Let’s talk about race. In class.

Umika Pathak, Contributor

students hold signs
Demonstrator marches with sign reading “End Racism at GMHS” in the Falls Church Black Lives Matter Unity March on June 4. Since the march, dialogue has ensued about how to address racial injustice in FCCPS. (Photo by Charlie Adams)

Umika Pathak is a rising senior at GMHS. She serves on the senior class SCA.

A favorite joke of the Mason student body is the issue of diversity in Falls Church. We are a wealthy and predominantly white community which perhaps offers up some hardy comedic material. I too laugh at these jokes, and they indicate a certain level of self awareness among us, but the need for a more meaningful conversation about race and privilege is long overdue in FCCPS. We don’t talk about race enough in the one place where we really should: our classrooms. 

Race should be part of our core conversation because of its significance in today’s society. Schools play a pivotal role in the cultivation of a student’s mind and how we learn to be in the world. As a result, learning about the complexities of race in school is essential to being informed and cognizant of the world, including and beyond Falls Church. 

We need to consider what sorts of resources we should bring into our community to best empower and equip teachers and students alike to facilitate and participate in the learning process. 

This process will appear differently all throughout our schools. It should appear as training on implicit bias. It should be a curriculum expansion in our History departments to be more comprehensive and less eurocentric. It should be reevaluating our English reading lists so that the literature we learn about affirms a more diverse range of cultural experiences, as well as widening the scope of classroom discussions about works that we already learn about. 

I see many opportunities within our classrooms and professional development spaces to incorporate discourse about race that would help us avoid misunderstandings including those that I have experienced at FCCPS. 

Knowledge is empowering. I have personally felt empowered over this past school year because my understanding of the role of race in America became much more nuanced through the IB History class that I took where I learned about highly relevant pieces of the history of race in our country in great detail including slavery, the Civil War, Reconstruction, Jim Crow, and the Civil Rights Movement. I am able to evaluate my own privilege and responsibility better because of my understanding of the past. I have been able to connect my learning to recent events and really see them for what they are. This is why it’s important that we all have the chance to learn about this history in detail, not only those of us who choose to take this course.

We also need to learn about Falls Church history more extensively in school. It’s powerful that our middle school is named after Mary Ellen Henderon, but a symbol is only as powerful as the understanding behind it. In order for her to be a role model we need to learn about what she fought for, and to take pride in Falls Church at present and in the future, we need to be conscious of its past.  

When it comes to the ongoing conversation about changing the names of George Mason and Thomas Jefferson, the reverse is also true: the understanding of history that we teach should be evident in the symbols we choose to represent us. Thomas Jefferson’s and George Mason’s enslavement of individuals is more than a mistake or a flaw, and shouldn’t be treated as such as we discuss this change. 

Additionally, it’s important to affirm a diverse range of cultural experiences in our community by reflecting those experiences in the faculty of FCCPS. The need for diversity in a school system to reflect the diversity of America and the world does not begin and end with the students. 

FCCPS is an IB oriented school system which means that we value global citizenship and awareness. Supporting a culture rooted in these values means that we have to start early, from our youngest all the way up to those of us who are soon-to-be college bound. 

Current events are demonstrating a long held need for change, and I believe education is how we bring about that change. Here in Falls Church we are privileged and that means it is up to us to hold ourselves accountable in every capacity that we can. FCCPS is already a well intentioned space that is brimming with optimism which is why I know how capable we are of becoming even more well educated and even better citizens of the world. It’s not always comfortable or easy, but it is my hope that regardless, the courage and drive of FCCPS will not fade.