Student Advocates for Racial Justice in the Classroom in Op-Ed for “Education Post” | St. Lawrence University

Student Advocates for Racial Justice in the Classroom in Op-Ed for “Education Post”

Grace Harkins ‘21 recently wrote an op-ed published in Education Post about the urgent need to normalize difficult conversations about race and incorporate anti-racist curriculua into K-12 classrooms. 

In her piece, she states that schools and teachers can no longer afford to remain politely silent about these issues. She encourages parents and teachers alike to abandon the idea that race is best avoided in classrooms because they believe it is too political, and instead frames anti-racism as an essential element of curriculum that aims to build character in students. As support for the Black Lives Matter movement proliferates in the wake of national protests for racial justice, so should support for progressive conversations about racial justice in America’s classrooms. 

Grace also explores the norms that have historically kept such conversations out of predominantly white classrooms and urges white parents and teachers to demand change from local school boards and school administrators. 

She writes, “White parents with a conscience and a desire to build racial justice and equity: You are watching the news and probably want to make a difference, a difference that can be passed down for generations. Your voice is not only needed when voting at the national level, but it is also needed at the local level, as local as your own school district. Nothing is more important than using your voice to improve your children’s schools. When white people of privilege shy away from these conversations at home and in school, we are perpetuating racism.”

This piece is one of a series of essays Grace wrote as part of her summer research fellowship, which she completed remotely from her home in Kansas City, MO. Her work focused heavily on investigating the social injustices in the American education system and the persistent norms that affect students and educators. 

“I see this direct line between the quality of your education and your comfort level when it comes to asking hard questions, seeing what's wrong in our society and enacting change to fix it,” says Grace, who is a government major and Spanish and religious studies double minor. “It made me realize how important education is, but also how undervalued it is in our society.”

Read the op-ed. 

Grace’s research also explored the effects of COVID-19 on norms in our education system. Earlier this summer, her essay “Will COVID-19 Finally Change Our Sexist Undervaluing of Educators?” was published by the Women’s Media Center, a nonprofit founded by Jane Fonda, Robin Morgan, and Gloria Steinem that aims to amplify the voices of women and girls in media.

“Norms cause students and teachers to feel powerless, like they can’t really enact much change because they’re so influential,” says Grace. “We need to give them language and the place to be acknowledged and changed because we do have the power to make change and the power to make a better education system. In the long run, we can make a better society as a whole. Everything really starts with your education. It makes you who you are.”