10 high school students: Teach race accurately and comprehensively

This commentary is by 10 Vermont high school students who are part of the Vermont Student Anti-Racism Network.

As schools across the country debate over teaching about race in the classroom, there couldn’t be a more vital time to ensure all Vermont students are receiving an accurate and comprehensive education on race and racism. We are hopeful that our legislators will undertake this task with us to promote anti-racist curriculum in schools. 

We are a group of students from the Vermont Student Anti-Racism Network, which is a network dedicated to promoting anti-racism in schools through curriculum change, policy and awareness building. We endeavor to educate ourselves and others about race, power, privilege and oppression in order to foster a more inclusive and anti-racist community, starting with our schools. We strive to disrupt the racial hierarchy of our society, starting with our own group.

Two of us met at the Summer 2021 Governor’s Institute Global Issues and Youth Action immersion and worked alongside state Rep. Michelle Bos-Lun to draft an anti-racism in education bill. After the immersion, more students joined through the Vermont Student Anti-Racism Network. 

Over the course of the past six months, we have crafted a bill with the hopes that it will secure anti-racist education for all Vermont students. We worked closely with Rep. Bos-Lun, and had the support of Rep. Kevin Christie and Rep. Elizabeth Burrows as we moved through the process. 

Our bill has 21 co-sponsors from every party in the House. As the session began, we students watched excitedly for the bill to be introduced.

The bill will require standards in education designed to promote anti-racism in schools. Schools would become certified if they met certain guidelines for anti-racism, including addressing racist incidents, diversity in literature, and anti-bias training for staff. 

By passing this bill, we can ensure that society becomes actively anti-racist. As the Vermont Student Anti-Racism Network strongly believes, education is the key to changing society. If we make anti-racist schools, we will foster an anti-racist society. There couldn’t be a more pressing time to change society. 

Our network took a survey of approximately 300 students last year, and found out that 78% of current Vermont high schoolers believe that they did not receive an accurate and full education on race in elementary school. Without the foundation of a racially conscious education, students will not be able to enter the increasingly diverse and multicultural society we live in. 

With 78% of students asking for more in their education, this bill is the perfect way to provide what students need. Middle and high school students in the Vermont Student Anti-Racism Network feel similar about their experience in higher grades, as well: We don’t receive enough education around race in any grade. 

According to another survey our network sent out to current high school students, 94% of youth support this bill being passed. They support diverse, inclusive, anti-racist curriculum that will help us change society.

If this bill passes, it will impact not only hundreds of students around the state, but it will be impacting our whole state and ensuring all students receive just and equitable opportunities.

As the country navigates its way through discussions and arguments surrounding racial education, we hope Vermont can be a model to the nation for bipartisan support on inclusive curriculum and promoting anti-racism in the classroom. We are not aiming to indoctrinate youth, and we are not aiming to be divisive. We want to bring people together under the common cause of building a better world through our schools. We hope you will join us in this mission.  

Minelle Sarfo-Adu, South Burlington High School

Addie Lentzner, Arlington Memorial High School

Alaena Hunt, Stowe High School

Ella Murphy, Stowe High School

Katherine Hashem, Mount Mansfield Unified High School

Jenna Hirschman, Essex High School

Dahabo Abukar, Essex High School

Daniel Cha, Putney School

Brendan McLoughlin, Otter Valley Union High School 

Sydney Feltz, Colchester High School

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