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Education on Culture, History & Art in Schools, Parks & Museums – STEAM not STEM for Equal Justice, Diversity & Inclusion

Education promotes equal opportunity in life. Schools, parks, and museums, including public lands, monuments, and waters, are the most important education institutions to reach students and their families and friends.

A study by Stanford University quantifies the benefits of ethnic studies. Ethnic studies dramatically improve education outcomes, including attendance, grade point averages, and credits towards graduation. GPAs improved in all subjects, including STEM. STEAM can work better than STEM. Students felt more welcome when their studies their own cultures. The study illustrates the importance of personal relevance in education to prepare students for life, jobs, and democracy.

A national survey nevertheless found that barely half of public school teachers believe they are competent to teach race and slavery. This may explain why faculty members dressed up like Mexican stereotypes and a border wall reading “Make America Great Again” for Halloween, and posting their picture on the Idaho school district’s social media page. This is a teachable moment at many levels. For example, did the teachers intend to discriminate? Their actions had an unjustified discriminatory impact on people, regardless of their subjective intent. Teaching that is more effective than suspending the teachers or just apologizing without training staff and the community. Gov. Jerry Brown vetoed a bill (AB 2772), that would require ethnic studies within high schools statewide.

Terrorists painted four swastikas defacing a mural celebrating culture, history, and art across the street from a high school in the heart of African American Los Angeles. The community in the Crenshaw District restored the Black Panther mural within hours. There is more about culture, history, art, and diversity in street art than in parks and monuments in L.A.

Education and interpretation in schools, parks, and monuments that illuminate the diversity of life, culture, and history engage people where they are and promote equal access, environmental justice, and health equity for all. The people passed Proposition 68 in California in 2018, taxing themselves over $4 billion to pay for public parks, waters, and monuments, and to infuse diversity and inclusion in work force and visitor rates. Prop 68 and the Presidential Memorandum on Promoting Diversity and Inclusion in Our National Parks, National Forests, and Other Public Lands and Waters (2017) are themselves based on civil rights and environmental justice laws. Foundations and government funders themselves must support education, compliance, and enforcement related to civil rights laws, as the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine recommends in its committee report Communities in Action (2017).

The question now is persuading agencies and recipients of public financial assistance to comply with those laws and principles. The struggle continues. See generally the PRRAC handbook on Civil Rights, Environmental Justice & Health Equity road map at pages 42-57.