Critical Voices in School Reform: Students Living through Change

By Beth C. Rubin; Elena M. Silva | Go to book overview

Chapter 3

"There's not really discussion happening"

Students' experiences of identity-based curricular reform

Alicia P. Rodriguez

While schools at all levels have relatively recently rebuilt themselves to address the increasing diversity of US society, Franklin High began steps in this direction long before other institutions. During the late 1960s, 1970s, and again in the 1990s, Franklin High instituted identity-based/"multicultural" curricula in response to the demands of students who believed they were underrepresented in the academic curriculum. Hence, AfroAmerican Studies, Chicano/a Studies, Women's Studies, Asian American Studies, and Ethnic Studies courses were offered at Franklin High. These courses and programs were intended to fill large holes in the standard curricula and also help improve the achievement of traditionally underserved students, namely, African Americans and Latino/as. 1 These programs were seen as possible remedies to the low self-esteem and achievement of these students. A general Ethnic Studies course that dealt with all of the ethnic groups in the US was made a requirement for graduation. Women's Studies and the remaining ethnic studies courses, such as African American Economics, African American Literature, Asian American History, and Introduction to La Raza History, were electives. The genesis of these programs began in 1969 during the fervor around identity politics with the creation of the African American Studies Department, and some of the programs have been revived and reformed in the current second wave of identity politics around issues of multiculturalism, difference, identity, and cultural diversity.

While students initiated the reform movements that led to these programs, the programs have not since been re-examined. The courses remain almost in the same form as they were conceived in the 1970s. Based on a one-year ethnographic study of an Ethnic Studies, Asian American Studies, and Women's Studies class, this chapter examines what students thought of these programs, the correspondence between the curriculum and students' senses of identity, and how the programs related to the achievement gap at this institution. The students who are the focus of the study comprise a broad range of ethnicities (White, African American,

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