In addition to English, math, science and art classes, Minneapolis high schoolers will now have a new one to take — in ethnic studies — before they receive their diploma.
The school board unanimously approved the requirement, which goes into effect for the class of 2025, at a meeting earlier this month.
“This is an important step in revolutionizing our curriculum and coursework to better serve all of our students,” board Chairwoman Kim Ellison said at the meeting. “I’m just so thrilled to see it happening.”
Talk of mandating these courses — defined by the district as ones that “explore identity” and “prioritize the history and culture of historically marginalized groups” — has circulated in Minneapolis for many years.
Nationally, other school districts and even state legislators have pushed for such requirements, with one recent effort that failed in California. In September, California Gov. Gavin Newsom vetoed a bill that would have made the state the first to require high schoolers to pass an ethnic studies class. In a statement, Newsom said the proposed curriculum needed further revision.
Last year, a student group in St. Paul presented a similar pitch to the school board there, urging the district to make the courses a part of core curriculum.
Minneapolis currently offers electives in African American, Chicano/Latino, Hmong, Asian American, Somali and First Nations histories and this year added a broader course called “Race and Identity.” Advocates of the courses say that state standards for other history classes are outdated and often too centered on white leaders.
Over the next few months, Minneapolis high schools will decide which courses they will offer, said Lisa Purcell, the district’s social studies program coordinator.
“It’s exciting and also a little bit overwhelming because I want us to do this right,” she said.
Before next fall, administrators, teachers and an advisory committee made up of educators, students and community members will work together to create curriculum that allows for flexibility.
“These are not courses where we want to say to teachers, ‘This is what we need you to do on day one and day two,’ but we also want to give them the support and structure they need,” Purcell said, adding that she wants the courses to be partly guided by students’ interests and involve hands-on projects.
Robyn Eliason, a history teacher at Roosevelt High School, hopes to teach an ethnic studies course. She has been taking professional development classes on the topic and recently invited Purcell to speak to her class about the added graduation requirement.
“I have heard from so many students that their history classes were not reflective of them,” said Eliason, who is white. “They really all are supportive of requiring this.”
She remembers feeling disillusioned when she went to college and learned about parts of history, mainly experiences of racial minority groups, that hadn’t been taught in her high school.
“I don’t want my students to graduate and feel like they weren’t told the truth,” she said.
Jimmy Patiño, an associate professor with the Department of Chicano & Latino Studies at the University of Minnesota, is a part of the district’s ethnic studies advisory group. He said it’s important for these courses to be introduced at the high school level, not just in college and universities.
“That’s when students are beginning to explore who they are and their identity and starting to confront these topics,” he said. “That’s also when we lose students who don’t feel ownership over their education.”
Sonia Svedahl, a senior at Washburn High School, is also a part of the advisory group. As a student taking multiple Advanced Placement and International Baccalaureate courses, she hasn’t been able to fit an elective ethnic studies course into her schedule.
“Requiring this shows that is a priority,” she said. “It pushes students to understand experiences and identities beyond their own.”
Svedahl, who identifies as half Indian, said she’s proud of the district for finding ways to expose students to diverse histories and cultures.
“This is obviously not the only step,” she said. “But it’s a really exciting one.”