Democracy in Action: Inclusion of Computer Science and African American History in Public Schools

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On March 6th I attended the Education Committee public hearing in the Legislative Offices Building at the State Capitol. When I walked into the room, there were no available seats left. The room was filled with people who were activists, students, senators, representatives, and news reporters. On the agenda for today were many different bills, but the three that I got to see discussed were bills H. B. No. 7082, H. B. No. 7083, and S. B. No. 957. Upon first glance, there was a wide variety of people who were in the room in regards to race and age, and it looked as if there was an even split between males and females. State Senator McCrory was the man in charge of calling on different people to testify, and he was also in charge of keeping order within the room and initiating any questions that committee members and representatives had. One by one, different people would come up and testify before the committee in hopes to persuade the committee members to vote in favor of their proposed bills and amendments.


When I walked into the room, what first caught my eye was the overwhelming presence of the yellow flowers that about three-quarters of the spectators were wearing on their shirts and that were on the desk of Senator Doug McCrory and two other committee members. When I asked one lady in the spectator section what they were for, she informed me that they were to show their support for the early childhood bills that were being talked about a little later on in the hearing. These flowers went along with the t-shirts that other spectators were wearing that said: “Kids can’t vote, so we have to.” And, while I did not get to see firsthand these early childhood bills being discussed, it seemed like a lot of the people in the hearing room were there to show their support for them––as evident by the half a dozen children ranging from the ages 3-5 in the audience.


My time there was split mostly between proposed bills S.B. No. 957 and H.B. No. 7082, and while these two bills were very different in essence––957 was in support of inclusion of computer sciences programs and 7082 called for more classes focusing on African American history in public schools––there was one main theme that kept coming up: while these two bills were passed over a year ago, the people testifying on behalf of these bills claimed that they were not being enforced properly. Witness after witness came up to the stand and gave their own personal accounts as to why they believed these bills were important, but they all stated over and over again that the committee needed to pass their proposed amendments to ensure that the bills were being implemented well and quickly.


In regards to H.B. No. 7082, witnesses believed that their amendment was necessary because of the overall importance of African American history to all students regardless of their race. State Senator Derek Slap summed up his argument of why African American history should be included at a better level than it currently is in public schools by saying, “African American history is America’s history.” He stated that he thought it was essential for all children to learn about this history, even though it may be hard, because it is the only way to unify all students and educators. He summed up his testimony by saying, “It is the lesson––not the event––that unites us.”

Elizabeth, Allie, and Julia in the lobby of the state Legislative Offices Lobby.

At 3:00, several different students had their chances to testify, as well. There was a group of students and adults from the Students for Educational Justice civil rights group, all wearing matching t-shirts that had their group’s logo, and some of them came up to speak before the committee. One student, Shawn B., from a public school right outside of Hartford, stated his support for the proposed amendment and stated that he was, “Proud to be African American.”, and he thought that the current way that the bill was being implemented in schools was not enough. Another student-witness, Bennie D., told about her own personal struggles with racism and how different her life would be if it were implemented correctly. She told of her own struggles with “internalized racism” in her predominantly white school district, and how the inclusion of properly-implemented African American history would have helped her be more comfortable with who she was.


Additionally, two student witnesses from the Hartford Magnet Trinity College Academy (HMTCA) came before the committee and talked about how Connecticut public schools needed to support their amendment to better implement Bill 957. One student, McKenna L., came before the committee and told them about how big of an impact computer science courses had in her life. She believed that every student should be introduced at least the very basics of computer science, because they are so quintessential to everyone’s lives. She told the committee about how the inclusion of these courses allowed her to become a more democratic, politically active citizen. She also shared her hopes of using these courses to “mentor young girls of color” and “bridge the gap of inequality.” McKenna shared facts about the computer science industry and explained how only one-out-of-ten scientists in the United States were minority women, and how, if better implemented, Bill 957 could change that. After McKenna spoke, one more student, Lola K., came and spoke about this bill. She, too, is a current student at HMTCA and she also explained how important the inclusion of computer science is to her. She told the committee a string of facts proving how the current bill was not being implemented in a satisfactory way. She explained that in two schools in the suburbs surrounding Hartford there were eleven and twelve computer science classes taught in each school while there was only one computer science class taught in Hartford. She claimed that the lack of accessibility to Hartford students promoted economic and racial disparity, and the only way to mend this would be to pass the new amendment that so many people came before the committee to testify about. Lola explained that the passing of this bill would help redefine and destigmatize what a computer scientist is and who they are.


While I was only able to witness talks about two of the bills, there were a lot of compelling testifiers at today’s hearing. A lot of people of all races, ages, and genders came before the committee to testify on behalf of causes that they believe in. It was really amazing to see all of these people come together in support of something that they believe in and want to fight for. By sitting through today’s hearing, it became evident to me that the fate of our democracy really is in capable hands. These students are the future, and it is their job to forge their own history and determine the way that they want their history to look like.