And what role should schools play in undoing white supremacy?

Abrome is off today, in honor of Indigenous Peoples’ Day. Indigenous Peoples’ Day began as a counter-celebration to Columbus Day, and in 1992 the city of Berkeley, California, was the first was first to institute it. In recent years the movement to celebrate indigenous peoples instead of Columbus has quickly gained momentum. Locally, the City of Austin made the switch in 2017, in part to encourage Austin Public Schools to include the teachings of Indigenous Peoples’ history.

Portrait of a Man, Said to be Christopher Columbus, 1519

Portrait of a Man, Said to be Christopher Columbus, by Sebastiano del Piombo, 1519

Sounds good, right? I looked at the four closest public school districts to Abrome and found that none of them are celebrating Indigenous Peoples’ Day. One is celebrating Columbus Day, and three others called it a “student holiday.” In spite of Austin City Council’s encouragement to Austin Public Schools, the Austin Independent School District initially declared today a holiday for “Columbus Day and Indigenous Peoples’ Day,” but only listed it as a student holiday on their calendar, and then shifted the holiday to election day. I had less luck figuring out what local private schools were doing as many do not have easily accessible calendars, but I found that two of them were off for Indigenous Peoples’ Day, two more were off for fall break, and one was in session, as usual. It was depressing. While having a day off for celebration does not necessarily mean that students are learning about their history (students tend not to learn anything meaningful about their history in school even in history class), officially recognizing the day that challenges the celebration of Columbus is at least a start. If schools are meant to be safe spaces for all young people, and places where history is supposed to be taught, then celebrating Indigenous Peoples’ Day is the bare minimum schools should do.

Comanches watching an American caravan in West Texas, 1850, by Lee Arthur Tracy

Comanches watching an American caravan in West Texas, 1850, by Lee Arthur Tracy

But k-12 schools rarely lead on issues that center the humanity of others, particularly children. And to the extent that they do, it is often performative. Schools can celebrate Indigenous Peoples’ Day and they can hang a Black Lives Matter sign on the side of their building, but do they discuss the use of residential schools in the United States to destroy Indigenous culture, or do they discuss how they contribute to the school to prison pipeline? Unfortunately, they do not.

And when society evolves for the better, the schools tend to be laggards, not leaders (e.g., Austin Public Schools). A common conservative cry is that schools, particularly public schools, are liberal indoctrination centers, which is laughable. Not the indoctrination part, the liberal part. Schools are among the most conservative institutions in the country. Not only do they push an American exceptionalism bastardization of American history, they promote white supremacy in what they teach and how they teach. By way of what schools teach, students are taught that it is okay for white people to rule over peoples of color and that militarily powerful nations can bully weaker nations. By his own account, Columbus enslaved people, destroyed cultures, and terrorized those who challenged his rule. By way of how schools teach, students are taught that there is a hierarchy in society (adult over child, wealthy over poor, white over BIPOC) that they must buy into if they want to succeed within that society, else they will suffer (starting with a failing grade). And it should come as no surprise that in this moment, with fascism rising, and during a nation-wide uprising against racial injustice, that the President of the United States is calling for “patriotic education” and a “pro-American curriculum” in schools. What he is doing is doubling down on schooling and white supremacy, not rejecting what is happening in schools.

If schools really wanted to participate in undoing white supremacy they would celebrate today as Indigenous Peoples’ Day. They wouldn’t call it fall break, or a student holiday. They would not call it “Columbus Day and Indigenous Peoples’ Day.” And that would only be the start; the bare minimum. They would also give space to conversations about the real history of what has happened in the Western Hemisphere since 1492. They would also dump their curriculum that is centered on white supremacy. Not just the history curriculum, but all of it. They would tear down the power structures within the school so that the adults did not have power over the students. They would eliminate the disciplinary practices that control students’ bodies and actions. They would eliminate the homework, testing, and grading so that the students could see themselves as allies and collaborators, as opposed to competitors fighting with each other for advantages and privileges. And they certainly would not celebrate Columbus.


Abrome is located in Austin, TX, which is located on the land of the Jumano Tribe, the Tonkawa Tribe, the Tāp Pīlam Coahuiltecan Nation, and the Nʉmʉnʉʉ (Comanche) nation.