Ethnic studies courses coming to Mankato high schools

Natalie Rademacher, The Free Press, Mankato, Minn.
·3 min read

Mar. 22—Students at Mankato East and West high schools will have the opportunity this fall to learn about how ethnic and racial discrimination in history are connected to current events. The schools are two of the growing number of Minnesota secondary schools implementing ethnic studies courses.

Ethnic studies is the interdisciplinary study of the perspectives of historically underrepresented and disenfranchised groups of people. Advocates say the study is needed to help all students see themselves reflected in the curriculum.

"It's about having a more robust, accurate history," said Daisy Hernandez-Barguiarena, a senior at Gustavus Adolphus College and fellow for Unidos Minnesota who has been advocating for an ethnic studies academic requirement.

"Our schools are so diverse, our curriculum should also be diverse."

There's been a push from advocates such as Hernandez-Barguiarena to include ethnic studies in the state's academic standards. These standards identify the knowledge and skills students in K-12 public schools should achieve.

A committee of parents, teachers, experts and community members from throughout Minnesota is in the process of rewriting the state's social studies academic standards, a process done every 10 years.

The first draft of the new standards were opened to public comment in December and includes greater consideration to Dakota and Anishinaabe tribes and to the relationship between humans and the environment, but does not include language on ethnic studies.

Some committee members said they want a more prominent place for ethnic studies in the standards and hope to incorporate that in the second draft, according to reporting by the Pioneer Press.

The next committee meeting to discuss public feedback is Thursday. A final draft will not be completed until the fall and new standards will not be implemented until 2025, at the earliest.

Unidos Minnesota and other organizations helped a bill get introduced in the state Legislature this session that would've made ethnic studies a state high school graduation requirement and establish an advisory board to help schools implement the curriculum. The bill did not get a hearing, but advocates are hopeful the requirement can be established through other avenues.

Some schools, such as Mankato East and Mankato West, have taken initiative and already are incorporating ethnic studies into the curriculum.

Minneapolis Public Schools made ethnic studies a graduation requirement in November. St. Paul Public Schools is in the process of making ethnic studies mandatory.

Timothy Meegan, a social studies teacher at Mankato East, pushed for an ethnic studies class because he said there are gaps in whose stories are included in social studies courses.

He plans to use the new course to talk about police brutality and domestic terrorism in the U.S. and how these things originate in racism and discrimination.

"In order to move forward, we have to fully understand how structural racism has impacted our society today," Meegan said.

The course is called Ethnicity and Civil Rights and Meegan and Mankato West social studies teacher Matt Moore will be creating the syllabus and curriculum for their courses this summer.

Meegan said efforts to get an ethnic studies course at Mankato East is not new, and that conversations about it have been ongoing for the past couple of years in part because of the growing diversity in the school.

"Our course offerings should be reflective of the student body," he said.