Decolonize FCPS Curriculum

Rebecca Heimbrock, Staff Writer

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In the months following the murder of George Floyd at the hands of police, America saw a massive movement towards racial justice. Around 7,750 protests for racial justice have been recorded between May 24 and August 22, and many protests were targets of police violence and escalation. In Washington DC, just 14 miles from Fairfax, a Black Lives Matter protester was shot in the face by police with a rubber bullet. This new wave of civil rights activism has also carried into many aspects of American life, most notably education, where both educators and students are beginning to explore the white settler-colonialism roots of education. 

Here at Woodson, students are engaging in this issue of racial bias. “I think that in history class especially, we need to get new history books and teach a different history that isn’t so incredibly biased towards white settlers and people who committed genocide,” says senior Perseus Dobbs. “While slavery and the civil rights movement are talked about, it always seems kind of rooted in white guilt as opposed to the legacy of civil rights activists.” White guilt is defined by psychologists in a 2019 paper as “the recognition of unfair racial privileges, the acknowledgment of personal racist behavior, and/or the sense of responsibility for others’ racist behavior.”

Eurocentric curricula are not hard to find in Virginia. Fairfax County Public Schools’ (FCPS) English curriculum is, as stated on the FCPS website, “a comprehensive study of language, literature, and language processes for grades nine through twelve”. However, after looking at the offered courses, one must ask who exactly this curriculum is comprehensive for. The list of offered English courses and electives includes the core classes, as well as journalism, film studies and a few other titles. The school board does not offer an African-American Literature course (a course that is offered just across the border in Maryland), there is no Caribbean or Latin American Literature course (again, offered in our neighboring state). 

While Fairfax County Public Schools do offer classes such as “Combating Intolerance” which hold space for serious discussions on issues such as race, it would be more productive to include such progressive education in the core curricula where students can’t simply opt out of taking the class. 

Fairfax County Public Schools are working towards change. WTOP reported that a recent audit identified implicit bias in a “significant portion” of FCPS curriculum resources. As a result of this audit, FCPS is removing “over a third of those resources.” The district is also “adopting new high school electives for African-American studies.” 

While these are all positive changes, more needs to be done. In a 2019 Fairfax County Youth Survey, 46.7% of the students surveyed reported that they had something bad said to them about their race or culture. Adding electives that students can choose not to take will not have a sizeable impact on a problem of this magnitude. 

If Fairfax County Public Schools are as “elite” and “intensive” as they are purported to be (a Fairfax County high school is ranked among the nation’s best by U.S. News & World Report), they should have no problem including the other 60.7 percent of America’s population (read: non-white people), in both history and education curricula. Students, teachers, and parents all have the power to make this change happen. Encouraging African American literature, Caribbean and Latin American literature, and a non-Eurocentric historical view will ensure students receive a truly comprehensive education.