Berkeley High School (BHS) requires students to attend a history class every year, which can be anything from Ethnic Studies to AP Government. However, many of the required history courses simply cover a narrow range of American or world history. This raises the question of whether these classes are actually influential or whether students are learning about topics that don’t relate to them. If students can’t connect to a class, why should they be forced to take it? In order to make learning as accessible and engaging as possible, students should be able to influence their history curriculums.
Ethnic Studies, the mandatory history class for freshmen, is a perfect example of how important this approach can be. In this class, students learn about narratives of many marginalized groups. Studies have shown that students who take an Ethnic Studies class have higher GPAs than their counterparts who don’t, and they also have higher grades in other classes as well.
However, Ethnic Studies is currently one of the few classes at BHS that is led by and centered around students. Apart from the African American studies department — offering classes such as Afro-Haitian dance and African American studies — which is highly influenced by BHS’s African American student population, the majority of BHS classes are created by teachers and curriculum designers.
An example of a better system is the Agora School in the Netherlands, which brings students’ influence on their education to the next level. At the Agora School, students have full control over what they do throughout the day. This can be anything from learning an instrument, building a robot, cooking, and even metalworking. So far, this program has been highly successful since students are able to choose what they are interested in early on and then thoroughly learn about that topic. BHS is too large to have this exact structure, but students would greatly benefit from more choice and academic freedom.
Although changing these classes might sound like it would come with a hefty price tag, BHS already has the necessary resources. Given that some classes already have curriculums that are influenced by what students desire, the class content would only need to be tweaked a small amount.
Additionally, by adjusting already existing classes to represent the lives and history of BIPOC, BHS will let students learn about topics that they are passionate about and can personally connect with.
Although some BHS students might want uniformed history classes, many ethnic and racial groups are left out of the lessons. This implies that they don’t have a history, and this narrative must change. The reality is that a one-size-fits-all approach to learning simply doesn’t match BHS’s ideals of equity and could hurt the entire community.