School & District Management

Attention School Leaders: Students Are Demanding Anti-Racist Curriculum and Instruction

By Catherine Gewertz — June 09, 2020 3 min read
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As massive social-justice demonstrations continue after the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis, students in cities around the country are organizing to demand that their school and district leaders provide them with anti-racist curricula and instruction.

A petition posted recently on Facebook, aimed at the schools in Frederick County, Md., is a prime example. It was inspired by demand letters drafted by the alumni of Xavier College Preparatory School in Arizona and the Morris County School of Technology in New Jersey. Similar letters and petitions have been making their way around the internet, and are cropping up in a number of cities.

The Maryland letter calls on the district to “reexamine how we honor Black lives in our education system in elementary, middle, and high school curricula—not simply as a reactionary means, but in direct ways that critically challenge how we frame our nation’s history.”

It demands that the district conduct a “third-party, holistic review” of its curriculum, hiring, and student body administration, among other things, and that it hold implicit-bias trainings for district faculty and staff. Students want the district to invite speakers to address the student body on racial justice and white privilege. And they want the district to require classes to take field trips to places that can teach students about the Black experience, such as the National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington, D.C.

In the area of curriculum and instruction, the students dive into specifics, demanding that the district expand its curricula with articles, books, documentaries, and podcasts “centered on anti-racism and racial justice,” and “facilitate in-class conversations about race, privilege, allyship, and justice.” And they provide a list of suggested reading that spans K-12, broken down by subject area. Here are a few highlights:


Medical Bondage: Race, Gender, and the Origins of American Gynecology, Diedre Cooper Owens
Body and Soul: The Black Panther Party and the Fight Against Medical Discrimination, Alondra Nelson
Medical Apartheid: The Dark History of Medical Experimentation on Black Americans, Harriet Washington


Parable of the Talents, Octavia Butler
The Street, Ann Petry
Invisible Man, Ralph Ellison
The Fire Next Time, James Baldwin


The New Jim Crow, Michelle Alexander
The Autobiography of Malcolm X, Malcolm X and Alex Haley
Ain’t I A Woman?: Black women and feminism, bell hooks
A Taste of Power: A Black Woman’s Story, Elaine Brown

This petition, by students from Iona Preparatory School in New Rochelle, New York, includes its own reading list.

Students in the Monmouth County Vocational school district in New Jersey are circulating this five-page letter, which “respectfully insists” that the board adopt a “comprehensive four-year curriculum that addresses systemic racism and police brutality.” It lists seven action steps, including revising the English and history curricula to cover the perspectives and stories of people of color and training faculty to be leaders in anti-racism.

In Newtown, Conn., two 2017 graduates are circulating a petition that takes the district to task for failing to provide an adequate multicultural education.

“We have taken the time to reflect on our experience and education in Newtown schools,” it says. “Although we learned about slavery, the Civil Rights Movement, and we read To Kill a Mockingbird, the formal teachings of modern-day systemic and institutionalized racism, police brutality, or white privilege were next to none.”

The Newtown students asked their school board to make sure curriculum includes discussion of current events related to race when they happen, and to fostering “safe open dialogue” about them. They want the district to include books on current, institutionalized racism and white privilege, add a course specifically designed to teach students about systemic racism, and “end the notion of teaching students to be colorblind.”

In California, students in Yorba Linda, Calif., are circulating their own letter, inspired by another, written by students 45 miles to the north, in Glendale, Calif. The Glendale petition, launched online June 2, has collected more than 4,300 signatures. The Yorba Linda letter, launched online June 4, has more than 2,000 signatures.

Demonstrators pray during a march on Sunday, May 31, in Atlanta. Protests continued following the death of George Floyd, who died after being restrained by Minneapolis police officers on May 25. (AP Photo/Mike Stewart)

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A version of this news article first appeared in the Teaching Now blog.