Curriculum Opinion

Will Common Core Standards Teach About the Struggles of Oppressed People?

By Greg Jobin-Leeds — June 25, 2012 3 min read
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Bryant Muldrew once again, asks some critical questions about what students are taught and equally important, what they are not taught in schools. As the Common Core are rolled out as the standard across the country and as teacher evaluations are being created, we need to keep Bryant’s questions in mind and push back on the state that leaves out these pieces of the curriculum that are vital to the shaping of our democracy. -Greg

Will Common Core Standards Teach about the Struggles of Oppressed People?

Why aren’t students taught the intimate details of the on-going struggles of oppressed people for equality and justice? Students are usually given a surface level of understanding of social movements in high school. Then if a student has access to college he or she may be able to take specialized courses pertaining to the struggles of poor and oppressed people. It is important to note that many students are excluded from higher education; as a result of the economic oppression of the poor and now also the middle class, the rising costs of college education further blocks our access to specialized courses.

This exclusionary process connected to higher education is an example of why students in middle school and high school should be taught about social movements. How could a student ever challenge the systems of education as they exist now if he or she never learns and understand the many forms of opposition against oppression?

The need to learn these critical pieces of history is directly related to the establishment of this nation. Consider this: George Washington, the founding fathers, and the colonists were oppressed by taxation without representation at the time of the Revolutionary war. How many students really understand the concepts of liberty that the founding fathers proposed for this country?

Consider this: Harriet Tubman and other abolitionists were the oppressed leading to the Civil War. How many students have heard about the struggle of non-slaves who helped in that struggle? It is important to have a wide scope of understanding pertaining to history, especially historical struggle.

Right #4 in the National Student Bill of Rights captures this philosophy: “Students and youth shall have the right to study curriculum that acknowledges and affirms the on-going struggle of oppressed peoples for equality and justice, and that addresses the real, material and cultural needs of their communities.”

If fulfilled, a right like this would create monumental changes to education and to the larger society.


-Bryant, thanks for raising key issues. Back when I was at Teachers College I took a course on Creativity, Critical Thinking and Curriculum Design. This knowledge that you call for, of struggles that have changed the trajectory of our county, would give students role models of many of the most creative and critical thinkers. I hope efforts like yours to create a National Student Bill of Rights gains more and momentum and that teachers, students and activists reading this blog start to push at their own levels to get the study of movements put into their curriculum. In the same way that slaves were not allowed to be taught to read, students are excluded from learning about their own history (and algebra). Without this knowledge, it is more difficult for them to change the trajectory of their community and own lives. That is why I have been writing about what makes movements successful. I do wonder how we can change this design. And what teachers, activists, policy makers and students can do about it. It seems like this is a great moment to push as school districts are trying to figure out how to implement the Common Core. Damon Douglas in his blog: Implement the Common Core asks school personnel important questions:

  • What do we want our students to learn?
  • How will we know if our students are learning?
  • How do we know our teaching is effective?

Some teachers and district leaders are asking the same questions as you are raising.


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