Posts Tagged ‘school’

the usefulness of ethnic studies

May 13, 2010

Today I read that Arizona had cut ethnic studies classes. In truth I am less interested in the right or wrong of this particular move, and more interested in the actual usefulness of ethnic study classes.

Assuming two things, that
1. Ethnic studies classes are popular with people of the studied heritage
2. Minority students have a tougher time getting into good colleges, and lower graduation rates

I wonder if it’s really a good idea for a minority student to take them at all? I would encourage my own children (if/when I have some) to take math, science, or computer electives, possibly more foreign language classes. Regardless of whether you think Admissions tests like the SATs or ACT tests are useful, they are still required to get into many good schools. I just don’t see how knowing about the heritage and history of a certain culture/ethnic group will help one perform better on them. If your heart is set on formally studying it, there’s plenty of room for electives at college.

Also, assuming that one is legitimately interested in that heritage, and not just looking for an easy A, I have never found history/culture a particularly hard subject to research. Partly because it’s what I enjoy the most, but a lot of people love writing about their experiences living in other countries and dealing with other cultures. With the internet, it’s not difficult to ask people of those cultures first-hand either. Your own relatives may have valuable information.

Another issue I have with ethnic studies is that there is almost no way most public schools could offer a class for every student’s particular heritage. That will inevitably deny a group, whether it’s Mexican-Americans, African-Americans, German-Americans (you get the picture) the ability to formally study their own culture in a middle/high school setting. Cultures with small populations will inevitably lose out. I suggested earlier that there just be a class where students do an individual heritage study or study a particular culture and each do reports, presentations, etc on it. That’s a possibility, but I still think it’s a wasted credit. School should help you study what you cannot do on your own-a student wanting to weight-train, but lacking their own gym equipment, can often take a gym elective and gain access to the weight room. A budding astronomy enthusiast can gain equipment access without having to shell out their own cash for a telescope, etc.

I studied Spanish in high school, and we learned quite a bit about the Spanish-speaking countries and their cultures and histories. If not for Spanish-I I would have no clue about how Mexico gained it’s independence. Many say the best way to study a country or it’s culture is to study it’s language. Yet, while I’ve seen African-American Studies offered, apparently the non-Colonial languages of Africa have no usefulness in the eyes of educators, or pro-ethnic studies people, because I have NEVER seen any African language classes offered.

What does an ethnic studies class provide that can’t be found at home, or at a library? I very much welcome the experiences and opinions of people that have been in or taught an ethnic studies class. Or anybody’s opinions on the matter.

What prompted this post? SCHOOL IS OUT! 😀