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Iowans advocate for more inclusive curriculum in schools

Published: Mar. 3, 2021 at 10:30 PM CST
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CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa (KCRG) - After last summer’s calls for racial justice and stopping inequity, some school districts in Iowa said they would make their curriculum more diverse and inclusive.

The Cedar Rapids Community School District, for example, gave an update last week that it was evaluating its language arts, social studies, and music curriculum through an antiracist point of view.

“We don’t know ourselves if we don’t know our history,” Jabrianna Coleman, a 2019 graduate of Linn-Mar High School, said.

Coleman said she learned that thanks to her mom, who taught her about the accomplishments and history of Black people in the U.S.

She’s appreciative for that because until she got to Linn-Mar High School, Coleman said classroom learning about Black Americans wasn’t much.

“I didn’t like that idea of just, every time we do see ourselves, it’s always something negative and not us being shined in a light like we’re doing something good. We’re always like a slave or something,” Coleman said.

“It’s not just important for Black students to get the education, but for all students to receive the full story,” LaNisha Cassell, the executive director of the African American Museum of Iowa, said.

Cassell was one of four panelists who participated in a virtual discussion held by Summit Schools on Wednesday, called, “Moving toward OUR history: The importance of an inclusive curriculum.”

Speakers talked about subjects like teaching the “1619 Project” in schools and what literature they would suggest incorporating into the classroom.

All panelists agreed that more diversity is needed.

“I think a big key is to take people out of the narratives we think they should be,” Ashley Howard, a history professor at the University of Iowa, said. “So instead of Black people showing up in slavery, and then the Civil Rights Movement, and then Obama, what does, as so many of my co-panelists have said, what do those in between moments look like and why are we putting them in certain areas?”

Coleman said Linn-Mar made progress during her time in high school.

“I used to talk about it jokingly to my principal, like, ‘We should have Black teachers, and we should see more Black people,’” Coleman said. “And one year, I came back and like, there were three Black staff members, and that year, we had two Black guest speakers that were really, really good speakers.”

When asked what she would suggest for how to broaden the curriculum for future students, Coleman said schools should ask them.

“What would all of your kids want to see within their own cultures brought into the school? How would they like to see themselves? What would they like others to learn about their own cultures?” Coleman said.

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