CVHS adds African American Studies to the elective curriculum for the 2021-2022 school year

Students testified at the April 2020 State Board of Education meeting to approve an African-American Studies course for the state curriculum.

Photo from IDRA

Students testified at the April 2020 State Board of Education meeting to approve an African-American Studies course for the state curriculum.

By Judith Carrizales, Carnegie Vanguard High School

It was April 2020 when the Texas State Board of Education had approved African American Studies as an elective for Texas high school students. After the hard work of the African Students Association, at the beginning of February 2021, the class African American studies was approved as a course for the 2021-2022 school year.

After the death of George Floyd and the summer protest around BLM, students circulated a petition among HISD schools called “Diversify our Narrative.” The national petition was originally started by two Stanford students, while the local petition to HISD was started by students at Kinder HSPVA and Houston Academy for International Studies. The petition called for schools to include anti-racist texts in the classrooms, and teach a more diverse perspective of history.

“Most of what we learn about for black history is the same two people- you have like Martin Luther King Jr. or Rosa Parks or like Malcolm X. You only hear those three individuals when you hear black history, or you hear just suffering. There’s more to it. It [the course] gives a deeper perspective and understanding, like different sides of history and culture. And I feel like, with this new course, people are more likely to have an open mindset. Since you’re learning about a different side of the story that you don’t usually get to hear,” said Faith Orisakwe, CVHS sophomore, and African Student Association president.

Since September 2019, TX high school students proposed an African American Studies course to the Texas Education Agency after a Mexican-American studies were approved as a course. The course got preliminary approval in January 2020 and in April 2020 it got the final vote by the Texas State Board of Education, which meant the course was officially approved and districts could begin to offer the class.

“Diversifying our narrative is a step in a really big movement that’s been happening in a lot of different schools, which is decolonizing our history. So I think this leaves a pathway to a lot of other courses. There are so many other ethnic courses that can be implemented, and I feel like this is a great step, as well as for cultural clubs,” said Orisakwe.

When the African Students Association heard of the African American studies being offered as a course to high school students, they began to research as much information they could about the class. One of the first things they created was a petition for the school administration. The petition received over 100 signatures from students.

“We made a change.org petition. It was basically just to see like let everyone know about this course and then, of course, We labeled it towards the administration, and we got over 100 signatures from students and their comments. So it definitely got some recognition so that helped a lot,” said Orisakwe.

The school administration had originally considered the class to be offered for the spring semester, but the logistics did not work out. The course will be available for students in the 2021-2022 school year and it will be taught by Juan Garner, CVHS assistant principal.

“For the most part, African Americans are more objects in American history, not so much the subject of American history. So, that that’s a major, that’s a major change there. There are substantial gaps in general that social studies that really doesn’t address. I consider, when considering this course, and what to cover is the connection of the past to the present, covering things in the past, and different aspects of African American experience, and trying to make connections with the present situation,” said Garner.

When asked what aspect of the course, he was particularly looking forward to teaching, Assistant Principal Garner mentioned the impact of ancient Afro-Asiatic cultures on the development of human societies and the impact of the black experience on pop culture in America.

The course will be seminar-style because, that way, students will be able to be engaged and can hear multiple people’s viewpoints. This course will be a 4.0 credit course and it is a year-long elective.

“I think the more we understand our past, or the people around us, not just our past, but the past of others and the people around us. The more enlightened, the more civil. The more empathetic. The more civically engaged we are likely to be, ” said Garner.

This story was originally published on Upstream News on March 8, 2021.