Schools to take next step toward inclusive curricula

From the forthcoming “35 Years of Minnesota Women’s Press” book

 by Lynn Thibodeau, August 1989 

 As school administrators around the state prepare for the start of a new school year, they face a new task: planning how to make sure the curriculum in their schools includes the experiences of people traditionally conspicuous by their absence — women and minorities. By the end of the school year, every district must have a plan prepared, ready to be set in motion a year from now. 

Minnesota is the only state that mandates that schools ensure their curricula are “multicultural” and “gender-fair.” More than 15 years ago, the state issued guidelines for correcting racial and gender inequalities in school curricula. Districts and teachers around the state started to take a look at them. “Then suddenly, when somebody objected, they totally disappeared off the face of the earth,” recalls Geri Evans, president of the Minnesota Coalition of Organizations for Sex Equity in Education. 

The “somebody” who complained was a school custodian, Evans said. “One night, he was looking through books in the library, and he saw a book called ‘Our Bodies, Ourselves,’ about female sexuality and health concerns. He said, ‘This doesn’t belong in schools.’ 

“So he funneled his objection to authorities, among them a legislator who suddenly realized that the guidelines were not enforceable. Almost overnight, the whole program disappeared.” 

The rule passed by the State Board of Education earlier this year has the force of law. But that doesn’t mean a little pressure wouldn’t hurt. “We need grassroots involvement by women willing to ask their schools and districts what is happening,” said Evans, who is a member of the St. Anthony-New Brighton school board. “We are urging our member organizations to participate in that effort. We sent them a list of ‘Things You Can Do.’ High on that list is asking to be put on the curriculum review committee, which exists by law in every district. We assume that’s where a lot of the action will take place.” 

“To start having a curriculum that reflects all the people of the United States,” said Linda Garrett, coordinator for multicultural education in the St. Paul schools, “we must start looking at things differently. Our history has often been written from Eurocentric male perspectives. We must widen it. In the area of westward expansion, for example, students should begin to see both positive and negative aspects. They should read what the Indian people have said about it, how the broken treaties affected them. What the pioneer women contributed and what they suffered. Bring in multiple perspectives.” 

“We must talk not only about the outstanding women of their times, but also the extraordinary ones who washed dishes and washed dishes and washed dishes,” said Barbara Shin, assistant principal of Andersen Open School in Minneapolis. 

“In biology, heredity and genetics offer fascinating ways to open discussions about the reasons for different skin colors, eye shapes, hair textures. Better understanding leads students to value differences rather than scorn them. The younger they learn these things, the better the system will work. 

— Barbara Shin

Inclusive education: The movement inches along 

by Carmen Peota, July 1992 

1987: The National SEED Project on Inclusive Curriculum is founded by Peggy McIntosh, associate director for the Wellesley College Center for Research on Women. SEED is designed to provide K-12 teachers with an opportunity to consider what gender-fair, multicultural, disability-sensitive curriculums might look like, and to train teachers as leaders to bring that information back to their colleagues. During the first five years of the National SEED Project, 16 Minnesotans train as leaders, and movement toward inclusive education in Minnesota classrooms begins. 

1989: State Board of Education passes the inclusive education rule. District plans outlining specific goals and implementation timelines are due by June 1990. Linda Garrett takes the position of inclusive education specialist, to help districts develop their plans. 

1990: When the June deadline for the inclusive education rule arrives, only 11 of 430 districts have plans that comply. 

1991: The number of approved plans has risen to 95, but 23 districts have not started work on a plan. Because of legislative budget cuts, Garrett’s position is cut by the Minnesota Department of Education. 

1992: Minnesota becomes the first state to have its own SEED Project, due in large part to the work of its co-directors, Cathy Nelson and Dena Randolph, and funding from U.S. West and St. Paul Companies. 

Most districts are still working through staff-development issues. As Nelson puts it, “Teachers can’t teach what they never learned.” 

Yet even with the hope offered by SEED, the inchworm pace toward compliance with the inclusive education rule is disheartening for those who see the need and value of its goals.

 A close-up look at the SEED project 

July 1992

Approximately 200 educators, parents, and community members met to explore ways of fostering diversity in the school systems. It was part of an intensive week-long session for 36 educators from across the state, whose job it will be to lead their colleagues through a year-long consciousness-building process. 

The culturally diverse participants did not appear to be competing for pieces of the same limited pie. Instead the presence of white females, Japanese-American males, African-American females, as well as the message of the keynote speakers, seemed mutually supportive. 

One of the challenges for Minnesota will be to get white males to become agents in the change-making process. 

White males were a conspicuous minority at the workshop. Women and people of color continue to be the first to acknowledge the importance of multiculturalism in education, while white males continue to hold most of the administrative reins in school districts. 

Read more about our forthcoming book “35 Years of Minnesota Women’s Press.”