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Ethnic Studies: Offering a New Perspective Amid BLM

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Last summer, the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement gained national attention following the killing of George Floyd by Minnesota Police, sparking a national conversation about race in America. At Morro Bay High School, students can learn a little more about this conversation in the elective Ethnic Studies, which was introduced in the 2019-2020 school year and is this year being taught by Mr. Waldman for the first time. 

Talking about the role that BLM played in Waldman’s plans for the class, he shared, “The Black Lives Matter movement has brought much needed attention to many aspects of our nation’s history.” He continued, “the killing of George Floyd galvanized what many people had been saying for a long time- that not all people are treated equally under the law. You can have a Black president and still be a country that has not yet come to terms with its past. But saying that racism is a problem is not to say that our nation can’t move forward. I see Ethnic Studies classes as part of the solution.”

 Tackling controversial issues in the classroom is not always easy. Responding to how he has or plans to deal with conversations surrounding divisive topics, Waldman answered that he is “relying on curricular material that is well vetted,” and that the class began “with a unit on our own identity- how identity is created by ourselves and by society. The goal is to make students comfortable in the material, to let them know that we all have a place in the curriculum.” He added, “Some would say that you shouldn’t expose all of the things that have happened in the past, especially if they deal with uncomfortable topics like systemic racism. But shielding some people from those realities, while forcing others to live within them only perpetuates them. “

In general, Waldman hopes that by the end of the class students will be able to “recognize that today’s current events have roots that go back and back.” Further, Waldman said that he sees the class as an “opportunity to move towards a more complete view of our nation’s history.” 

Parker Barandon, a senior in the class, was asked how aware he was of the Black Lives Matter movement. He responded that he was “very aware. I recall one of BLM’s first moments under the national spotlight—the Ferguson uprising—and the very beginnings of the George Floyd rebellion, which eventually assimilated into BLM in general.” Junior Angelina Ibay echoed his statement and added that she “expect[s] this class to talk about the recent, serious, and controversial events” and that it “will give me a comfortable environment to discuss subjects such as the Black Lives Matter Movement.” Andrew Haaland, also a junior, said that going into the class he “was not super caught up with all the stuff that’s going on” but is aware “that it is a huge movement all across the country” and hopes to expand his understanding of the subject over the semester. 

These students each had ideas about what they may gain from their time in this class. Barandon mentioned that he hopes that the course will provide a “new perspective” that will allow him to be “able to reorient the way I treat identity in my everyday actions and in the way I work with social issues at large.” Haaland added that he hopes that the class will give him “more in-depth history behind African Americans in the US and what actually happened…I’m just excited to learn some stuff I didn’t know before.”

Mr. Waldman and his students describe Ethnic Studies as a class that allows them to learn more about themselves and about the history of the United States in a way that they haven’t before. With the BLM movement having become part of the national conversation over the past six months, learning about how it relates to students and to the nation overall through Ethnic Studies can, in Ibay’s words, allow students to “get a sense of the reality of this country back then and now.”

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