The education system has been changing since its beginning. Schools are constantly evolving to embrace more perspectives and focus on inclusion in classrooms. This evolution did not occur overnight and has taken too long to achieve. Teachers throughout time have had to take little steps towards equity which have been necessary to accomplish the classroom environments seen today. As ableism, racism, sexism, and heteronormativity dominate the education system, schools are far from perfection.
Teachers today are taking steps to continue the evolution of education. To share the actions many teachers are beginning to take, I reached out to Savannah Scott, a Health and Anatomy teacher in Oregon. Scott piqued my interest at a guest panel hosted by the school where she teaches, when she began to describe the importance of social justice in her teaching curriculum. Scott grew up in Arizona, where she attended a predominately white school that often focused on dominant white perspectives. As a young Black girl, particularly in the health field, she struggled to find representation within her school community.
Scott was attending elementary school in Arizona then, and health education was limited and lacking in many ways. With some curricula abolished, Scott became fascinated with health and wellness and how these have been twisted to produce misinformation. The false interpretations she was taught aided her in understanding the significance of intersectionality in health. When Arizona passed a law prohibiting ethnic studies from being taught, her desire to learn more about this in high school was thwarted. Any class that "advocates ethnic solidarity" is prohibited under state law HB 2281. This law stayed in effect until the ban last year, but had lasting impacts as Scott describes that it "changed how [she] was educated” and prevented her from understanding the importance of this lens until much later in her career.
Scott then attended the University of Oregon, which allowed her to discover the social justice element of health and anatomy. Scott was able to broaden her understanding of health studies by taking classes on various aspects of health. Continuing her education in teaching, Scott discovered social justice leading, culturally responsive, and trauma-informed teaching. It focuses on teaching every student in the room to ensure that they are approached and taught with the presumption that they come from different trauma backgrounds. It allows for a more inclusive learning environment that meets each student where they are.
Today, Scott has a degree in Human Physiology, Curriculum and Teaching, Bachelor of Science, and a University of Oregon Masters of Education. Currently, she is taking active steps in her curriculum toward looking at the whole picture in health. Scott emphasizes the significance of learning the difference between women's health and men's, as well as how women's health is frequently treated unfairly. She also examines workplace safety, to emphasize the importance of prioritizing low-class workers with physically demanding jobs as major parts of our society overlook them. Scott ties everything together by looking at community and public health to explore intersectionality. It allows students to understand the disparities within each subcommunity and how their health struggles are due in some part to the greater whole. Scott recently started implementing these as it is her first year at the current school she works for. Within a year, she has been able to bring social justice into a classroom that many previously disregarded.
There will always be more steps that curriculums can take to ensure that social justice is implemented rather than ignored. Scott reminded me during our conversation that “in health classes, it's really hard to aim at every lens because there are so many different groups, that you almost always feel like you’re lacking in some way.” She emphasized that “we are never as up to date as we want to be, [...] but it is getting better.” Moreover, teachers like Savannah Scott are a constant reminder of this as they are pushing to include new narratives in the classroom every day. Reading new authors in English, acknowledging the white-washing of history, and examining intersectionality in health is the evolution we still need.
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