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NCCSS Position Statement on Racial Injustice

In a recent position statement, the National Council for the Social Studies Board of Directors put forth that, “As the home of democratic citizenship education, social studies educators have a duty to address race and racism.” 

These words are clear and reflect the burdening weight of the tragic deaths of Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, George Floyd, and countless others connected to the dark history of systemic racism in the United States. The North Carolina Council for the Social Studies believes we must recognize and call out the painful past in which Black Americans are the victims of chattel slavery, Jim Crow laws, extrajudicial activities (lynchings), an unjust criminal justice system (disparities in prosecution and sentencing, convict leasing, mass incarceration and neo-slavery), and fatal excessive force from law enforcement, etc. 

Nationwide, from 2013 to 2019, Black citizens have been three times more likely to be killed by police than their White counterparts.  

Despite Blacks being just over one-fifth (22 percent) of the population of North Carolina, police officers, in the line of duty, have killed 50 Black individuals (32% of the 155 killed overall) in the state since 2015. Of the 50 killed, 49 were Black men, and 21 of them were between the ages of 18 to 29.

Social Studies educators have a paramount obligation to instruct our students on the long, and often violent, struggles for racial justice, equity, and equality. We must decolonize our local curricula to not only teach of domestic racial terrorism like the Wilmington Coup of 1898 and the Greensboro Massacre of 1979, but also stories of resistance and resilience, including the peaceful protests of the Royal Seven and Greensboro Four, landmark civil- rights lawsuits like Keys v. Carolina Coach Company, Johnson v. Branch, Swann v. Charlotte-Mecklenburg Board of Education, and Simkins v. Moses Cone Memorial Hospital; the founding of stalwart civil rights organizations like the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) at in-state HBCUs (Historically Black Colleges and Universities) like Shaw University, and the armed vigilance of the Lumbee Tribe at the Battle of Hayes Pond (near Maxton, NC) and Robert F. Williams and the Black Armed Guard (Monroe, NC). We need to conduct research, study, and effectively teach history that is inclusive of all voices and experiences, especially those of historically oppressed and marginalized populations that have been silenced; and actively create anti-racist spaces for students to learn and master content. 

Yet, it is not enough to discuss and explore racial bigotry and prejudice in our classrooms; we must acknowledge the effect of centuries of institutionalized racial discrimination, dehumanization, intolerance and persecution on our students, colleagues, and schools. 

The vestiges of over 400 years of racial marginalization, segregation and injustice linger in our educational systems where our Black students are disciplined at an exorbitant rate when compared to their white peers. For nearly a decade in our state, data from the NC Department of Public Instruction shows that Black students have received the most in-school, short-term and long-term suspensions, the majority of placements in alternative learning programs for disciplinary reasons and account for the largest percentage of expulsions. In 2017 alone, despite only being 25 percent of the student population, Black students were 54 percent of juvenile complaints, 65 percent of juvenile detention admissions and 74 percent of youth development center commitments. Black students also have the third highest dropout and chronic absentee rates. These factors contribute to NC’s school-to-prison pipeline, where nearly 52 percent of state prisoners are Black, with almost 50 percent being Black men.

The findings of the Leandro Commission prove that the educational experience provided to all of the students in our state is not equitable. We must do better. Reflection is an essential piece of the education profession; Social Studies educators must engage in vigilant thought regarding their own experiences and privilege in order to successfully model what it means to be anti-racist; as well as the ability to grow in our own knowledge and humanity. 

The NCCSS Board of Directors understands that the work of racial justice often leads to cognitive conflict, as many educators may be forced to question long-held personal beliefs, and grapple with their own biases, privilege, and complacency in a system that has denied Black Americans their inalienable rights while never guaranteeing liberty and justice for all. NCCSS is committed to denouncing racist policies and practices, advocating for racial equity, promoting and providing anti-racist instructional content for use in classrooms across our state, and emphatically says, Black Lives Matter! 

NCCSS Board of Directors


1 (https://mappingpoliceviolence.org/)

2 (https://www.washingtonpost.com/graphics/investigations/police-shootings-database/).

3 (https://www.southerncoalition.org/youth-justice-project/2018-racial-equity-report-cards/)

4 (https://www.ednc.org/chronic-absenteeism-how-does-north-carolina-compare/)

5 (https://webapps.doc.state.nc.us/apps/asqExt/ASQ)


 May 18, 2020.

Since the first identified case of COVID-19 was declared in the United States on January 15, incidents of verbal and physical harassment against Asians and Asian Americans have sharply increased (Yan, Chen, & Nuresh, 2020). On March 16th, President Donald Trump referred to COVID-19 as “the Chinese Virus” in a controversial tweet (Kuo, 2020), defending his phrasing and denying that it might be racist for several days before publicly declaring he would refrain from repeating the phrase (Vasquez, 2020). From mid-March, in one month almost 1,500 physical and verbal attacks against Asian Americans were reported. People of Asian descent have been beaten, spat on, yelled at, insulted, and faced bodily harm from coast to coast. Asian American students have been called “coronavirus,” told to “go back to China,” and physically assaulted.

History shows this is not the first time the United States has witnessed a surge of anti-Asian discrimination in a time of public health crisis . In the wake of the 1876 outbreak of smallpox in California, Chinatowns were labeled as laboratories of infection and subjected to quarantine. During the 1900 bubonic plague outbreak, government officials in California and Hawaii also racialized the epidemic. They quarantined Chinatowns, sprayed the homes of Chinese residents with carbolic acid, forced Chinese residents to shower at public stations, and burned down their homes. A Chinatown in Orange County California was also burned down in 1906 when city officials viewed Chinese residents as threats to public health for the spread of leprosy. More recently, a similar pattern of racializing disease and fomenting anti-Asian discrimination occurred during the 2003 SARS epidemic and is evident now during the COVID-19 pandemic.

While fueled by the fear of disease and anti-Chinese/Asian rhetoric by politicians, the uptick of anti-Asian violence during a disease outbreak is rooted in longstanding biases toward Asian Americans. Soon after Asians arrived on U.S. soil, Asian immigrants were racialized as uncivilized, filthy, and dangerous to “Americans .” Depicted as the Yellow Peril who were dirty and dangerous to the United States as a white nation, Asian immigrants encountered discriminatory orders in housing, schooling, employment, marriage, and political participation. And in a time of public health crisis, wartime, or economic downturn, Asian Americans have often become a target of hate crimes and discrimination, as was the case in the Chinese massacre of 1871, Japanese American incarceration during World War II, the killing of Vincent Chin in 1982 during an economic downturn, discrimination against South Asian Americans, Arab Americans, and those perceived to be Muslim in the wake of September 11, 2001, and again today during the COVID-19 pandemic. The National Council for the Social Studies (NCSS) strongly condemns this discrimination and violence against Asian Americans. Furthermore, NCSS urges those in the public sphere to recognize the harm that is occurring and to engage in education about the impact of discrimination and violence on our citizens.

Role of Social Studies Education

This history and the current resurgence of Anti-Asian violence due to the COVID-19 pandemic signals the urgency of racial literacy education. As the home of democratic citizenship education, social studies educators have a duty to address race and racism. Our young and future citizens need the knowledge and skills to critically read, call out, and act against racism and racial violence in all its forms, especially during a time of crisis. COVID-19 is the newest episode in U.S. history in which a marginalized group is scapegoated and discriminated against during a public health crisis . Earlier, Irish immigrants were blamed for the cholera outbreaks in the 1830s. Then, Jewish immigrants were scapegoated for tuberculosis in the late 19th century, Italian immigrants for polio in the early 20th century, Haitian Americans for HIV in the 1980s, Mexican Americans for swine flu in 2009, and West Africans for Ebola in 2014. Informed and engaged citizens of a democratic society should know that a time of crisis requires solidarity, humanity, and hope, not hysteria or hatred. Only together can we “flatten the curve” of this pandemic, and only together can we prevent a wave of hate crime from arising. While racism and racialization of disease are not new to the United States, we can imagine and must promote a different kind of response through our teaching.

Social studies scholars and teacher educators whose research centers on the teaching of Asian American histories and Asian American representation are painfully aware of the effects of recent anti-Asian harassment on Asian American communities and of the longstanding absence of Asian American representation and histories in P-12 social studies curriculum. Asian Americans are woefully underrepresented in social studies textbooks (Suh, An, & Forest, 2015), standards (An, 2016), and children’s literature (Rodríguez & Kim, 2018). In the face of such sparse representation in the curriculum, media portrayals of Asians and Asian Americans as exotic Others serve as a potent influence to the popular imagination. While it is necessary to recognize the long history of anti-Asian racism in the United States, it is also vital that educators provide examples of Asian Americans showing agency and actively engaging in efforts to overcome this health and social crisis. For example, Sikhs, who are predominantly South Asian American, are providing massive food support across the country and Filipina/o nurses comprise a significant portion of the U.S. nursing force.

On May 11th and 12th, 2020, PBS debuted Asian Americans, the first major comprehensive documentary about Asian Americans, from the earliest arrivals to the United States in the 1800s to the present. The documentary is accompanied by an educational guide to which several NCSS College and University Faculty Assembly (CUFA) members have contributed lessons (see https://advancingjustice-la.org/what-we-do/curriculum-lesson-plans/asian-americans-k-12-education-curriculum ). Used alongside resources like those listed below, social studies educators can begin to include Asian American histories across the curriculum broadly, especially in conversations related to race and racism.


Below, we have curated a collection of resources about COVID-19, anti-Asian/Asian American harassment, and anti-Asian/Asian American racism for social studies educators interested in learning more about these histories and contemporary experiences. We are particularly mindful of the need to ensure that Asian American voices are included in these resources. We urge social studies educators to remind their students to seek #OwnVoices that emerge directly from the communities of focus, rather than relying on outsider and/or secondary sources of information.

Article of the Week (5/18)

The coronavirus pandemic and school closures across the nation have exposed deep inequities within education: technology access, challenges with communication, lack of support for special education students, to name just a few. During this crisis, there are still opportunities to provide students with tools to help them be independent learners, according to Zaretta Hammond, author of "Culturally Responsive Teaching and the Brain."

The classroom is where so much of the focus on learning has been placed, but there are opportunities to develop learning routines at home. This won’t mean sending home the same materials a student would have in class, but thinking about what a student needs in order to have agency over their learning in any situation. 

Hammond shared three design principles of culturally responsive instruction that can be used to support students’ cognitive development from afar in her webinar, “Moving Beyond the Packet: Creating More Culturally Responsive Distance Learning Experiences.” She said it’s important to stay focused on the student and offer small but high-leverage practices that maintain student progress and increase intellectual capacity during this time. She said these tips and activities also work for students without reliable access to technology and the internet.

First, what is culturally responsive instruction?

Shared language matters and there’s a lot of confusion about culturally responsive teaching.  At its core, culturally responsive instruction is about helping students become independent learners. Culturally responsive instruction should:

  • Focus on improving the learning capacity of students who have been marginalized educationally because of historical inequities in our school systems.
  • Center around both the affective and cognitive aspects of teaching and learning. 
  • Build cognitive capacity and academic mindset by pushing back on dominant narratives about people of color

“Culturally responsive instruction doesn't mean you're only mentioning issues of race and implicit bias," she said. "It means that you’re also focused on building brainpower by helping students leverage and grow their existing funds of knowledge.”  

Hammond distinguishes the differences between culturally responsive education, multicultural education and social justice education. Each is important, but without a focus on building students’ brain power, they will experience learning loss. 

Courtesy of Zaretta Hammond (Courtesy of Zaretta Hammond)

When it comes to distance learning, applying culturally responsive teaching requires “remixing” education by borrowing from the best practices in how kids learn (Montessori, project-based learning, etc.)  in a way that repositions  the student as the leader of his own learning. By giving students more agency, the idea is to disrupt old routines around teaching and learning that make the student dependent on the teacher for receiving knowledge. 

“It’s going to stretch us a little out of our own comfort zones, but it’s worth it in the long run if we can get students to continue to do that thinking,” said Hammond. 

She advises three strategies to help students gain that independence:

1. Deepen background knowledge

Many educators are understandably wondering whether they should teach new content or review familiar material. Hammond encourages educators to do the latter because cognitively dependent learners often have gaps in their background knowledge. “A lot of our students are compliant learners,” she said. “They’re having a hard time shifting right now [because] they’re used to the worksheet, but that doesn’t mean they’re always processing information.” 

She advises teachers to help students connect new things they're learning to their brain’s existing schema – also known as background knowledge – that comes from home, their community, their interests.  Teachers can then give them authentic tasks that help them make meaning and connections. This helps turn new inert information into usable knowledge. “You cannot give another person background knowledge,” she explained. “They have to acquire it, but as teachers we can help guide the process.” This can be done by building upon student interest. 

“Survey your students if you don’t know what they like,” said Hammond. Ask them what books they enjoy reading or what topics get them super excited. She said It doesn’t matter if their interests are broad or narrow; it’s important to learn what interests them so that you can use that information to: 

  • Assign non-fiction books that build on student interests.
  • Create a “Netflix” playlist of documentaries, nature shows, historical events, etc. 
  • Encourage kids and parents to do a walk-about, if that's possible in their community, following social distancing guidelines. Encourage parents and students to seek out community curiosities  (landmarks or interesting sights) relevant to students’ interest

With each of these activities, it’s important to give the students direction so they know what to look out for. “You have to tell the brain what to pay attention to,” Hammond explains. She suggested questions like, “What was your biggest surprise from this book/show?” or thinking routine sentences like “I Used to Think ___. But, now I think ____.” 

She said to always make sure that students do something with the knowledge as well. She suggested having them share interesting facts they learned either during video conferences or via an audio/video clip. For those students with limited internet access, encourage them to share what they learned with their parents. 

2. Cultivate cognitive routines 

Growing students’ brain power during distance learning starts with building cognitive routines. These routines are essential to processing and hardwiring information in the brain. 

“Be the personal trainer of their cognitive development,” Hammond said. To do this, she suggested having a routine set of prompts in each packet that become a regular part of the way students think. That way, students begin to think that way even when you’re not in the classroom to reinforce that way of thinking.

One example is to ask students to connect the “unknown to the known” or across concepts  by asking questions like, "What’s the relationship or connection between these things?” or “How does this part fit into the whole? What are the parts of this whole?” These may seem simple, but these questions are critical when it comes to processing information so that students internalize these prompts until they become almost instinctual. 

She said students should also be encouraged to sketchnote or doodle to actively process what they’re learning as an alternative to note-taking. Sketchnoting can encourage people to make deeper connections to what they’re hearing. 

3. Build word wealth 

Building a student’s vocabulary is a key tool in equity strategies for schools. “Kids have different interests in words so find out where their energy is. You can have a differentiated assignment around word collecting, but the idea is to get them actively involved in word consciousness,” said Hammond.  She said there are many small but high-leverage ways to do this, such as introducing robust word study. A teacher can help students engage in wordplay, word consciousness and word knowledge. This should not happen through a worksheet assignment, but rather begin with building word consciousness of words in their community, home and home language. 

Word games like Scrabble, Heads Up, Taboo or even word searches are small familiar but high-leverage activities because they’re fun but also require a high cognitive load. You can create your own versions of these games and have students do this in any language. Students can also do word collecting activities like scavenger hunts, or make poetry using magnetic poetry. Students can also do a contrastive analysis, by comparing words they might find in Urban Dictionary to those they might find in a standard dictionary.

She said it’s important to make sure that culturally responsive distance learning doesn’t turn into one-off strategies, like a single activity. She said practices must become routine by practicing over and over. She also said that by encouraging students to lean into their own productive struggle, they’ll know more about themselves as learners. “They've got to muck around a little bit and they've got to feel like it's OK,” said



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