OPINION: Systemic racism in education
Akin to the American majority, we are the children of immigrants. Our families struggled to survive after escaping oppression, war, and inequality; we came to this country chasing the opportunities promised in an American Dream.
Growing up in Oregon, we had stars in our eyes.
We didn't know that the Dream would elude us, or that in 13 years, we would watch ourselves change. In the Beaverton School District, we were taught to assimilate, celebrate Western holidays, and as BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, People of Color) students, we learned that our heritage falls under a simulacrum of togetherness — an artificial "we" — that reshapes identities into a narrow, whitewashed mold.
Although anti-racism has been a focus of Beaverton's educational system for the past decade, we never learned to appreciate our backgrounds. The values, richness, and contributions of our heritage were reduced to passing comments; simplified by a selective history. Instead of looking at our culture's progression, we became stereotyped by our past. We glorified expansion without mentioning the hardships of BIPOC individuals — what happened to York? — and in terms of global conflict, we were confined to the American lens.
Graduating from the district, we do not know who we are. We define ourselves by a White history that erases our existence.
Recently, the Oregon Department of Education passed House Bill 2845, House Bill 2023 and Senate Bill 664, introducing ethnic and cultural standards to largely Western curricula. These bills require school districts to incorporate the history of BIPOC, LGBTQ+ and people with disabilities among other underrepresented populations.
And despite them, the system remains broken:
1. A just system can never be formed by adding upon injustice, and our education still fails to recognize minorities' perspectives.
2. Anti-racist action cannot be an afterthought — it must be present from the start.
The new standards approved by the House and Senate are crammed alongside older requirements and covered in limited breadth. Contrasted with earlier counterparts, the curricula — already filled with prior learning targets — are not structured to include these equity-focused additions.
Instead of paving an equitable approach to education, anti-racist standards are subject to a mellowing of their importance, offered as optional credits, and overall, left unknown by the majority of the student body. Discussions central to eradicating racism in curricula are often closed, isolated within the administration and to those who have climbed school hierarchies.
As a result, changes that equity efforts have made to education are performative, superficial and tangent to past inequality.
To reach the closest approximation of equity, we must obliterate our current education constructs — the basis of injustice — and unite as one Oregon to formulate new standards that reflect American diversity (beyond HB 739's specified "consultations"). We must reject the old creations to start tabula rasa, and in doing so, these replacements should be created jointly with a diverse public committee, representing the cultures, beliefs and backgrounds of all Oregon communities; soliciting — and incorporating — ideas to generate a functional, equitable principle for education.
In response to a dynamic society, the ever-changing population must provide a positive, heavy influence on material relevant to students' social learning. Feedback from those who experience societal prejudice allow schools to counter negative changes with knowledge for students to act responsibly as they interact with the world.
By giving a voice to communities facing discrimination, children learn to undermine inequality.
The actions of a community shape its future, and the pull between past and present is self-reinforcing. Our public schools nurture children as they grow into contributing adults, but the reliance on past educational constructs fortifies an exclusionary past.
Shifting the educational system's power to the community is perhaps a radical move. Yet, it is necessary: The tools racism spawns are useless in overthrowing injustice-fueled history.
Alex Richardson is a BIPOC senior at Westview High School. Wilson Everrett is a BIPOC senior at Sunset High School.
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