The school system’s decision last month to bolster high-school courses in African American and Latin American studies as electives is a move in the right direction. Our children need to learn more about the contributions made to our history and our culture by minority figures — and to see them in our future. Their influences are too often overlooked or buried, yet much of what we are as a nation today can be directly traced to their contributions.

The decision to approve the new courses, proposed by new Winston-Salem/Forsyth County school Superintendent Angela P. Hairston, was made after several weeks of presentations and proposals during the board’s curriculum committee meetings, the Journal’s Fran Daniel reported.

The African American and Latin American courses have been offered for several years as half-credit courses. Increasing them to full-credit courses will allow teachers more time to offer deeper knowledge of these topics. They’ll be accompanied by a full-credit American Indian studies course that will be added as an elective next year, which is also appropriate.

Their inclusion as electives was praised by the Rev. Alvin Carlisle, the president of the Winston-Salem Chapter of the NAACP. He said the local NAACP members believe that Hairston’s recommendations are sound and a good step forward.

We agree.

The goal of all of these courses is to teach about the social, economic and political activities of these groups, all of which have been integral parts of American life. In addition, members of these groups have had to fight discrimination to be accepted as fully integrated members of American society, despite being, on paper, equal citizens. That’s a situation that still reverberates in society today. A little awareness of their struggles doesn’t hurt.

The courses aren’t intended to belittle the contributions of white people, as some few will likely suggest. But most of what’s taught in our schools is based on the contributions of the majority. The notion that white contributions may be neglected is farcical.

As the Rev. Felecia Piggott-Long, a teacher at Carver High School, asked during a recent listening session, “What are we doing to make sure our students are exposed to more than just … white men? That they understand that there are women and there are people of all kinds of backgrounds?”

This is what is being done.

Before the decision was made to offer these electives, some in the community had pressed for a mandatory course on African American history. The school board rejected the proposal by a 7-1 vote, likely because another mandatory course would leave fewer slots for elective courses such as art, music and foreign language.

“For many of our children, it’s those electives that actually keep them in school and engaged,” school board member Elisabeth Motsinger told the Journal.

The school board also approved expanding Advanced Placement courses to more schools. And a bill passed by the legislature in July requires all high school students to take an economics and personal finance course. That was a good legislative decision — high school graduates should have some basic economic skills in hand to participate wisely in society.

Our school system’s job is to prepare all of our children to be good, knowledgeable, productive citizens who can contribute to our communities’ future. That means being literate in practical topics such as personal finance — and it also means knowing something about the people around them. For that reason above all others, we recommend parents strongly urge their children to enroll in these classes.

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