Senate Democrats Call for History Lessons Spanning Ethnicities, Identities

LANSING, Mich. (Jan. 14, 2022) — Sens. Erika Geiss (D-Taylor), Stephanie Chang (D-Detroit), Adam Hollier (D-Detroit), and Paul Wojno (D-Warren) have introduced legislation that would require public schools to include lessons about the cultures of people of color and indigenous communities in their social studies curriculum to ensure that students are receiving an equitable education that responsibly represents history.

Senate Bills 797, 798, 799 and 800 would require teachers to include one unit of instruction related to (SB 797) Asian American and Pacific Islanders, (SB 798) Latin American, Hispanic American, and Caribbean Americans, (SB 799) Indigenous Peoples and Native Americans, and (SB 800) Middle Easterners and Chaldeans beginning with the 2022-23 school year. The board of a school district or intermediate school district, or board of directors of a public-school academy, would determine the minimum amount of instructional time needed to implement the lesson. These build upon Senate Bill 414, introduced earlier this year by Sen. Betty Jean Alexander, that would require one unit of instruction related to African American and Black history. Together these five bills encompass a package to teach the complete truth to Michigan students.

“These bills would ensure a more diverse spectrum of cultural identities be individually represented in our students’ curriculum, promoting a more accurate and equitable narrative of our country,” Sen. Geiss said. “This also further demonstrates that all the ethnic backgrounds in our nation are equally important to learn about in the classroom, as a variety of cultures and histories have played integral roles in creating the America we know today. ”

Existing social studies curriculums often perpetuate an incomplete understanding of history and limit the past and current experiences of Indigenous Peoples and Nations. Under the proposed legislation, students would have an opportunity to learn and appreciate the value of ethnicities and identities. This is critically important for students of color, especially, who rarely see their image or likeness in U.S. history lessons despite their ancestors’ contributions.

“In the midst of all the anti-Asian American hate and discrimination during the COVID-19 pandemic, I have had numerous conversations with Asian American parents, teachers, and professors who wonder why their children don’t learn comprehensive Asian American history in schools,” Sen. Chang said. “It is so clear to many Michiganders that if we actually taught the history of all our communities, perhaps we would have better community relations, less hate, and more inclusion. Our bills will make sure that my daughter’s generation will learn about the contributions of Asian Americans, Black Americans, Latino/as, Native Americans, and Arab and Chaldean Americans, as well as the painful history that our communities have endured through structural or individual discrimination. “

Experts have indicated that when there is a cross-cultural understanding among students, they become more engaged in the classroom, learn critical thinking skills, and perform better academically, resulting in higher graduation rates.

“As a Native and African American, my history is American. A history that is complex and rich with diversity. We have a responsibility to tell the complete American story, not just in February,” said Sen. Hollier. “The constant attempts to marginalize the impact that Native and African Americans have had on the growth and prosperity of this nation will always be met with the truth. The truth is that without the Native and African American story, there is no American story.”

As our country continues to be divided along racial, ethnic, and political lines, the ability to honor, respect, and embrace our differences and similarities — rather than become entrenched in them — is more important than ever.

“These bills will help provide an understanding of Michigan’s rich cultural heritage and the importance it has played as a catalyst for growth and economic prosperity in our state,” Sen. Wojno said.

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