The Hawk's Eye

Student Feature: Awards and Recognition at the Global Online Academy Catalyst Conference

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This past year, the History 10 teachers decided to change the typical research project to a research project that required students to look at an issue in current society, the history of that issue, and propose a solution. After completing their paper, the students submitted a version of their findings to the Global Online Academy Catalyst Conference. If you have a chance, I would recommend looking at all of the work of the US History students online (and several students who are taking GOA classes!). While all of the projects were great, four sophomores were recognized for their papers, and one junior was recognized after taking a GOA course.

Sara Covin received a Catalyst for Change Prize for her presentation entitled An IOU for Women: The Disparity in Pay between Men and Women Since 1930. One of the panelists reviewing this presentation wrote, “Very thorough and well-researched project that not only gave solid and comprehensive background, but also put a detailed plan of action into place. This project — also very relevant in its timing given the #METOO environment — has a strong chance of inspiring immediate change, as specific tools are given to the reader to act now.”

Gayatri Singla’s presentation titled The Polluted Sounds of the Sea garnered the praise of evaluators, one writing, “The first thing that impressed me was Gayatri’s long-held interest in marine science. Gayatri is passionate about it and did a great job articulating the dire problems experienced by whales. I knew very little about whales or that anything had been impacting them. This project brought their plight into focus. The end result of reading this project: I want to know more, and if I can help, I would now be interested in learning how.”

Siena Martin received a Catalyst for Change Prize for her presentation, The Right to Choose: History of Birth Control. A reviewer describer the project by saying, “I was impressed how the author outlined a cogent history of reproductive rights over time, and in doing so illustrated how frustrating and exhausting it is that we are still fighting this fight. The author provides concrete solutions for us to consider as we move forward.”

Elizabeth Novogradac captured the attention of panelists with her presentation “They Did Not Listen” : Sexual Violence after Title IX.  Panelists praised the relevancy of the project, “The timing of this research and project is excellent. In light of the #METOO movement, there could not be a more relevant time to inspire and affect change in the world for increasing awareness among and reducing cases of sexual abuse among female athletes. This project was particularly well-researched with numerous excellent sources used and cited. The videos included — with firsthand accounts — were particularly illuminating and moving. Very well done.”

Sydney Medford received a Catalyst for Change prize for her work in GOA’s Architecture course, creating a proposal called Oakland, CA Temporary Homeless Shelter. She impressed panelists with “her professional ideas and execution,” and they applauded her for having “clearly identified a significant global problem but made it relevant by examining its impact on her home city, Oakland. Sydney’s presentation illustrated advanced architectural thinking and skills and was well documented.”

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March for Our Lives- A Feature of Student and Faculty Activists at HRS

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March 14th Walkout Photo Gallery

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A gallery featuring the 6-12 walkout, a glimpse of the Ashanti workshop, and several student art reflections.

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QUIZ: What should your prom dress be based on your everyday style?

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Fall TV Shows!!!!

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Summer definitely has its perks: warm beaches, tasty fruit, good movies, and, of course, a break from the hustle and bustle of school. But let’s just say exhilarating television shows, or even sports, are not in summer’s wheelhouse. Luckily, autumn has a wide array of highly-anticipated television shows to look forward to. The NFL regular season started on Thursday, September 7th when the Kansas City Chiefs took on the New England Patriots. According to USA Today, the Patriots are projected to go 16-0; whereas the New York Jets are projected to go 1-15. NBC’s drama This is Us received applause from both critics and fans for the first season and the second season is not planning to fall short. This is Us follows three adult triplets as their lives intertwine.The season finale had around 13 million viewers in the United States. Season two will premiere on Tuesday, September 26th. The CW’s Arrow, The Flash, and Supergirl will air the week of October 9th. All three shows, especially The Flash, left us with our jaws dropped, which makes their upcoming seasons even more tempting to watch. Although HBO’s Game of Thrones was not featured in this year’s Emmy awards, the network still won big. HBO’s political sitcom Veep claimed the Best Comedy Series for the third year in a row. Julia Louis-Dreyfus, who plays a former senator and current vice-president, leads the cast. The series will return to television early next year. Netflix’s Stranger Things, set in a small 1980’s town, focuses on the investigation of the disappearance of a young boy while supernatural events haunt the town. Season 2 will be on Netflix on October 27th to see how the characters have handled the events. It also premieres just in time for Halloween! Narcos has already returned to Netflix and was met with positive reviews. As for me, I am keen for all of CW’s programs, as well as ABC’s sitcoms such as Modern Family and Blackish. These shows are just some of the many programs to watch this season, so keep your eyes peeled!

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Affinity Groups at The School

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During a typical thursday lunch, you may walk into a variety of rooms (Mr. Scott’s, Dr. Bradley’s or Ms. V’s) to find India club hosting a club meeting. India club meetings are often centered around discussion about culture, Indian centered organizations, and relevant topics surrounding being Indian-American.

Q: What is your name and grade, and what do you identify as?

A: My name is Anjali Dhawan, I am in 11th grade and I identify as an Indian in the Head-Royce Community.

Q: Are you in ___ (why or why not)?

A: I am in India Club, and am leading the club this year. It has been a great group of students that have gotten together and created a safe space for discussions and to talk about an issues we see fit.

Q: What are your favorite things about India Club ?

A: I think my favorite thing about India Club is that even though we are a small group of students, we still find a way to have meaningful discussions. Along with these discussions, it is great to be able to host events throughout the school to share our culture with the community and be a presence throughout the year. In the club, there is a balance of students who identify as Indian and those who do not, and I think this is something I like about the club as it bring different perspectives to issues centralized on a specific race, which always calls for interesting discussions.

Q: How many people belong to India Club?

A: In India Club there are around 10 students and Ms. V as our faculty advisor as well as a strong leader of the club.

Q: What are India Club’s goals, both long and short term?

A: India Club’s short term goals for the year have been to get more involved in the community, something we were able to do with our Diwali and Holi presentations for both the lower and middle schoolers. Our long term goal is to be an expanding affinity group and to be have a stronger presence at school. Another goal of ours is to form better relations with other affinity groups and to collaborate together for events to spread the love we all have for our specific group.

Q: What has been your experience at head royce?

A: At Head-Royce, my experience for a long time has been to hide my culture and I never really found a safe way to be open about it. I do think once I reached high school and found out that India Club was a thing, I jumped to the idea of being able to have a safe space that I can go to talk and share my problems. I think this affinity group during my freshman year was what really got me comfortable to share and express my culture. It is something I still struggle with today, but there are always new obstacles we face at school and what matters most is that I have a group of people I can always turn to for help.

Q: What is your opinion of affinity groups at head royce?

A: Affinity groups are not-but should be-highly recognized in the Head Royce community, especially because of its ability to make students comfortable with talking and sharing their ideas and feelings without being silenced in the a classroom. Some of the larger affinity groups have a larger presence in the community and I do think the rest of our affinity groups are trying to get out in the community and have us be known as well. There are many dedicated individuals trying to better the inclusion and diversity at the school through their work with their affinity groups and it is important to recognize the work and efforts we all put in to have functioning clubs that are a safe place, but a place where we lean into discomfort at times to have meaningful discussion.

Q: Why do you think people go or don’t go to affinity group meetings?

A: I think people do not go to affinity groups for a variety of reasons. One may be that they are not comfortable with that specific group setting. They might also be embarrassed with sharing their ideas on certain topics pertaining to their identity, and it is hard to get people to come out to these clubs.

Q: Why do people join affinity groups with which they don’t identify?

A: I think people join affinity groups that they don’t identify with because it gives them new perspectives to different things in the world. I think they also join the club because it is something they want to be a part of and have an outlet to share their ideas, which might differ from the rest of the group.

Q: What are affinity groups’ spaces and funds, and are they adequate?

A: We make our own funds and it gets us through the year. We usually end up contributing some of our personal money to have the club function, and we are managing our own money. For spaces, we see what room is available in the beginning of the year and what day no clubs are using it, and we claim it as our own.

Q: Why are some Affinity groups shrinking?

A: I think they are shrinking because underclassmen are nervous about joining these groups because it can be intimidating. Upperclassmen do lose interest in going to a club that takes up time from their lunches. Also, it is a possibility that students are not always open to the idea of sharing that aspect of their lives with others and that can affect their participation.

Over the course of a few weeks, I, Zack Mintz, spent time with the affinity groups in the Upper School. Specifically, I met with India Club, Asia Club, Black Student Union (BSU), and Latinos Unidos. Since this project focuses on race, we felt it was necessary to explore how these groups function.

       Based on what I heard, there are a few reasons why students choose not to attend affinity groups. One reason is a lack of knowledge about what affinity groups are and are for. While some students view affinity groups as just a place for support, they in reality offer much more. When I walked into each meeting, it was like entering a new community. I saw members of separate grades who I had never seen interact laughing and joking with one another like close friends. The dynamic between teacher and student blurred; if not for the difference in age, one could have assumed each club’s’ members were homologous based on how they treated one another.

       Many students in the Upper School have the notion that affinity groups exist solely for those who identify with the clubs. This belief is reflected in the demographics of each group’s members; it is rare to find students in meetings who don’t identify racially with the club (although there is crossover for students in these groups who attend multiple affinity groups). While these clubs do function as safe spaces to address and discuss issues and incidents, both personal and general, that affect or have affected members, there is much to be learned by going to these meetings. A huge part of what holds these clubs together is culture. Each club has its own foods, customs, and events that anyone can enjoy regardless of their race.

       I never participated in affinity groups during my four years at the School, and I regret that I didn’t. Though I am Jewish, I was not interested in J-Club because I “didn’t think I needed it,” it being support i.e. the only thing I thought affinity groups offered. Looking back, I could have used the time with other Jews. I have faced a relatively small but significant amount of anti-semitism throughout middle and high school, and I think I could have benefitted from attending J-Club’s meetings, at least a little bit. Moreover, I wish I had gone to other clubs. Each affinity group is so well-knit and intellectual. They discuss real issues and function not too dissimilarly from classes. Instead of expressing individual concerns, students who attend clubs with which they don’t identify can learn in depth about a culture different from theirs and empathize with its members when appropriate and possible. I encourage students who do not go to affinity groups to go to at least one meeting; it’s worth one lunch period, and you just might really enjoy it.

 

 

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An Interview with Luis Terriquez: Being Latino at the School

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Diversity in Admissions: A Chat With Christian Donovan

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“Our first essential question that we consider in an admissions committee meeting is, ‘Do we believe that this student can succeed at Head-Royce?’ and if the answer is no, it doesn’t matter. It doesn’t matter what race and ethnicity you are, it doesn’t matter if your parents have given millions of dollars to the school, and it doesn’t matter if you’re the best athlete in the world. If we don’t think you can have success here, we are not going to offer you a spot.” – Christian Donovan

I became a member of the School’s family less than two years ago and in less than a month, I will be leaving for college. Over the course of my short but eventful 18 years, I have switched schools seven times. The 8th switch will come later in August. I have attended a montessori school, a catholic school, a charter school, a boarding school, a private for profit, and private non-profits. Collectively, they represent a wide range of admissions processes. But of all the schools my admissions profile has passed through, the School’s administration and student body as a whole placed the highest value on diversity. Diversity, along with citizenship and scholarship, is even on the school crest. Any school’s diversity can be traced back to one place: its Admissions office.

I first met Christian Donovan, the head of Admissions at the School, two years ago when I first came to campus for an interview and tour. Mr. Donovan, like me, is originally from the east coast. He was the head of Admissions for the George School in Newtown, PA before leaving for the School a few years ago. I have been fortunate enough to have had him as my advisor as a student.

Donovan and his Admissions team are essentially student curators. Beyond the quick facts on the school website’s about page, how does the School’s admissions team approach diversity?

I first wanted to know what he would say to a parent or prospective student about diversity. Donovan loves the fact that diversity is such an integral part of each student’s experience. He noted that because the School is in Oakland, it already has diversity built into its applicant pool, which consists of students who represent varying family styles, races, religions, and learning styles.

We also had the chance to talk about his old job at the George School. The George School had a large push in the 70s for socioeconomic diversity. Despite having only about half as many students as the School does, George School has nearly double our five million dollar financial aid budget. Donovan was quick to point out that the School still has the largest financial aid budget in the Bay Area. He noted, “It’s hard to compare. In some ways I think Head-Royce is ahead of some of those schools I saw, including George School, and in some ways not.” Donovan continued, “Purely from a numbers point of view, Head Royce’s diversity, in terms of race and ethnicity, is much higher than George School’s was even though George made a huge commitment to diversity race and ethnicity. That to me has everything to do with geographic location.” Donovan also mentioned how excited he was to be involved in the school’s strategic plan. Assessing the the financial model of the school is giving him and other administrative officers the chance to air ideas of what an ideal socioeconomic balance of the School would look like.

I wanted to know why he personally valued having a diverse school. Acknowledging the fact that every member of the School’s community could value diversity differently, Donovan offered his personal opinion“Having a diverse community of people just makes life more interesting, and I want to work at a place that is interesting…creating a community where you experience diversity before they go off to college or into the workforce is super valuable for our students.”

Donovan, like me, is still relatively new to the community. Before Donovan came to the School, Kathy Epstein was Head of Admissions. Although Donovan has been at the School for almost three years, his brief time as Head means that many current students were not vetted by an admissions office under his control. So, was there a change in admissions styles that affected the community, especially with regards to diversity? Donovan immediately admitted to having made some changes since he arrived and made it abundantly clear he thought Kathy Epstein did, “a great job and that the School is in large part as successful as it is because of her and a number of other people’s very hard work.” He went on to reveal that, “One of the things [He] discovered about coming to Head Royce was there’s this perception in the community that we’re sorta only for the rich and elite of Oakland and the bay area. As a result of that, people scrutinize us in a certain way. They count how many teslas are driving up and down Lincoln avenue; they look for ways to reaffirm that stereotype…One of the things we have tried to do in the past two-and-a-half years is make the admissions process as welcoming as possible to literally any family.” Donovan noted that the admissions process for applicants who have parents who attended independent schools and colleges is usually not that difficult. However, Donovan expressed, “There are lots of families that call Berkeley and Oakland home that don’t know the first thing about how to put together an application that might lead them to gain entry to Head-Royce.” Before Donovan came to the School, applicants alone were responsible for figuring out the application process. In an effort to ease their burden, the admissions office helps applicants overcome certain obstacles, such as language barriers. Many of the world language teachers and even some parents have volunteered to help applicants and their families do so (most often Spanish and Mandarin). “We don’t have any fewer requirements than we did under my predecessor, but we did make the way you submit those requirements easier for families,” Donovan said. The admissions office cannot reduce or tailor their requirements according to each applicant’s circumstances, but they are “very willing to work with families.”

Donovan gave me an example of this commitment to applicants in action. Every year, the Oakland Unified School District (OUSD) refuses to let their teachers write letters of recommendation for kids applying to private schools. They cannot do so mainly because of teachers unions that object to the unpaid extra time teachers would have to spend working on recommendations. The OUSD administration annually sends private school admissions offices a statement reminding them of this policy. However, this policy does not mean OUSD kids cannot apply. Instead of barring them from applying all together, Donovan and his admissions team tell OUSD students to ask their teachers for recommendations anyways or to try to get one from someone else. If all else fails, the admissions office may end up waving the recommendation requirement altogether.

But what about the selection process? Will the School’s Admissions team ever ‘target’ a certain race, ethnicity, or other demographic? It turns out that other than trying to maintain 50/50 balance of gender, the Admissions team never ‘targets’ a specific demographic. Donovan reveals that every applicant has to stand up to a crucial piece of scrutiny: “Our first essential question that we consider in an admissions committee meeting is, ‘Do we believe that this student can succeed at Head-Royce?’ and if the answer is no, it doesn’t matter. It doesn’t matter what race and ethnicity you are, it doesn’t matter if your parents have given millions of dollars to the school, it doesn’t matter if you’re the best athlete in the world. If we don’t think you can have success here, we are not going to offer you a spot.”

When he said that to me, I quickly responded by asking him to define success. “I don’t think it does anybody any good to have a student come here and get straight Ds.” he said. “It doesn’t make sense to bring someone here who won’t do well socially either… For lower school in particular, we are looking for ability to transition.” Some of this sort of success analysis requires the admissions committee to read into applications or draw upon information gleaned in interviews. Donovan jokingly said, “There aren’t metrics that we look at to see whether or not a student is going to be sitting alone at lunch all the time.”

One of my last questions was about the endowment and whether or not the admissions team ever finds themselves limited by it. Donovan told me that there are different challenges related to recruitment for each division. He claimed, “At the Upper School in particular, I would say we don’t lack the resources. It’s not as though we run out of financial aid, or at least we haven’t in the two years I’ve been here. To me, the bigger issue for us, for high school in particular –and it’s less of an issue for lower and middle school– is attracting a pool of applicants that’s socioeconomically diverse. I think that of the three divisions, the Upper School is the least socioeconomically diverse, which is sorta interesting. I think people don’t necessarily expect that.”

Donovan has demonstrated in his first few years at the School that diversity is paramount when creating a well- rounded student body. He and his team are clearly working diligently to improve the applicant experience and rework the School’s image as a privileged private school. Ease of access is key to keeping a diverse student body.

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Microaggressions at the School

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Microaggressions are often heard in passing as “jokes” or “unserious” comments. However, these seemingly harmless statements can affect people’s experience and perception of you.

Interestingly, when interviewing people around the School, many people of different racial groups noted that they had not noted many microaggressions about them at the School. Most notably though, many students identifying as Asian-Americans expressed frustrations with people’s comments pertaining to their race.

 

Shortly after I was hired, another teacher, sort of offhandedly said, ‘We hired you for diversity reasons!’ and I think they weren’t trying to be mean, they just meant to say, ‘Oh we’re thinking a lot about diversity!’. But the other side of it was: Were they only hiring me because I was Asian and there weren’t any Asians in my department? Was I a token? Was I just there to look like our school cared a lot about diversity? Was there another person who was just as qualified who they didn’t hire because of their race? If I was only hired for my race- that doesn’t make me feel good.”

 

“I had done well on a test and some people were talking to me about how I studied. And then they would ask whether I had a tiger mom. I said no. I think my parents are pretty nice to me. But then they asked me if my parents hit me with bamboo sticks, as if they were imagining some martial arts movie in which my parents trained me by beating me. I just felt that my parents weren’t that kind of person and to have them assumed to be was upsetting.”

 

“So I’m half-Indian, half-Taiwanese, and people tell me: “You must be a super Asian! Because you’re two Asians combined!”

 

“My friends told me: ‘Why are you in regular math. You’re Asian, you should be in honors!’”

 

“People ask me whether I’m super into science and math. I mean I am, but it is not because I am Asian.”

 

“First day of U.S History, we were supposed to talk about what we had in common in table groups. This one guy pulled on his eyes and said that he had things in common with me now.”

 

“I’m half-Asian, and we were at this group with other people. This one guy pointed to someone and said: ‘Hey you’re Asian so you’re two times as smart as me.’ Then he pointed to me and said: ‘You’re half-Asian, so you’re 1.5 times as smart as me.

Just because I’m a certain race doesn’t mean I’m smarter than someone else, and it also doesn’t mean that someone else is smarter than me.”

 

“Because I’m half-Asian, a lot of people assume I am an overachiever and assume I am doing so much more than everyone else, and I just don’t fit that stereotype. It is something I wish people wouldn’t generalize about Asians.

It made me feel as if people are categorizing me as something I’m not. I would say that overachieving comes to your personality, not your race. It makes me feel as if I am being represented wrongly.”

 

“There was one teacher that tried to reassure me that I would do well in her class, but she ended up saying: ‘I’m sure you’ll do well, because all the Asians in my class do well.’

I understand that she was trying to make me feel better, but it actually stressed me out more, as I felt that she had higher expectations for me than everyone else.”

 

“I’m Chinese and I always bring my lunch to school. When I was a freshman, there were certain people who asked me to stop bringing my food to school because it smelled different to them. I felt kinda sad that I couldn’t eat the food I wanted, or the way I wanted, because they wanted me to use forks instead of chopsticks. I just wanted to do things the way I usually did and feel proud of my habits and not have to hide it.”

 

Since much of the media surrounding race centers around the experiences of African-Americans in white America, the prevalence of Asian-Americans in this transcript may surprise many. However, as an Asian-American myself, it is not so surprising. Although the little comments seem funny and unimportant at the time, they add up. One by one, the comments about one’s race and how one is supposed to act because of their race becomes internalized, consciously or not. This is why it is important to shed light onto the experiences of other minorities in the United States. Their struggles might not be as prominently featured on newspaper headlines, but they are just as important.

 

*Disclaimer: The incidents above do not reflect the everyday experiences of a student at Head-Royce. Instead, they are a snapshot of a particular incident that has occurred within their time here. Hopefully this shows that your words and actions can truly have a lasting impact, negative or positive, on someone.

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Teachers on Teaching Race

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Race Project: Poll

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The presidential election of 2016 has sparked nationwide discussions and issues surrounding race and inclusivity. The conversations have challenged the meaning of race and  showed society how flawed and segregated communities are. I surveyed the Upper School asking various questions about race and tolerance at Head Royce and overall community, and the answers I received provided a variety of eye opening feedback.

What struck me were the responses I received about a question: Do you think race is talked about enough? If not, what is missing? Even though most of the responses I received agreed that race was discussed enough at school, an overwhelming majority also conceded that the discussions were lacking in diversity of thought.  As a whole, these students believe that the conversations at the school are “one dimensional” and only present examples of discrimination with one race.  Some students expressed frustration about the discussions excluding certain ethnic groups and focusing solely on African American discrimination.  They suggested that Head Royce’s discussions include more ethnic groups so there is more diversity of thought.  

There were also a handful of students who believed that the discussions at Head Royce, while abundant, were just that.  Even though the students are constantly listening to the lectures about race, the students believe that action has not been taken within the Head Royce community to eliminate discrimination.

Head Royce’s discussions about race have deeply impacted me.  Before coming to Head Royce, I had not been exposed to issues about race or sexuality, and I believe that the school has done a good job laying down the foundation for change.  However, like some of the students expressed in the poll, I believe that more action needs to be taken in order to be the difference we want to see in the community outside of Head Royce.  As one student concisely puts it, “instead of only criticizing the world as it is now, we should create the world we want to live in.”

 

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The Relationship of Diversity and the Curriculum: It’s Complicated

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Over time, I and many of my classmates have taken increasing notice of a particular trend in the authors we read in English class and the cultures we study in history. In English 9, English 10, and English 11 combined, our core texts consist of 12 male authors (13 if you count the Bible) and three female ones. Broken down another way, that’s 13 white authors, and three of color (one of whom is writing about white men). Yet the issue of diversity in the curriculum is incredibly complex, constrained by core content requirements, painfully limited time, a gradual process of change, and many other factors. And it must be noted that we have come a long way.

A Look at the Current Curriculum, and How We Got Here

Although, according to History Teacher and Department Chair Karen Bradley, “The big picture curriculum hasn’t changed that much,” a few decades before it would have been in some ways unrecognizable to today’s students. For instance, before current Head of School Crystal Land joined the English department, high schoolers did not read a single female author. And the history curriculum sequence from Grades 7 through 11 was, essentially, as follows: US History, Western Europe, Russia and China, US History, Western Europe. As History Teacher Nancy Feidelman noted, “There felt like a glaring lack of geographic diversity.” So when Feidelman became Chair of the History Department, she recalled, “[We] changed the curriculum, and [we] removed Western Europe… from the 8th Grade curriculum… and we created a two-part course, where students would study Africa one semester, and Latin America the other semester. So, that was exciting, that was a top-down move from administration with the support of students and parents and teachers.” But that wasn’t all. She continued, “The 11th Grade Western Civ course became more of an intellectual history, that wasn’t just the history of the white monarchs of Western Europe and the battles that they fought, but looking at the emergence of Western Civilization and its impact on the globe both beneficial and pernicious… And then we added India to the 9th Grade course because… if we were looking at emerging superpowers post Cold War… India needed its place. And we have a large South Asian population, and it just seemed like it was a good fit for an already good course.” Bradley added, “I thought [the curriculum] was good when I got here… but I think it’s better now.”

While major course overhauls are uncommon, innumerable smaller changes have been made to the curriculum. For instance, one comparatively minor but in its own right significant change was the removal of The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain from the English 10 curriculum. English Teacher David Enelow recounted, “The decision was made a number of years ago largely because of the heavy and repeated use of the N-word in the text. The tenth grade teachers who made the decision felt that its presence in the text created awkward and even ugly social interactions between white and black students. After trying a number of workarounds, they abandoned the text.” It was a hard text to let go of, because as English Teacher and Assistant Head of Upper School Saya McKenna noted, “We read Mark Twain because when you study American literature, he’s considered… the first who really developed a unique American voice.” In addition, it fit well with the corresponding period in History 10, and features a number of literary devices that were important for English 10 to practice analyzing, such as satire, irony, the use of dialect, and the “juxtaposition of an odyssey type of journey in an American context.” But it was deeply problematic in the classroom because “it’s told through the perspective of Huck Finn, and his perspective is the uneducated, white, dismissive tone of somebody who believed that African Americans were less than white Americans.” McKenna added that “Twain is known for satire, and that’s a very difficult genre to unpack because you have to give the writer the benefit of the doubt that he’s actually undermining what he’s claiming to espouse… So it’s a good intellectual exercise, but it’s a very painful exercise to do in a classroom, because it can be very offensive, and hard to negotiate.” Of course, Mark Twain’s intentions are, as Head of Upper School Carl Thiermann pointed out, “a debate that still actually rages among academics. How enlightened was Twain? … Was he naive about his own views, and should we teach a book like that now?” There is no doubt that The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn is a seminal work in American literature, but the matter came down to whether it was an appropriate text for the classroom, and even whether 10th graders were mature and experienced enough to navigate such tricky (and potentially offensive) waters. McKenna concluded, “We felt like the downsides outweighed the benefits of teaching it in that year.” So Huckleberry Finn was dropped from the curriculum, and eventually replaced by texts such as When the Emperor Was Divine by Julie Otsuka, a novel about Japanese internment camps during World War II.

However, the debate within the faculty over the English 10 curriculum is far from over. English Teacher and Department Chair Stevie Kaplan mentioned that they are continually reexamining the inclusion of The Scarlet Letter, by Nathaniel Hawthorne. Beyond Hawthorne’s standing as one of the first great American writers, she noted that “It offers students… a glimpse into Puritan times, and a glimpse into a lot of questions regarding what it meant to be a woman during those times,” and this corresponds perfectly to some major themes and areas of study in History 11. In addition, it “functions in terms of giving complex sentence structure, close reading skills, [and] building up those kinds of skills in advance of eleventh grade.” Yet it is a difficult, complex, and relatively long book, and it takes up a lot of sophomore year, time that could otherwise be used to offer “more diversity of voices.”

Looking back a year, the English 9 curriculum debatably has an even greater dearth of diversity, and it too is constantly examined and updated. English Teacher Tory Mathieson explained, “I’ve noticed that we do a really good job with short stories, an okay job with poetry, but our major texts are all white men, except Moises Kaufman… but his story is about white men.” This is not to say that any of the English 9 texts are not important – 1984, Maus, Macbeth, and The Laramie Project are all critical and varied works that each play an important role in the learning goals of English 9 and connect well to the overall theme of identity. But Feidelman, who has also taught English 9, added, “I think that often, teachers love to use poetry and short stories for packing in ‘voices of difference’– voices of color, voices from different experiences – but here is our challenge as a department: what about having a main text – a full-fledged book – embody an experience that isn’t typically represented by our authors?”

Of course, compared to the 11th Grade curriculum in both English and History, 9th and 10th Grades contain a plethora of diversity. But this is inherent, and almost unavoidable, when the topics of these classes are Western Literature and Western Civilization. The major texts for English 11 are the Odyssey by Homer, poems by Sappho, Oedipus Rex and/or Antigone by Sophocles, excerpts from the Bible, The Canterbury Tales by Chaucer, and Hamlet by Shakespeare. These works are inarguably an excellent foundation of Western Literature, with the specific focus on classical and Biblical traditions. Yet the very genre of classical Western Literature does not allow for many voices other than those of white men. “There are several challenges” to incorporating more diversity, Enelow explained. “The first is the commitment of the teachers to developing reading skills, which requires that we go over fewer texts more slowly. At the same time, we want to teach some of the most influential texts in Western and World Literature… Once you commit to teaching Homer, Sophocles, parts of the Bible, Chaucer, and Shakespeare, you have relatively little space for more.” Only two years ago, the ancient Greek, female, bisexual poet Sappho was added to the curriculum, and Enelow pointed out that “the course has focused increasingly over the years on the representation of women in major works of Western and English literature. In teaching the Odyssey, Antigone, and Genesis, students have been asked to write essays about the portrayal of women in these texts.” The English 11 teachers work to make the course as diverse as possible within the constraints of the topic, but frankly, it seems that there is only so much they can do.

Similar problems are encountered in History 11, a course more commonly known as Western Civ. Senior Carolyn Cheng, one of two students on Curriculum Committee, commented, “I feel like my base problem in the curriculum is probably the Western Civ curriculum… in terms of English and History, in terms of feeling a palpable lack of diversity. I mean, obviously, because it’s white males. But… Sappho was great,” she added, as was the emphasis in Western Civ on the role of ancient Greek women and their subjugation, which was the main reason there are so few female writers in the course. Though the majority of the School has accepted that this is an inherent limitation of the subject, on both the History and English sides, Feidelman remarked, “I’ve been thinking a lot about the 11th Grade curriculum, and that’s a place where I believe we could offer a more diverse perspective or voice… It’s looking at the development of the Western tradition, and part of the Western tradition is a relatively evil impact on other cultures, so a voice from another culture that has received the rough hand of Western imperialism could be a beautiful coda to the course… What if the final text of the year was a colonized voice responding to being forced to imbibe the Western tradition?” Feidelman further explained that in her college studies, English majors such as herself were required to take a course much like English 11, but that “every professor ended the sweep of the Western tradition with a strong non-Western voice that suffered because of the Western tradition. It was powerful, and I’ve never forgotten that.” She conceded that this change would likely require dropping one of the other texts, but believed that it was a worthwhile trade-off.

As you may have noticed, there has so far been a major gap in this examination of the curriculum: 12th Grade. Seniors at the School are offered the incredible opportunity of Senior Electives, which are English and history (and science) courses on a huge variety of subjects, usually much more specialized than any of the 9th through 11th Grade courses. Many of these courses add a great deal of diversity – both racial and otherwise – to the curriculum, such as History courses on Islam, Comparative Politics, and Cultural Anthropology, and English courses such as Lift Every Voice and Women’s Literature. Other courses, such as Shakespeare and Economics (which is counted as a history course), inherently offer less diversity in their curricula. Senior Electives are where each student’s path truly diverges, and the result is that some graduates from the School will have received far more diverse educations than others. The question arises of whether students can be trusted with this choice. Dean of Academics and Community Shahana Sarkar stated, “Our goal at Head-Royce, our values are to value diversity. So if we can’t find other ways to sort of imbue that value even in a Shakespeare class, then… we’re not doing our work… the way in which Dr. Enelow teaches the class brings in diversity in the ways in which he can, and it’s part of what he’s teaching even though you’re reading a white man.” In addition, Feidelman argued that “The senior electives try to address topics that are not part of the foundational courses, but the deeper goal is to pull such rich and diversified offerings into the foundational courses themselves. Hopefully, we can plant nuggets of senior elective topics within our 9th, 10th, and 11th Grade courses so that diverse exposure is not just left up to senior electives.” McKenna agreed, stating, “I think it’s incumbent then upon us to look at our core curriculum outside of the electives and say, ‘Is there enough diversity within those lineups?’ – because every kid will have exposure to that – and then allow people to specialize.” She added, “I think one of the real gifts of the Head-Royce electives program is choice, and that students actually do really, really well in their senior year… because they’ve opted in to a topic that hopefully speaks to them in some way.” Many of the teachers I spoke with agreed that the potential trade-off of diversity in the 12th Grade curriculum for increased student engagement through choice was worth it, so long as enough diversity was built into the foundational courses.

And as for those foundational courses, we’ve come a long way, and have a long way yet to go. Change in the curriculum tends to be incredibly gradual. Feidelman admitted, “I think that we’re good at identifying areas where we need to diversify, and sometimes slow in actually diversifying in those areas.” And this is for good reason, as there are innumerable small factors and a few large ones to take into account, especially concerning more drastic changes. “But all the big things we want to shift,” Bradley said, “it takes several years, to first develop the knowledge base, then think about it, then work with your grade level team about how you can work this into the curriculum, and so on so forth.”

How Curricular Change Occurs: Roadblocks and Driving Forces

Indeed, one of the greatest challenges diversifying the curriculum is the areas of expertise and even comfort of the teachers themselves. Sarkar explained, “I ask the department chairs to do some kind of analysis of what are the offerings and what are the holes, and… we usually can fill in some of the holes, [though] we’re never going to fill in all the holes… Sometimes, though, the personnel and the holes aren’t a good match, and that leads to a worse experience than… to leave a hole vacant.” For instance, she recounted the history course called Race Relations that was abandoned when past History Teacher Peter Reinke, one of two African American teachers at the time, left the School. When a history elective slot opened up last year, she tried to find someone to offer the Race Relations class again, but “We didn’t have anybody who was comfortable with that topic.” She added, “We’ve diversified our faculty, we’ve brought in different voices, and by diversifying not only gender, or sexual orientation, or race, but also life experiences, led to a different sense of what’s reality.” But as Bradley reminds us, “We still have work to do. And I think part of why we still have work to do is there’s still enough teachers who come to the teaching profession not having had great education on diversity themselves… and so we need to keep getting… nudged to open our knowledge base more, and become more deeply informed… and think about, ‘How can I weave that back into our curriculum?’”

Change is inevitable, but there are things we can do to help it along. Feidelman stated, “I think the drivers for curricular change are usually two-fold: students who say, ‘I can’t find something I can relate to in your course, it’s too narrow and I’m feeling left out of the discussion,’ that has a profound impact on teachers. And I think teachers who look at the material and think, ‘Well maybe this worked two decades ago, but this doesn’t reflect my America… this doesn’t reflect my student body in this classroom.’” And nothing fuels change like discussion, which is an area in which the School’s community is quite adept. “What’s important to me,” Thiermann insisted, “is that I know that the departments and the department chairs care about this issue, and are willing to discuss it, analyze it, and debate it.”

There was one thing that every faculty member I spoke to seemed to agree on: that there is no “perfect balance” of diversity, and that the process of diversifying the curriculum will never end. There is “always more work,” Feidelman said, “It’s never good enough, and the day that we say it’s good enough means that we’ve to a certain extent become complacent.” Thiermann agreed, “It’s always evolving, and it all depends on one’s point of view and how they measure diversity… Who can say, really, with confidence, when some kind of perfect diversity of voices is achieved?” Bradley added, “And that’s also, frankly, why it’s fun to be a teacher, because it’s always a work in progress… you’re always reinventing.”

I, for one, am grateful that I attend the School today rather than twenty years ago. And I’m jealous of the students who will take my place twenty years from now.

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