Panelists discuss high school African American Studies

Ebony Purks, Staff Writer

UTSA hosted a panel of professors, attorneys and activists in the John Peace Library on Feb. 18. They discussed the importance of integrating African American studies into Texas high school curricula.

The panel included UTSA professor Dr. Ann Marie Ryan, UTSA lecturer Mario Marcel Salas, Texas A&M-San Antonio professor Dr. Lawrence Scott and Texas NAACP President and attorney Gary Bledsoe. Together, they recounted their vital roles helping to pass a bill through Texas legislatures and the Texas State Board of Education that would integrate an African American studies course in Texas high school curriculum. In addition, the panel discussed the long-term benefits of learning African American history for students from all backgrounds.

“A lot of things have been left out of American history and politics … on purpose — some of which [are] governed by white supremacy,” Salas said. “[White supremacy], in this present time frame, is trying to make a comeback. This way, we are able to [show] we have a bond to get rid of this racial prejudice. The only way to do that is start at lower levels and bring people up to understand the contributions that people of color have made in this society.”

The panel further discussed why teaching all history is important for elevating students’ quality of learning and dispelling myths.

“When things are not told, it creates and reinforces myths,” Ryan said.

Although the primary audience for this curriculum is Texas high school students, Texas parents, educators and politicians could also be affected, and they were encouraged to get involved with the creation and preservation of this course. According to Ryan, it’s especially imperative for history teachers to know African American history to deepen societal understandings of contributions African Americans have made in America. The panel stated, through this bill, they anticipate community bridges will be built, bringing together Texas communities through education.

Salas talked about the importance of Texas legislators integrating African American studies into high schools and explained the importance of kids learning African American history.

“Every field of study has huge African American contribution,” Salas said. “If you take calculus [you should learn about] the hidden figures. In medicine, you [should learn about] Dr. Charles Drew, who understood the concept of blood plasma. That should be in every medical book. So, in every subject — whether calculus, medicine, history, political science — there’s always an African American contribution.”

The course would be modeled after an African American studies class taught in the Dallas Independent School District. Additionally, the course would be implemented as an elective and would come with its own textbook. Texas would be the third state in the nation to teach this course, along with Pennsylvania and Connecticut. According to Scott, the passing of this bill in Texas could have national implications, as Texas largely influences the national K-12 curriculum.

The bill is still a proposed curriculum but could pass in April 2020. It has passed the first reading, which means it has been introduced to Texas legislatures. It is currently on the second reading, which means the bill is being reread and considered by a legislative committee. The next step for the bill is to go to the 36 Texas districts to be put into effect.