I am writing to voice my unequivocal support for the Freshman Curriculum Restructuring plan at OPRF High School. Speaking as an Oak Park resident, and as a parent with three District 97 and District 200 children, I am glad we are finally moving in the right direction, almost a decade behind the movement for educational equity.
As a professor of education, I know the research says it is important to detrack in the first years of high school and provide a rich, interdisciplinary curriculum for everyone. In the real world, we all must learn to work with people who come from backgrounds different from ours, and we must be open to hearing from those who have different views, allowing us to think critically about what we hold to be true. Heterogeneity allows us to think better and create better.
We also need to train our teachers to use methods and techniques that are inclusive, meet the diverse needs of the individual students, and provide scaffolds for those students who need support.
I teach in classrooms with students who come in with varying levels of reading and writing proficiency. We provide support outside of class on closing those gaps — from how to annotate a text to how to counter-argue with the author. Perhaps we can create online modules developed by our own teachers and alums on how and what students need to know to be successful when engaging with dense, content area knowledge. At the same time, they will do better when they learn from someone they know, such as a devoted tutor, and not solely from Salman Khan and the Academy. We must spend funding on building those academic supports for the struggling students who may need more guidance and tutoring, as we monitor their progress.
Lastly, my daughter graduated last year from OPRF from the advanced AP track, in which she was one of the few students of color. We both agreed that she was receiving an unequaled education when she sat in an AP U.S. History class with mostly privileged white peers. She was not hearing from students of color, nor from students who did not benefit from American history. It is an unequal education for all of our children when they do not get to hear from each other.
Let’s create curriculum units that integrate texts that combine the classical, such as The Tempest, with the contemporary, such as The Hate U Give, to discuss “big ideas” and concepts such as oppression, ideology, freedom and marginalization, along with musical scores, speeches, and paintings that address these very same big ideas — along with the lived and shared experiences of the diverse students in the room.
But we must invest in this restructuring — economically, socially and psychologically. We must commit to heterogeneity and difference, rather than homogeneity and sameness. We must commit to a multi-ethnic democracy in which no one group is in power.
Samina Hadi-Tabassum, Ed.D., is an Oak Park resident and a professor of education.