As of July 1, all Indiana high schools will be required to offer ethnic and racial studies as an elective course at least once every school year under Senate Enrolled Act 337. Act 337, a bill authored by Sen. Greg Taylor, D-Indianapolis, was signed into law last week by Gov. Eric Holcomb during a private signing ceremony.
The bill’s passage in Indiana comes at a time when many states are rethinking the significance of this sort of curriculum. In 2010, though Republican legislators in Arizona authored a bill (that later became law) banning Mexican-American studies courses from the classroom, other states, like Oregon and California, have begun working on legislation that would bring this curriculum to students.
Chrystal Ratcliffe, NAACP’s Indianapolis chapter president, said the initial focus was on Black history, but the group expanded its approach.
“It started with the idea of requiring teaching of African-American history in Indiana schools and became a multi-cultural education requirement with the support of IUPUI professors and a diverse coalition,” said Ratcliffe. “We are grateful to Senator Taylor for his persistence and leadership on this issue.”
Garry Holland, the chapter’s interim education chair, Ratcliffe and others in the organization worked with African-American, Native American, Latino and Asian cultural education experts to successfully push for passage of the law, the result of four years of advocacy in the Indiana General Assembly.
A study released last year by the Stanford Graduate School of Education, which focused on students in an ethnic studies pilot program in San Francisco, revealed that students who participated in the course had higher attendance, better grades and earned more credits toward graduation than their peers who didn’t participate.
“The positive emotional development that this course can lead will help create more well-rounded students,” said Holland. “Being well-rounded is the foundation for being productive citizens in the state of Indiana, the nation and the global community.”
Various educators and community leaders lent their voices to the cause.
“The perseverance of the NAACP and its supporters will result in the implementation of much-needed ethnic studies in Indiana high schools,” said David Suzuki, an Asian studies professor at IUPUI. “For students who are often marginalized in our textbooks, it is important that they are provided a depth of understanding of the contributions to human endeavors that were and are made by people with whom they can identify.”
Rosa Tezanos-Pinto, director of the Spanish program at IUPUI, said, “High school students will now learn about the history and accomplishments of the various cultures living in Indiana. This instruction will be pivotal in creating awareness of other cultures’ interests and contributions — a knowledge essential to prepare our students for a global era.”
Charmayne Champion-Shaw, a member of the Cheyenne tribal group and director of Native American and indigenous studies at IUPUI, said advocates must pay attention to the new law’s implementation.
“It is critical to consider our next steps,” she said. “We must invest and engage in important conversations about authentic and diverse curriculum development so that we don’t enforce existing and problematic stereotypes by our well-meaning, but culturally homogenous, educational system.”