How do you teach antiracism to the youngest students?

Ankita Ajith can recall learning about slavery, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Rosa Parks at her Katy, Texas, elementary school in the Houston area.

But looking back, Ajith, now a student at Northwestern University, also vividly remembers how superficial those conversations were, and how much she wishes that her predominantly white, suburban school district had given her the tools from a young age to understand America’s racist past and its connection with the present.

“They taught us things that were easily digestible and sounded good,” Ajith said. “It was definitely painted in the light that ‘these problems are in the past,’ and ‘America is the land of the free’ and ‘everyone is equal here.’ ”

In July, Ajith and three of her friends testified before the Texas State Board of Education, demanding changes to the way students are taught. They are advocating for core curriculum changes in social studies — specifically American history — classes. The college students pressed the board to acknowledge the state’s “deeply anti-Black, racist past as well as the oppression that continues today.” To them, educators should teach significant topics like the 1950s and 1960s civil rights movement with more depth and breadth. They believe that kids, no matter what grade they are in, should learn history through an antiracist lens, not only learning about the role of white supremacy and racism in history, but doing so in a way that empowers them to pursue social justice.

And they aren’t the only ones advocating the adoption of such curricula. Ever since the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis in late May spurred what may be the largest social movement in U.S. history, education leaders have started to reckon with how to comprehensively teach history with an antiracism lens. Colleges are holding professional development online events for educators on how to reimagine education with racial justice in mind. And school districts are working to expand their curricula on race.

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