Ethnic studies are a multidisciplinary field that includes sociology, psychology, history, anthropology, criminal justice, and legal studies. Racism, colonialism, global economic and political systems, ecological devastation, health degradation, cultural vitality, and our geographies of differentiation and discrimination are all issues that Ethnic Studies asks us to address. Ethnic Studies, at its most basic, asks us to think and act. To inquire and to listen. To love and be accountable to one another.
According to new research from the University of Massachusetts Amherst, enrolling 9th graders who are struggling academically in an ethnic studies course increases the likelihood that those students will graduate from high school and enroll in college.
Sade Bonilla, an assistant professor in the College of Education, along with Thomas S. Dee of Stanford’s Graduate School of Education and Emily K. Penner of the University of California Irvine’s School of Education, conducted the research on the longer-term effects of ethnic studies requirements, which was recently published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
The current critical race theory debate is regrettably dishonest and politically motivated. There is overlap between the theory and ethnic studies in that the curricula uses a critically aware and historical perspective of prior events and the systems we have in place today.Assistant Professor Sade Bonilla
In one California school district, 9th graders with a GPA of 2.0 or lower were automatically enrolled in an ethnic studies course. According to the findings, enrolling in ethnic studies significantly increased high school graduation, attendance, and the likelihood of enrolling in college. Prior to this study, there was little evidence that ethnic studies had a positive academic impact. “A central contribution of our work is the causal evidence that anti-racist pedagogy and curricula promoted student engagement and persistence,” Bonilla said.
The researchers examined the records of nearly 1,400 students in San Francisco, California, where the school board approved an ethnic studies requirement for academically challenged 9th graders in 2010. Following their academic journeys through local and state records, the team discovered that low-income students and students of color enrolled in the ethnic studies course performed better academically. Students were also more likely to enroll in college after graduating from high school, according to the researchers.
Based on anti-racist principles, ethnic studies curricula are designed to be a rigorous, college-prep course that emphasizes culturally relevant and critically engaged content related to social justice, anti-racism, stereotypes, and contemporary social movements. Ethnic studies courses, in general, focus on the histories of historically marginalized communities, increase students’ critical awareness of social issues, and promote civic engagement and community-responsive social justice, according to Bonilla. It teaches students about various ethnic histories as well as the contributions of non-white ethnic groups. Supporters argue that it gives students a better sense of self and a sense of belonging in the larger American community.
One of our best opportunities for connection is through Ethnic Studies. It invites us to connect despite our differences. To look into the past and into the future, to see beyond the dominance of the present. While doing so, it necessitates that we consider each other’s full humanity, seeking alignment where lines are drawn between us. It asks us to observe ourselves drawing lines. Then we must ask where and why these lines are drawn, as well as who is harmed and who is served by them. It inquires whether our lines can also serve as bridges.
“The current critical race theory debate is regrettably dishonest and politically motivated,” Bonilla said. “There is overlap between the theory and ethnic studies in that the curricula uses a critically aware and historical perspective of prior events and the systems we have in place today.”
While there is increased interest in anti-racist education, the researchers note that it has been politically contentious. Anti-racist curricula and teaching methods, they add, represent a way for schools to promote a more just society while also improving educational outcomes for low-income and students of color.
“Our findings indicate that this approach has a significant impact on students’ high school graduation and college enrollment, which is critical given the importance of educational attainment on economic success and other socially relevant outcomes like civic engagement and mental health,” Bonilla said.
Although Ethnic Studies recognizes the necessity and right to be angry and to engage in active resistance, it is founded on joy and community-building. It is founded on a desire for self-determination and a sense of collective responsibility. Empowerment of the community It is active and has a positive effect. None of its founding concerns have been abandoned. All of its founding aspirations for community and health remain.