A Letter Re: History Education in U.S. Schools

All of us are tied inextricably to our origins. As a young woman of mixed Chinese and White descent, who grew up in the liberal, wealthy, immigrant population of Bellevue, Washington, I cannot separate myself from where I am from or how I grew up. I must recognize my privilege and reject the possibility that I might approach anything from a perspective that is free of bias. This is Adrienne Rich’s argument in “Notes toward a Politics of Location.” Rich argues that one’s personal life experience and identity cannot be discarded to entertain other perspectives. In fact, one’s political perspectives are always informed by social, political, and geographical location. Everyone comes with a particular background or location from which they view the world. No one is blessed with an objective or unbiased lens that is free of blemishes.

Throughout my time in this class, I have reflected on my background and education. I come from a very liberal community, where we read books and learned about things that students in many parts of the United States are not usually taught. Even so, I have been forced to reckon with the realization that my education, especially in learning about U.S. History, was very white-centric. I never learned about the racist beliefs of Elizabeth Cady Stanton, or the history of identity politics that go back to the Combahee River Collective. I had learned about the Black Panther Party in passing, as a sort of militant group that really did not play a huge role in the civil rights movement. I never learned about the role of the FBI or the CIA in trying to limit the political power of black leaders during the civil rights era. I even wrote a research paper on the feminist movement towards passing the Equal Rights Amendment in the 70s, and never once learned about any of the Black feminist movements or considered that a reason for the failure of the Equal Rights Amendment was not simply because of conservative forces, but also because the mainstream feminist movement failed to represent women of color or different beliefs or abilities. Now, I think I am growing just as Adrienne Rich described in her piece, “Notes toward a Politics of Location.” As I learn more and realize my privilege as well as ignorance, I am more able to understand my individual location in politics and to reassess my long-standing beliefs.

Note: The following letter is my creative project. I have chosen to write a letter to the College Board, which dictates much of the educational curricula for high-achieving students throughout the U.S..

Excerpt from AP Equity and Access Policy: College Board strongly encourages educators to make equitable access a guiding principle for their AP programs by giving all willing and academically prepared students the opportunity to participate in AP. We encourage the elimination of barriers that restrict access to AP for students from ethnic, racial, and socioeconomic groups that have been traditionally underrepresented. Schools should make every effort to ensure their AP classes reflect the diversity of their student population. College Board also believes that all students should have access to academically challenging coursework before they enroll in AP classes, which can prepare them for AP success. It is only through a commitment to equitable preparation and access that true equity and excellence can be achieved.

Dear College Board,

        I write you this letter today to highlight an opportunity to contribute to the growing call for equity in a more meaningful and impactful way. The above policy for equity and access is performative and superficial if the curricula of AP classes fail to reflect a diversity in backgrounds and perspectives.

            My high school experience was full of AP and IB classes – in May of my Junior year, I sat for 20 exams. Suffice it to say, I was in a lot of AP classrooms. I went to school in one of the best school districts in the nation; I was constantly challenged and molded into a strong student. However, I, as a young woman of Asian and White descent, surrounded by peers who were mostly either Asian or White, never took it upon myself to question what I was being taught in the classroom. Indeed, I had no basis on which to believe that I was learning anything but the truth – and that I was learning everything I could need to know. Over the course of my first two years in college, I have reflected upon and indeed criticized my grade school education.

            My time in college has collided with the coronavirus pandemic and the growing awareness of police brutality and other racist institutions that persist throughout the United States. I have had the opportunity to ask questions and learn more about the histories of racial and social inequities and found myself saying more times than I can count, “Wow, I had no idea!” or “I never realized that” or “But I thought…”  And yet, as a stellar high school student in an excellent school district taking the standardized AP curriculum, I cannot help but wonder how many other similarly intelligent people also do not know these things.

Therefore, I call for a thorough review of the U.S. History curriculum to the end of including more black history and other critical issues that so impact our lives today.

How can we expect the next generation to do better if they are not learning better? How can we expect real, systemic change if people do not know about the real, systemic issues? More than just creating classrooms and access for a diverse group of students, it is the responsibility of the College Board to promote equity by teaching an equitable version of our history, not one that is whitewashed. While we cannot expect to teach everything, I do think we can reprioritize what to teach.

For example, the U.S. History curriculum in the civil rights era largely focuses on the role of Martin Luther King in rebelling through peaceful protest. He is portrayed as a pacifist idol who changed the course of civil rights for African Americans. And yet, we do not learn about his assassination, or about the Black Panther Party as an organization that promoted not violence, but self-defense, or about the federal administration’s increasing criminalization of black communities following the victories of the Civil Rights Act. We do not learn about the police brutality that prevailed during this period of time, spraying protesters with firehoses and beating children as they marched through the streets. We do not learn about the counter movement perpetrated by white supremacist groups. And yet, all of these things happened too. I would argue that these other facts are perhaps more relevant to the current state of our nation.

Adrienne Rich writes in “Notes toward a Politics of Location” about the stagnation of our society. She suggests “it might be more useful to ask, how do these values and behaviors get repeated generation after generation?” For Rich, the answer to this question has to do with the biased nature of our education, centered in the white patriarchy, lacking serious inquiry about what we can do to change it.

Alas, some of the responsibility falls to oneself, to re-educate and learn more and learn better. Some of the responsibility also falls to you, to reform and think critically about the concepts and histories with which you are indoctrinating young minds. I hope you will accept this responsibility as an opportunity to create a social impact and move forward with it thoughtfully and carefully.


Kira Eng

Emory University Class of 2023


  • Kira Eng

    Kira is a double-major in Business Administration and Philosophy, Politics and Law. She will graduate from the Goizueta Business School in Spring 2023.

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