The student news site of Mountlake Terrace High School in Mountlake Terrace, Washington.

Ethnic Studies and Literature of Social Justice

March 24, 2018

Edmonds School District (ESD) Social Studies Content Lead Jeff Stone pushed for the implementation of the Ethnic Studies curriculum across the ESD. Lynnwood High School (LHS) was the first in the district to offer Ethnic Studies, where the class is currently in its first year.

However, the content of the class will vary between LHS and MTHS as the class’s teacher will “fine tune it and tweak it to every school.” Humanities teacher Erin Grambush will teach Ethnic Studies at MTHS next year.

“It’s one of three [social studies] options for seniors. It’s not that you have to take it. If you’re interested, you may take it. It’s fits the lens of equal opportunity, equity of access,” Stone said. “It’s a course for everybody.”

Ethnic Studies will “examine the imbalances of power, wealth and opportunities within society” and cover the ethnic breakdown of topics such as immigration policies, incarceration rates, home ownership, the gender pay gap ad wealth disparities.

“That’s Ethnic Studies,” Stone said after explaining each topic.

Stone’s goal is to open students to thinking differently about their world, exploring identities, understanding how they fit in society and taking a stand for what they believe in. Though, Stone respects if students disagree with class content in nearly any scenario. When he formerly taught, Stone’s students would tell him when they need some time to breathe and calm down as a result of the learning material, and Stone will comply.

Those who are working to plan the Ethnic Studies class are putting forth their best effort to educate teachers and to let minorities weigh in on the class’s content. They have collaborated with people of color and specialists from the University of Washington Bothell to do so. As a result, they hope to include representation in the curriculum and be considerate of various perspectives.

“We’re well aware that currently—we have an Ethnic Studies team—we have one teacher of color on this Ethnic Studies team. It weakens our ability to see everything. We strive to find ways to help have this non-white point of view present,” Stone said.

MTHS added Literature of Social Justice to the offerings for senior English, which English teacher Jennifer Widrig-Hodges will teach. According to the MTHS course catalog, students in this class “will examine literary works of social movements, their broader impacts, and intersectionality.”

Though Grambush studied English and history in college, she said she’s always viewed history with a lens due to learning in college with a “social justice slant” from her teachers. In the meantime, Grambush has dedicated time to planning the class and learning the necessary language to teach it, similarly to how LHS trained their Ethnic Studies staff.

“I’ve been doing some talking about race in the classroom trainings and things like that which kind of prepare you for stuff but none of it really does. I was talking with [English teacher] Ms. Widrig the other day about having discussions with the N-word and how it’s a difficult task because so many students especially in super liberal Seattle are like, ‘Well, that’s not really an issue anymore,’” Grambush said. “I know our students have had issues with that.”

The two split up to present to various junior classes about Ethnic Studies and Literature of Social Justice. In doing so, Grambush and Stone aim to clarify the purpose of the course and build off feedback regarding its content.

“We are defining what it is. We’re creating our narrative. We’re asking for community input on all this. We’ll ask students now,” Stone said.

Due to the nature of topics covered in Ethnic Studies, Stone feels “controversy is inherent in the course.” He clarified that Ethnic Studies seeks to show the perspectives of a diverse range of people and their living conditions, then allow students to understand their circumstances and develop interpretations and opinions based on those.

Photo by Jonathan Kwong

“Each unit of study is designed around knowing the fact that it’s controversial. The intent of each unit is to have outside authors and—as we mentioned, we’re predominately white teachers—authors of color to talk about these issues, to write about them, to read them, to watch them in a video, to hear them in a song,” Stone said. “We use outside sources to bring up the issue, to talk about it, to facilitate discussions; it’s a matter of reflecting in personal reflections [and] group reflections.”

As Ethnic Studies overlaps with the content of Literature of Social Justice, Grambush expressed similar sentiment and emphasized her desire for students to “process the materials in a safe environment.” Her students will also learn how to respond to differing viewpoints in society. 

“In my mind, when I look at this course, I also look at this course as “How do we engage with people who have different opinions?’ It’s a great experience to see all sides of an issue and  be able to look at it as ‘OK, this is one perspective and maybe I don’t agree with it, but I can see where they’re coming from,’ instead of taking the defensive position of ‘You’re wrong and I’m right and I don’t even want to talk about ideas that aren’t similar to mine,’” Grambush said.

In late January, educators made it known that they want Ethnic Studies available in all ESD high schools as a senior social studies credits. Less than 20 school districts on the West Coast offer Ethnic Studies as a social studies credit.

“The goal was just announced that, as to at some point have Ethnic Studies senior history at all high schools. It was told to administrators, ‘This is the vision,’” Stone said.

MTHS will offer Ethnic Studies if a sufficient number of students sign up.

“I don’t know what to expect out of Mountlake Terrace. I’m hopeful students accept [the Ethnic Studies class] and are willing to try it out; that’s my hope,” Stone said.


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