SPPS adds Hmong history curriculum


A celebration was held at Washington Technology Secondary in creating Hmong Social Studies Anchor Lessons in Saint Paul Public Schools.

Take Action Minnesota, a statewide coalition of organizations representing a range of constituencies concerned with economic and social justice, teamed with Saint Paul Public Schools staff and teachers forming a committee in 2008 to start this initiative that we finally see bloom and hopefully continue to blossom.

It was a day that celebrated a victory not just for Hmong people but a victory for Saint Paul Public Schools.

“Many internal staff at SPPS and community members was involved in this initiative to be able to bring this forward,” said Chong Lee, Take Action Community Organizer, Co-Chair on the Education Committee. “Superintendent Valeria Silva was key to moving this forward, because, she saw the value in absent narratives and recognizing that Hmong history is an absent narrative.”

Michelle Bierman, the Supervisor of Instructor Reform and Free Service Teaching for SPPS, started the Absent Narrative Project from her position as a social studies program administrator four years ago. It has since evolved in a contemporary social-studies curriculum focused on adding lessons that were not normally told in traditional textbooks.

The absent narratives are stories, arts, music and histories that are left out of what is known as standard curriculum, she said. These narratives are absent and not represented as part of the mainstream curriculum.

“The Absent Narrative are stories of individuals who were there during the historical time period,” said Bierman. “But their stories are often not told, when we re-tell the history.

“We really felt like if we went with the regular text books, there would b a lot of stories and histories left out and it is our job to find those stories and work with historians and give teachers that information so that they can teach the entire history and not just one perspective,” she added.

Nao Thao, Take Action Community Organizer, and Co-Chair on the Education Committee, said she hopes that perhaps soon all Minnesota kids will have the chance to hear the absent narratives of the Hmong People.

Emily Martin Yang, a SPPS Social Studies teacher, said that with the support of Superintendant Silva they were able to put this curriculum into place. She said it is important for kids to see themselves and make a personal connection with history or it will seem like a “nebulas thing that happened in the past.”

“It’s important for kids to see themselves represented, that it’s just not somebody else,” said Yang. “Everybody has a part in history and everyone’s history is important.”

Koua Yang, a SPPS Geography teacher, said this is “a huge moment” for the Hmong community and also the school district. He was part of designing the curriculum for Hmong immigration specifically for 10th graders, and talks about migration patterns with the students.

“The Hmong people are part of that migration,” said Yang. “The Hmong migration has not been really explored.”

Absent narratives is one part as to why this curriculum was developed.  Another key reason was for racial justice, according to Take Action MN Board Chairman Mark Schultz.

“Take action is committed to working for racial justice,” said Schultz. “We don’t believe we have a good economy, good policies, unless there is racial equity. And to me, winning this victory, having Hmong history fully embedded and intergraded with SPPS means that young Hmong kids know where they come from, their feet are on the ground.”

Schultz explained that the idea is to have the kids gain an outlook and prepare to one day make a difference in their communities. With this comes the need to know ones culture and history. The goal is to work well with each one of our communities and for all of the communities to work well together.

Some teachers are ore ready than others, and so to allow all teachers to become acclimated with the curriculum before teaching, some classes already developed will be implemented in May while others will start with the Fall semester.

Anchor lessons are required lessons and the Hmong Social Studies Anchor Lessons will be taught in the 7th, 10th, and 11th Grade.

Sophomores can expect to learn Human Geography: Migration- Causes and effect of the Hmong Migration. High school Juniors can expect to learn U.S. History: The Hmong and the Secret War: Issues, Events, and Consequences.