In April, the State Board of Education will consider the approval of an African American studies course at the high school level.
The course is to be modeled after Dallas ISD’s African American studies course, which covers African American politics, culture and history starting with pre-colonial African civilizations to the modern era.
If approved, the course would be taken by juniors and seniors and could be offered as early as the upcoming fall semester, SBOE member Pat Hardy, R-Fort Worth, said.
The course would not be mandatory but an elective that a school district could decide to offer based on interest, Hardy said. Texas teachers could teach social studies topic classes like this before now, but having the course standards approved by the board allows those courses to be standardized and count for state credit. Having a course approved by the board can also bring more attention to it.
The board has already had hearings on this potential new course in November, and is expected to have a preliminary vote this month and a final vote in April. So far, Hardy said the board has been in favor of approving the course.
So often, social studies and history classes are dominated by people of Anglo-Saxon descent rather than Mexican Americans or African Americans, Hardy said.
“This gives an opportunity for children who are of various ethnic groups to have pride in their ethnic group,” Hardy said. “We think that’s important.”
Parker County NAACP Chapter Education Chairperson Frances Booker said she approves of such a class which could recognize important, historical African Americans, such as inventors and cowboys.
“Yes, things happened that dealt with slavery and all that, but we’ve got a lot of positive things that people enjoy every day that the African American culture had a part in inventing or creating that they never got acknowledged for,” Booker said.
An African American studies course could enlighten all students, Booker said. She hopes the class can be taught by African American teachers, particularly those who have interacted with the history in some way.
“It’d change the minds of a lot of people of all nationalities, and it would be an asset to the community,” Booker said.
Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills standards are developed for courses approved by the board, and then the course is provided to school districts, Millsap ISD Assistant Superintendent Edie Martin said.
If approved by the board, school district administrators examine the course and determine if it fits a need or interest within the student body.
“If a course is determined to be one that our students could be interested in and one that doesn’t pull resources (fiscal and physical) away from required courses, we could consider including it in the list of course offerings found in our Academic Handbook,” Springtown ISD Superintendent Mike Kelley said.
Martin said a student climate survey showed that MISD students have an interest in more cultural awareness among the student body. To Martin’s knowledge, students haven’t shown interest in the African American studies course specifically, but she said the course would be considered by the district.
“Millsap ISD values positive relationships and is committed to providing an inclusive learning environment,” Martin said. “Although MISD has limited ethnic diversity, we serve a student body with diverse needs and beliefs. To ensure we meet these diverse needs, Millsap ISD conducts student interest surveys prior to creating the master schedule.”
Martin and Kelley said the African American studies class could be one of many courses that benefit students. Kelley went on to say that students have to prioritize their limited class schedules.
“Any class that helps us produce well-rounded, hard-working students that are prepared to succeed in life and contribute to the greater good of society is ‘beneficial to students,’” Kelley said. “This class could be one of many that contribute to reaching that goal. That said, our students are limited to only eight classes each day. The students must prioritize which elective options best fit their individual graduation plan, and the high school’s list of course offerings should reflect the needs (primarily) and wants (secondarily) of our students.”