Board candidates discuss requiring black studies courses in schools
COLUMBIA – Columbia’s school board election reignited the conversation on teaching required black studies courses in Columbia Public Schools.
At Tuesday’s Columbia Board of Education candidate debate, all candidates supported adding more black studies into the district’s curriculum.
Current board member Jan Mees, who is running for re-election, said it was a unique question when the board was asked about adding more black studies courses.
“As our world continues to expand and diversify, the more we can do to help our students learn about people other than themselves, is really a win-win situation for everybody,” Mees said.
Columbia Public Schools said it believes it’s just as important that students learn black history as the history of other races and religion.
CPS provided a list of courses that teach different cultures.
Columbia Public Schools currently offers an African-American Studies and Studies in American Race, Gender, and Ethnicity at Battle High School, Hickman High School, and Rock Bridge High School.
These classes, along with other classes that teach inclusiveness and cultures, are offered, but not required.
MU Black Studies Department Chair Stephanie Shonekan said black studies should be a requirement. She said giving students the opportunity to learn something about black people is a step in the right direction.
“What we’ve done this far hasn’t worked, we know,” Shonekan said. “Because of the types of tensions that still exist. And perhaps the reasons for those tensions is that there are a whole lot of people who don’t know, who don’t have a real understanding of what the black identity and the black identities in America are.”
MU student Luria Freeman said she was taught black studies in elementary school and has taken two black studies courses at MU. She said she has benefited from taking those classes and it should be a requirement.
“People who don’t get that are really being cheated,” Freeman said. “They’re coming into adulthood with a really skewed version of what they think our history is, which is affecting how they think of topics such as institutional racism.”
Shonekan said offering courses about other races or religion is welcomed, but courses about black studies should be the requirement. She said the problems in the U.S. for the past 5-20 years have been with the ways in which African Americans have been dealt with and perceived.
“We haven’t had a problem with Irish-American youth, in a pattern, as we’ve seen with African Americans,” Shonekan said. “We could say everyone should learn about stars, but stars have not been our problem in the last decade, race has been the problem.”