We Will Not Shy Away From Teaching Our History

Jun 9, 2021 12:00:00 AM

by Natasha Trivers

During their senior year, all scholars at all of Democracy Prep’s schools take a rigorous year-long course called Sociology of Change. For the first half of the year, our scholars study history-making social movements like the Soweto Uprising, the Stonewall Riots and the LGBTQ+ activism that ensued for decades afterward, and the Civil Rights Movement, just to name a few. In the second half of the year, each student undertakes an independent study on a topic of their choice, culminating in a paper and final presentation.

This capstone course, completed by hundreds of scholars prior to graduation, has been enriching for the scholars, their classmates, and teachers—and stands out to college admission counselors. 

Today, our Sociology of Change course is under attack. Ill-intentioned activists are grossly mischaracterizing the course as part of a larger campaign against Critical Race Theory, action-based civics, and any conversation about racism or slavery that paints aspects of our country’s past in a negative light.

America was founded on the ideals of freedom of speech and the power of any individual to stand up for what he or she believes. Blocking curricula or silencing the voices and experiences of the most marginalized in this country runs counter to those founding principles. Do I believe multiple viewpoints should be presented in any lesson about civics or history in this country? Absolutely. But trying to elide large swaths of our history or failing to adequately address the legacy of slavery is unacceptable. It is also not a choice that our schools will embrace.

We teach our students that racial bias of any kind is wrong. Singling out a person or any group of people for different treatment based solely on the color of their skin is self-evidently unjust. [pullquote]Democracy Prep is an avowedly anti-racist organization and does not tolerate racism in any way, shape or form.[/pullquote]

And yet, there is simply no way to ignore the systemic, visceral, and soul-crushing racism that people of color have experienced in this country—even if those discussions make some people uncomfortable.

In December 2020, a lawsuit was filed against Democracy Prep in Las Vegas, Nevada. The lawsuit focuses on a voluntary classroom exercise that, while not part of the standard Sociology of Change curriculum, was intended to prompt a discussion about racism in this country and the ways in which identity might create privilege, which is an important part of the course. 

We plan to vigorously defend our curriculum and are confident we will ultimately prevail on the merits. But make no mistake, the lawsuit is expensive and diverts our limited resources to costly litigation. We need those resources for the education of over 7,400 scholars around the country.  

[pullquote]Our mission at Democracy Prep is straightforward—to ensure our scholars go to college and are prepared for lives of active citizenship.[/pullquote] Since our founding in 2005, we have made good on those twin promises. Ninety-one percent of our scholars attend college, compared to only 30% of their peers in other public schools. A Mathematica study found that Democracy Prep students are 98% more likely to be voters. 

Last year’s rallies and protests showed that we as a nation are hungry for change. It is important for us to keep that momentum as we strive for a better, more equitable future.

Securing that future requires engaging the next generation in this essential conversation and welcoming a diverse array of perspectives in our pluralistic society. [pullquote position="right"]We will not shy away from teaching our history—in all its complexity[/pullquote]—or engaging in probing conversations about systemic racism and equity in America. At Democracy Prep, we remain committed to a rigorous college-preparatory education, a vibrant civics program, racial justice and equity for all. That is what democracy is all about.

Photo courtesy of Democracy Prep.

Natasha Trivers

Natasha Trivers is the Chief Executive Officer at Democracy Prep Public Schools. Natasha joined Democracy Prep in 2011 as Assistant Principal of Democracy Prep Charter High School (DPCHS). In 2013, Natasha took the helm as Principal of DPCHS, and under her leadership, the school expanded its Advanced Placement course offerings, improved Regents exam results, and increased the number of graduates annually, as well as the number of acceptances to Tier 1 colleges. In 2017, Natasha was promoted to Democracy Prep’s Superintendent where she has overseen the implementation and success of the academic program across all 21 schools in the Democracy Prep network. Prior to joining Democracy Prep, Natasha taught English at Academy of the Pacific Rim Charter High School in Boston, Massachusetts. Natasha graduated from Rutgers University in 2000 with a bachelor’s degree in English. She also earned a master’s degree in English education from Teachers College in 2002 and a master’s degree in educational leadership from Simmons College in 2012. Natasha was born in Santa Cruz, California and raised in Brooklyn and Queens, New York. She attended public schools her whole life and has made a deep commitment to change educational outcomes for low-income students in America. During her tenure at Democracy Prep, Natasha has earned the respect of scholars and staff and her graduates from the flagship Democracy Prep Charter High School comprise the first cohort of Teacher Residents who are working as teachers in some Democracy Prep’s New York schools while earning their master’s degrees. Other graduates hold operations positions in various schools, and a few hold full-time positions at the CMO main office.

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