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A group of Democratic state senators have introduced a package of bills that would implement social studies curricula focusing on the cultures of various people of color and Indigenous groups in Michigan.
The package, Senate Bills 797–800, introduced by state Sens. Erika Geiss (D-Taylor), Stephanie Chang (D-Detroit), Adam Hollier (D-Detroit) and Paul Wojno (D-Warren), would mandate that K-12 public schools, charters schools and intermediate school districts incorporate curriculum lessons on Asian American and Pacific Islanders; Latin Americans, Hispanic Americans Caribbean Americans; Indigenous Peoples and Native Americans; and Middle Easterners and Chaldeans starting in the 2022-23 school year.
Chang told the Advance last month these bills have been months in the making and will help “prepare students for the world which is becoming increasingly diverse.” She said students need to “understand one another’s history” and these bills aim to do just that.
“We need to learn our history to not repeat some of the horrible mistakes that we’ve made,” Chang said. “So we’re excited about the bills. And I think it could make a really big difference.”
Chang added that not only will these bills promote inclusion and intercultural understanding, but they could also diminish the amount of hate crimes seen in America.
“These are things that we can address by making sure that our younger generation knows more about our whole history as a country and understands more about the contributions of people of all backgrounds in our country,” Chang said. “Our diversity does make us stronger.”
According to the Government Accountability Office, in the 2018-19 school year, an estimated 1.3 million students across the country ranging from 12 to 18 years old were bullied based on their race, religion, national origin, disability, gender, or sexual orientation. From the 2015-16 school year to the 2016-17 school year, there was an 81% increase in hate crimes in schools across the nation.
The bills have been referred to the GOP-controlled Senate Committee on Education and Career Readiness, where they face an uphill battle.
This package of bills also presents a direct counter to Republican bills introduced in the Michigan Legislature last year that sought to ban “critical race theory” and similar curricula.
Senate Bill 460, introduced by Sen. Lana Theis (R-Brighton) sought to ban CRT from being taught in schools and threatened to cut 5% of the school’s funding if it was violating the law. House Bill 5097, introduced by Rep. Andrew Beeler (R-Port Huron), did not directly mention CRT but sought to outlaw the teaching of any curriculum including the “promotion of any form of race or gender stereotyping or anything that could be understood as implicit race or gender stereotyping.”
The Michigan State Board of Education, after lengthy debate, passed its own resolution in a 5-1 vote last month counteracting the anti-CRT bills.
When asked by the Advance how these newly introduced bills attempted to counteract the anti-CRT bills, Chang said “they’re very much opposites” and will inform students of cultural histories “that are really important for people to understand.”
“Our bills are forward-looking and [try] to make sure that our children are prepared, that they’re learning these critical thinking skills by learning about our history,” Chang said.
Frances Vicioso is co-director of Truth, Racial Healing and Transformation in Kalamazoo, a community-based movement fighting to address the effects of racism. She praised the bills for its attempt to make “school-aged youth become more aware of different cultures” to become better-informed adults.
“There clearly is an attack across the country, around truth-telling in schools and I think that that’s a very harmful idea,” Vicioso said. “I think anytime that someone’s pushing for truth-telling in schools is a good idea.”
Vicioso also noted that while the bills “are extremely important to pass,” she believes that even more must be done to promote the learning of different cultures and heritages in the classroom.
“Even though the bills are incredible, I do worry that the bills can be limiting because, although they were very detailed in the populations that they included in their bills, I think that there’s so many people who are still underrepresented with those bills,” Vicioso said. “I think it’s a step in the right direction, and I’d love to see more of it.”
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