Reimagining Ethnic Studies in BPS

Participants in the November 16, 2018 Ethnic Studies Professional Development, offered through the BTU-BPS Teacher Leadership Grant.

Ethnic Studies has been around to some degree for decades; however, the history of Ethnic Studies in Boston Public Schools (BPS) can be difficult to trace. Due to the evolution and development of the field, as well as related fields such as Latino Studies and Black Studies, it is more apparent to see a boom specifically in Ethnic Studies among courses offered at Boston Public Schools and concerns of the Boston Teachers Union (BTU). Since 2018, which brought the inception of the first Ethnic Studies Institute and a $25,000 grant to enhance Ethnic Studies, the field has grown tremendously and gained much relevance in Boston Public Schools.

Ethnic Studies’ Shrouded Past

Although there has been demands for Ethnic Studies at BPS since at least the 1960’s, the field does not emerge in the BTU’s periodical, the Boston Union Teacher, until 2010. In the early stages of Ethnic Studies related education at BPS, the Boston Union Teacher was focused on promoting what is now known as culturally responsive pedagogies. However, there was still conflict with Black communities about schooling, a controversial intersection with white ethnic heritage reclamation, and pushback against multilingual education. Overall, the history of Ethnic Studies and related fields has had a complicated relationship with BPS and the BTU.

The ever-shifting nature of Ethnic Studies makes the task of peering into its history in the BPS and BTU archives a laborious task. There are countless archives that are vastly different depending on which search words one uses. For example, someone can search “culture,” “ethnic,” “ethnic studies,” “Black history,” “African-American history,” or “Puerto Rican history” and stumble upon editions of the Boston Union Teacher that contain articles that relate to some dimension of Ethnic Studies, or editions that have nothing to do with critical ethnic studies entirely. The specific, broader field of Ethnic Studies does not gain true prominence in BPS nor the attention of the BTU until about the last decade.

Creating a New Archive

In more recent years, the Ethnic Studies Now! organizing committee of the BTU, with funding provided by the Teacher Leadership Fund, has created an “Ethnic Studies Archive.” While many people envision an archive as an antiquated, physical artifact from the past, the Ethnic Studies Archive is quite the opposite. It is a virtual collection of tools created by educators for educators on best practices in Ethnic Studies. The purpose of this archive is “to share existing ethnic studies curriculum, lessons, and routines, as well as document the reflective practices and teamwork of teachers who work within the framework of ethnic studies.”

Screenshot taken by author of the virtual entrance to the BTU “Ethnic Studies Archive.”

Aside from the Ethnic Studies Archive, the BTU and BPS have also created a Google site entitled “Ethnic Studies Course.” This interactive website is a resource for educators that provides a framework for teaching Ethnic Studies, unit plans, curriculum, “how to” guides, educational videos, and more. Similarly to the Ethnic Studies Archive, the Ethnic Studies Course is a living archive. While the former continues to grow as archives are submitted and accepted, the latter features a “What’s New” section. In this section, one can find upcoming events pertaining to Ethnic Studies and archives of past events. These events provide additional teaching resources on Ethnic Studies. This website is still under construction as it develops specific information on different ethnic studies courses such as Asian American Studies, Black Studies, Indigenous/Native American Studies, Latinx Studies, and other case studies.

Yasmeen Khader is a second-year masters degree student at the University of Massachusetts Boston. She is studying Critical Ethnic and Community Studies. Her capstone is focused on how Palestinian American women create counter archives in conversation with exploitive Orientalist representations of Middle Eastern/North African women. Yasmeen plans to finish her capstone research project by August of 2022.

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