Students tout revisions to English curriculum to more deeply center anti-racism


Some of the English books for grades 9-12 laid out for distribution. Photo: Sara Barber-Just

Jana Murphy, Amherst-Pelham Regional High School

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The Graphic, Amherst-Pelham Regional High School, Amherst, MA

One year before the pandemic and a renewed national cry for racial justice, the ARHS English department had already embarked on a journey to center nearly all department time on anti-racist work.

They read White Fragility and discussed it as a group, and attended a slew of related workshops, conferences, and classes, including over the summer. The group’s objective was in line with a stated district goal of “responding to the cultural identities of students of color while also dismantling white supremacy.”

But last June, when discussing what was happening on the national stage, they decided to embark on a curriculum overhaul that would double down on social justice, would fit the new block schedule, and would engage students during a global pandemic, said Department Head Sara Barber-Just.

“While we have always been devoted to increasing access for students and committed to social justice,” according to Barber-Just, they made braver moves this year.

For 9th and 10th grade, the department made the “decision to completely center Black, Asian, Latinx, Indigenous, Muslim, Jewish, queer, and disabled voices,” Barber-Just said, and to develop an anti-oppression framework focused on asking essential questions about social justice.


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