that every student can draw inspiration from the significant historical and cultural contributions of people from diverse backgrounds. The bill also offers school districts the opportunity to receive grant funding to create locally-developed inclusive educational and professional development programs.
In a country celebrated for being a melting pot, our public school curriculum should be racially, ethnically, and culturally inclusive. Children should see themselves in the stories they read and the art they produce. They should also gain a better understanding of their classmates’ roots and cultures. An inclusive curriculum will broaden perspectives, and provide the invaluable insights that my friend and I didn’t acquire until adulthood. Cultivating this wisdom at an early age is a gift we can give our children–one that will last a lifetime and hopefully lead to a world with less hate and more compassion.
- Kiara Alfonseca, “Culture wars: How identity became the center of politics in America,” ABC News, July 7, 2023, https://abcnews.go.com/US/culture-wars-identity-center-politics-america/story?id=100768380. ↩︎
- Grace Zokovitch, “Quincy Man Indicted by Grand Jury for Anti-Asian Hate Crime,” Boston Herald, February 16, 2023, https://www.bostonherald.com/2023/02/15/quincy-man-indicted-by-grand-jury-for-anti-asian-hate-crime/. ↩︎
- WBZ-News Staff, “Police Seek Pair in Alleged Anti-Asian Assault at MBTA Station,” CBS News Boston, February 25, 2023, https://www.cbsnews.com/boston/news/mbta-transit-police-davis-square-anti-asian-assault/. ↩︎
- Aditya Venkatram, “Asian Hate in Boston: A Conversation with City Council President Ed Flynn,” Sampan, November 6, 2023, https://sampan.org/2023/boston/asian-hate-in-boston-a-conversation-with-city-council-president-ed-flynn/. ↩︎
- ADL’s Center on Extremism, “Hate in the Bay State: Extremism & Antisemitism in Massachusetts, 2021-2022,” Anti-Defamation League, March 23, 2023, https://www.adl.org/resources/report/hate-bay-state-extremism-antisemitism-massachusetts-2021-2022. ↩︎
- Ivy Scott, “Middle East war spurring ‘sharp increase’ in hate crimes across New England and nation,” Boston Globe, November 10, 2023, https://www.bostonglobe.com/2023/11/10/metro/middle-east-war-spurring-sharp-increase-hate-crimes-across-new-england-nation/. ↩︎