Legislating as a member of the minority caucus in the Indiana State Senate can be daunting and it can be frustrating. However, there are times when both parties find common ground to work together in ways that benefit all Hoosiers. This year I find myself feeling that sense of pride, because in just a few weeks, high school students across Indiana will finally have the opportunity to learn about the myriad ethnicities and cultures that define this great state.
With the passage of Senate Enrolled Act 337, my colleague Senator Dennis Kruse (R-Auburn) and I have finally made it possible for high schools to accurately and effectively educate students about the histories of Native Americans, African-Americans, Lebanese-Americans and so many more. We, along with the Department of Education, have created a unique opportunity to educate the majority about the minority and share ethnic histories and stories not often discussed in traditional historical coursework.
I think it’s important to provide some context as to why this bill is so important. Studies show that when students of color learn about their history from their own ethnic perspectives, they perform better in all aspects of their school work and testing. Their increased interest in their studies also encourages better behavior and promotes better understanding among all races. As young adults enter into times of racial unrest that we see today, this better understanding of one another’s cultures can lead to decreased conflicts and healthier relationships for all. Even more interesting is that other studies reveal that majority white students who participated in ethnic studies courses also fared better in overall testing.
Provided as elective coursework to high school students, these one semester classes will allow educators to dust off typically under-utilized Indiana standards and implement new and interesting lesson plans. Minority students that may have felt lost or insecure about their cultural past will feel engaged. Many students may find themselves identifying with the struggles of their peers, or may find some of the products they use today were invented by a historical figure from a different race or community than their own.
What might an ethnic studies course look like? The intended goal is for educators to create lesson plans based on the knowledge and perspectives of ethnic or racial groups, reflecting narratives and points of view rooted in that group’s lived experiences and intellectual scholarship.
For example, a high school course discussing Native American groups that first inhabited Indiana, a state that bears the natives’ colloquial identification, might be developed in schools with higher populations of indigenous Hoosiers. These people’s history and how it is interwoven with the first Hoosier settlers as told through the eyes of a Native American can illuminate the world for many adolescents.
Educators might also instruct students about African-American and Hispanic-American communities and their contributions to Indiana’s past. From the time of slavery and the Mexican- American War to that of civil rights and immigration issues, history books tend to soften the atrocities that occurred in these populations. History has also discredited inventions and discoveries that should have been attributed to people of color. By providing students with more accurate depictions of antiquity and culture, Indiana schools will engage more students and shape a broader understanding between races and ethnicities.
Educators that are interested in providing ethnic studies to their students, but are unsure of the most appropriate coursework for their region of the state, should feel free to contact local universities or state agencies like the Indian and Native American or the Latino Affairs Commissions to help guide their decisions. These types of resources are also helpful in identifying experts that can attend classes as guest speakers. Furthermore, my senate office is always available to help in any way that we can to implement new programs across the state.