Updated: Jun 18, 2019
By Anvi Joshi and Erin Walsh ('21)
The world is an immensely diverse place, with differing views, traditions, and cultures.
However, people tend to only face and experience selective pieces of the world, limiting their understanding and opinions to what they grow up with and live in.
The simple answer to that dilemma is to travel, but not everyone can afford the costs that globe-trotting comes with.
That’s why courses that address more than the history, language, and beliefs of the place one lives in are so important. By opening up someone’s worldview, these classes can also open up someone's mind.
“[Learning about other cultures] is an expansion of acceptance… If America is a mesh of a thousand different groups, then understanding different cultures from around the world would allow you to understand those different groups in America.” said sophomore Ashley Foy.
Specifically concerning South Brunswick High School, where non-white students are in abundance, understanding and accepting other cultures is a vital pillar that upholds the values of the SBHS community. Introducing students to a new culture or religion through the content that is taught presents an opportunity for the students to gain a better understanding of different cultures compared to their own.
Social studies teacher, Mrs. Samantha Saldanha-Kuncharam said, “[The students] are being exposed to something other than their own culture. As an example, In my Global Studies class, a lot of my students are Hindu, so they know Hinduism well, but they don’t know Christianity. So, stories that have to do with Christianity or have Christian symbols that they wouldn’t understand otherwise are now being exposed to [them].”
However, it can be argued that the content provided within the curriculum leans towards European culture and history rather than world subjects. This, in itself, can present an issue for both the white students and non-white students at SBHS.
Concerning non-white students, Mrs. Saldanha-Kuncharam said, “In terms of feeling like [the students] can relate to what is being taught in the class, I can see that being a bit of a problem, there might be some disconnect.”
Hypothetically, if classes became increasingly centered around the different cultures and places SBHS’s diverse student body comes from, students who would otherwise not be able to relate, could connect to topics better. Students of European background may also be able to experience a different view of the world.
An article also speaks about the importance of these classes, claiming “that by working with other people we learn about their cultures and become able to explore new ideas and prospects. Options that would not have occurred to us before stand out as obvious if we understand how other people experience the world.”
Despite being a fairly diverse school itself, South Brunswick High School suffers from a lack of multicultural representation within its curriculum. There are many reasons for this, as noted by Ms. Theresa Jennings, the Supervisor of English and Social Studies.
“First of all you have to understand that the state mandates that we teach certain types of courses, so that might account for some of the lack of diversity… Probably the number one reason is budget cuts; a lot of times why we cut a course is because we can’t afford to fund the class.”
Budget plays an immense role in getting and keeping classes on the schedule. If there is not enough money, a class can be completely cut from the curriculum or left aside.
Mrs. Jennings also pointed out how the interest in a course from the students can affect the selection process for the classes the following year.
“[Our school] tend[s] to lean on the side of STEM because there is a demand there. If there are 700 students who want to take computer science and only 30 students who want to take African-American Literature, sometimes those courses are suspended.”
However, suspending these classes might have a negative effect. Having options could potentially attract interest and be beneficial to the student body.
Sophomore Drew Shah said, “People are curious, you just have to give them an avenue to be curious with… Whenever there is a gap in knowledge, you’re going to create some type of rift whether it between people, between ideas, the more you can teach somebody else about your culture and vice versa the closer you are to actually understanding something that's a little better than [just learning names and dates]”
As recipients of the curriculum that the school district lays out, students may feel they have no authority or influence over the course selection process for the school year. Contrary to popular belief, students have a significant impact on the selection of the classes listed for the curriculum.
If the majority of students, or enough to fill a class, stand up and ask for a certain class, there’s a greater chance of getting the class they want. Kids simply have to go talk to Ms. Jennings or another supervisor and ask for them to take a look at more diverse classes. Budget and supplies can be shifted and changed, but student interest cannot.
However, even a student’s interest in a specific class can be influenced by uncontrollable factors such as the academic weighting of courses.
Mrs. Saldanha-Kuncharam said, “I hate to say this but a part of the reason why classes are discontinued is because of the weighting of the course. AP European History has a higher weighting than the South Asian studies elective course, which had no weighting at all on it.”
In any high school, Advanced Placement (AP) classes tend to be more revered by students, especially those looking for a competitive edge. Yet, this also means that elective courses with no weighting, such as an African-American Literature class, would curry less interest from students compared to an AP European Literature class.
In the past, there have been students at SBHS who have requested a change in the curriculum concerning multicultural representation. Although their requests were recognized by the school board, the class that they advocated for was discontinued due to lack of student interest, state mandates, or lack of resources to support such a class. However, were a class to be proposed by a sizeable number of students, it could possibly be put in the curriculum for the next academic year.
It’s important for the student body be aware of their rights and powers as students at SBHS, including their own influence over the course selection process for the curriculum; should there be a class that they wish to take, it is entirely possible for them to organize themselves and make a difference.