Requests for Anti-Racism Classroom Curricula Increased Following Recent Police Brutality Events
A new study used data from an online crowdfunding platform for U.S. public school teachers to document the effect of police brutality events and ensuing Black Lives Matter (BLM) protests on requests for anti-racism curricula. The study found a significant increase in requests for books about or by African Americans after local BLM protests related to the death of George Floyd. Most requests were for children under age 10 and also included materials representing the cultures of other minority groups. By analyzing the impact statements teachers submitted after using the material, researchers concluded that they used the books to stimulate conversations related to race and social justice issues, including themes of representation, self-esteem, empathy, and acceptance.
The study, by researchers at Carnegie Mellon University (CMU), is a working paper.
“Given the political polarization of the country, the reluctance of schoolteachers to discuss race, and the financial hardships of public schools, the impact of racially charged events on classroom discourse remains unclear,” says Ananya Sen, assistant professor of information systems and economics at CMU’s Heinz College, who coauthored the study. “Our study demonstrates the impact of BLM on a fundamental outcome crucial to bringing about systemic change—conversations with children about race.”
Systemic racism has plagued the United States for generations. Over the past decade, incidents of police brutality and ensuing BLM protests have highlighted issues related to racial justice, reaching a peak in the summer of 2020 after the death of Floyd. In this study, researchers used requests for books made by teachers on DonorsChoose.org, the largest crowdfunding platform for public school teachers in the United States, as a measure of teachers’ intent to discuss issues associated with race in their classrooms.
Researchers quantified the impact of high-profile racially charged events from 2010 to 2020 on teachers’ willingness or ability to introduce curriculum depicting diverse cultures and themes related to police violence and racial justice. Specifically, they examined teachers’ requests on DonorsChoose.org for any of nearly 28,000 books about or by African Americans eight weeks before and eight weeks after 14 high-profile events of police brutality and 5,000 BLM protests from 2012 to 2020; they compared these to a group of requests on the platform for career-preparation resources.
The study identified more than 24,000 anti-racism projects on the platform. Requests for the books skyrocketed after the killing of Floyd; there were no changes in the number of requests following all other race-related events in the decade. This means that the number of anti-racism books acquired in the aftermath of all events of police brutality over the past decade was surpassed in about three weeks after the death of Floyd.
After Floyd’s death, more than 90 percent of book requests featuring African American authors or protagonists requested were successfully funded, according to the study, enabling teachers to acquire books worth $3.4 million and reach more than half a million students. The increase in requests came primarily from teachers whose students were younger than 10 (prekindergarten through fifth grades).
In addition, the study found a sharp increase in requests for books depicting Latinx, Asian, Muslim, and Jewish cultures, suggesting a general demand for a more inclusive curriculum. By analyzing the impact statements teachers submitted after using the material, researchers concluded that they used the books to stimulate conversations related to race and social justice issues, including themes of representation, self-esteem, empathy, and acceptance.
Finally, more requests for anti-racism books occurred at schools in cities where BLM protests had been held after Floyd’s death than in cities where such protests were not held. Requests by teachers in cities that held BLM protests jumped in the week after the first protest and teachers’ statements included specific references to BLM protests for the first time.
“Children develop social attitudes around issues like race and gender at a young age,” explains Saharsh Agarwal, a Ph.D. student at CMU’s Heinz College, who coauthored the study. “Having $3.4 million worth of books available to hundreds of thousands of students across public schools in the United States demonstrates the power of local protests and sheds light on a key strategy of BLM.”
Summarized from a working paper, Race-Related Classroom Curriculum and Digital Platforms: Evidence From Black Lives Matter by Agarwal, S (Carnegie Mellon University), and Sen, A (Carnegie Mellon University). Copyright 2021. All rights reserved.
About Heinz College of Information Systems and Public Policy
The Heinz College of Information Systems and Public Policy is home to two internationally recognized graduate-level institutions at Carnegie Mellon University: the School of Information Systems and Management and the School of Public Policy and Management. This unique colocation combined with its expertise in analytics set Heinz College apart in the areas of cybersecurity, health care, the future of work, smart cities, and arts & entertainment. In 2016, INFORMS named Heinz College the #1 academic program for Analytics Education. For more information, please visit www.heinz.cmu.edu.