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Miami-Dade Adopts Hispanic History Lessons

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Schoolchildren in the Miami-Dade County district will learn more about the history and achievements of Hispanics--from the earliest settlers to today's immigrants--under a new curriculum devoted to that heritage.

A mariachi band and singing children in traditional ethnic dress serenaded the district's school board this month as it considered the draft of the new curriculum guide, designed to give Hispanic history broader coverage in social studies classes. The nine-member board unanimously approved the plan.

"We are requesting the proper recognition of the contributions of Hispanics to the history of the United States," said Demetrio Perez, the board's vice chairman. Mr. Perez led the initiative beginning last fall, when the board approved a more comprehensive curriculum for the teaching of African-American history and the Holocaust, which are state requirements.

The district is slightly out in front of Florida lawmakers. The state House has passed a bill that would make Hispanic history, as well as women's history, a required element of the curriculum. The Senate was expected to vote on the measure last week.

More than half the district's 347,000 students are of Hispanic descent.

The curriculum guide, called "Legado: Legacy of Hispanic Contributions for Our Children," is a supplement to the social studies curriculum. It includes suggestions for raising geographic understanding and historical and cultural awareness for children from preschool to grade 12.

Although many teachers across the country have incorporated the Hispanic perspective--and that of other racial and ethnic groups--into their courses, few districts have policies that specifically require the teaching of Hispanic history and culture.

In some places the issue has sparked considerable debate. Two teachers in Vaughn, N.M., were fired from their jobs for using materials that highlighted Hispanic history in their classrooms. The superintendent of the district charged that the materials were divisive and racist.

Colorado Adds Indians

The Denver public schools launched a project last year to create Hispanic-based curriculum units for the district's 66,000 students. ("Hispanics Want School Courses To Reflect Their History, Culture," May 14, 1997.)

The units are set to be integrated into the curriculum in three of the district's 110 schools in the fall. Deep budget cuts, however, could put the program in jeopardy, said a district spokesman. The Colorado legislature, which previously mandated the teaching of black and Hispanic history, passed a bill this month requiring schools also to teach students about American Indians.

Like African-Americans before them, the nation's Hispanics have been urging schools to incorporate more of their history and culture into the curriculum. As the Hispanic population grows, such programs are likely to become more common. The number of school-age children of Hispanic ancestry is expected to jump by some 71 percent, to 13 million, within the next three decades, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

Dade County teachers support the effort there, according to Merri Mann, the director of educational and professional issues for the United Teachers of Dade, an affiliate of the American Federation of Teachers. But they have complained that they had little say in the draft curriculum, she said, and feel there's not enough money for needed materials and training.

"We would like to have, in the natural course of teaching and learning, all aspects of our multicultural society infused into the curriculum," Ms. Mann said.

"Because our community has changed so dramatically in such a short number of years, there is probably a large number of teachers who don't know enough about the heritage of our students."

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