MD introduces “Stamped” to history curriculum

Owen Heidings and Emily Salzhauer

All Middle Division (MD) students are reading “Stamped: Racism, Anti Racism, and You” by Jason Reynolds and Ibram X Kendi as one of the new anti-racism initiatives implemented by the MD this year, said Head of MD History Department Eva Abbamonte. Seventh and eighth graders read the book over the summer, and sixth graders have just begun the book, she said.

“Stamped” is a young-adult book that discusses the history of racism in America. By teaching students about the past, students are inspired to support an anti-racist future, she said.

 The book is based on Kendi’s adult book “Stamped from the Beginning” but is written in a way that is engaging for younger students, Abbamonte said. The book deals with a sensitive topic in a way that is digestible for younger students, incorporating humor to make harsher moments more lighthearted, she said. 

“Stamped” is an enjoyable read because its language is easy to grasp, Grace Merchant (6) said. “It is a book about history — but it isn’t about history with dates and numbers,” she said. “It talks about racism through dialogue and stories.”

The MD administration chose to incorporate this particular book into the curriculum after librarian Rachael Ricker and the Readers’ Forum club picked Reynolds as their Mock Newbury speaker last year. Reynolds was already planning on speaking to the school this year about his other works, Abbamonte said. When the administration found out about Kendi and Reynolds’ new book, “Stamped,” they decided it would be a work worthwhile for all MD students, as its material is more pertinent now than ever before, Abbamonte said.

The sixth graders will continue to read sections of the book over the remainder of the school year, history teacher Catherine Garrison said. “Through ‘Stamped,’ we are getting an idea of what really formed racism in America,” Garrison said. 

The lessons learned in “Stamped” are woven into seventh grade class discussions, especially when they relate to segregation or racism, Zach Hornfeld (7) said.  

Teachers are steering away from a Eurocentric perspective in sixth-grade history class, which covers the colonization and settlement of the Americas, Garrison said. “We have been using a number of different resources trying to decentralize whiteness in our curriculum,” she said. 

Teachers are working towards incorporating more stories about people of color into the curriculum, especially those that do not highlight their oppression, Garrison said. For example, students in the sixth grade are looking at Native American cultures that were successful before European contact, she said. “We have framed it as ‘unsettling’ the Americas rather than ‘settling’ them, and we’re looking at how disruptive European arrival was to the cultures already residing here.” 

Leah Marquardt (8) said the book was informative and relevant to current events. “I learned that racism can come in different forms, and I learned a lot more about the backstory and history of racism, and how many people were judged just by the color of their skin rather than actually getting to know them,” Marquardt said. 

There have been mostly positive responses among MD students. Many of them, like Merchant, have enjoyed the new curriculum. “Anti-racist initiatives should expand so that more people are aware of what’s happening in the world around us,” Merchant said.

“All the new anti-racism initiatives in the MD are, in my opinion, important,” Hornfeld said. “There are some students who might not feel comfortable discussing the topic, and the school helps break it down simply.” 

The school is likely to keep using the book in the future as an approach to help students understand the history of racism in the United States, Abbamonte said.