BY SOPHIA SAGHIR '24
In recent years, the repercussions of racism have become a heavily discussed topic both in the world at large and in the AB community. From the global Black Lives Matter movement to microcosms such as hateful graffiti in our own school bathrooms, the issue of racism has proven to be an important topic. In response to this, ABRHS is offering the new Understanding Race semester course to incoming 10th–12th graders. The goal is to define race and racism through the exploration and analysis of major case studies.
Understanding Race has been in the works since early 2020, and the planning process has been lengthy and complex. Mr. Green, the leader of the Social Studies Department, started by meeting with various members of the larger AB community, including student and parent affinity groups, religious clergy, colleagues, and various other interested individuals. After talking with each group, Mr. Green gathered the many different opinions and concluded that some type of course or unit needed to be created and implemented to address race. Eventually, a committee was formed to both create the course and vet any needed materials. Overall, although the process has been long, Mr. Green stresses, “I really appreciate having had an opportunity to meet with a lot of people and receive [and give] feedback. I feel like all of my conversations with students and all of the kind of activism around this year has been incredibly thoughtful, and very respectful and mature, and it makes me want to [create this course].”
A partnership with Primary Source, a non-profit organization based in Watertown, Massachusetts, assisted in the development of the course. On their website, Primary Source defines their mission as to “[work] with teachers to foster students’ knowledge, skills, and dispositions for thoughtful and engaged citizenship.” The company acts like a consultant for the course and helps curate resources for the curriculum. This allows for greater access to a variety of resources for the class and generally provides guidance on how to go about creating this new curriculum.
This is not your typical core history class; it is much more creatively structured by being entirely discussion and project-based. The format allows for a more engaging and impactful learning experience, creating a greater focus on the value of the curriculum.
The course puts emphasis on community-building in the classroom in the beginning; Mr. Green notes the importance of this step in creating an open and respectful learning environment as the course consists of serious and possibly uncomfortable topics. Following that, students will look at where the construct of race originates and explore historical conceptions of race using readings and hearing from guest speakers from the community to understand how racial myths are created and perpetuated in societies. There will also be two major case studies, consisting of the African-American and Asian-American experiences, and numerous projects besides these, where students can access other narratives. At the end of the semester, students will be assigned a capstone project focusing on local racial issues affecting the high school or the greater community in Acton-Boxborough.
For students who would like to take the course at a more challenging and in-depth level, there is an honors option, which will have the same curriculum and class block as the regular class. The only difference is that the students taking the honors level will be required to complete additional work in the form of projects and discussions.
The topics being addressed and discussed in this course are ones of extreme relevance, as it’s important for students to understand the issues surrounding racism and be able to talk about them without feeling judged. Mr. Green emphasizes this point: “I want to make sure that everyone knows it’s a welcoming environment for everybody.” It’s unmistakable that the class will be an engaging and impactful experience that allows students to not only learn the historical aspects but apply the ideas discussed in class to be relevant in the real world and our community.