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Current Political Reality

Myths from the Media

Realities from the Discipline


Current Political Reality

Why does the Ethnic Studies Model Curriculum need to be defended & saved?

The groups attacking the curriculum have been pushing for it to be stricken down, rewritten completely, delayed and/or significantly redesigned; it is unclear if rewriting and redesigning will take place with experts in the field and/or teachers in the type of study.  This is about more than just a few revisions they are talking about.  In today’s environment of hatred and discrimination across groups, the attacks turned into a deliberate effort to (1) discredit the discipline of Ethnic Studies, (2) an attempt to silence the voices of California’s Native American, Chicanx/Latinx, African American, and Asian American/Pacific Islander/Arab American communities, and (3) encourage more charter and privatized schools.  We cannot stand idly by and let our communities be marginalized.

In terms of defending and saving the Ethnic Studies Model Curriculum, as of September 9, Assembly Leader Jose Media and State Superintendent Thurmond had not yet agreed that the revision and final draft of the curriculum should focus on the racial-ethnic groups of Ethnic Studies. Although Thurmond held a press conference with the Jewish American Caucus, he has yet to confirm a meeting and a press conference with the Save CA Ethnic Studies Model Curriculum Committee.

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Myths from the Media

Media Myth #1: What about Anti-Semitism?

  • Jewish Americans have been strong liberal allies to people of color.  Hate groups want Jewish Americans to go against people of color, a divide and conquer strategy.  Neither Anti-Semitism nor Racism should be tolerated.  Both are a warning signs, a precursor to increased hate attacks.  It is in the interest of both the Jewish Americans and Communities of Color to support each other as allies in the pursuit of social justice.  Units in Ethnic Studies courses traditionally address this. 
  • Ethnic Studies professionals understand the concerns about the draft model curriculum, and some agree that the draft needs edits especially in regards to specific references.
  • The media falsely accused the Model Curriculum of completely omitting Anti-Semitism.  TheModel Curriculum does mentionthe oppression of Anti-Semitism, the impact of the Holocaust, historical conditions of Jewish immigration, and considering the perspective of Jewish Americans, as seen in the examples below.
    • Chapter 2, page 241, “First wave immigrants…often identified as members of a particular religious group or geographic area: Christians, Muslims, or Jews, from Lebanon, Aleppo, or Jerusalem.”
    • Chapter 2, page 289 “…distinct forms of social oppression in the United States, including anti-Semitism
    • Appendixes, page 7 “European Immigration (Italians, Jewish, Polish, Irish, Serbian, etc.) Topics will include history and waves of European immigration to the United States, the role of World Wars I and II , the Cold War, Iron Curtain, and Communism played in immigration polices and effects on populations of immigrants.”
    • Appendixes, page 21, “In this process, students will explore the relationships between previous generations and their modern generation by reading the chapter and writing a diary entry for each sub-section in the chapter (6 total: Japanese Americans, African Americans, Chinese Americans, Mexican Americans, Native Americans, Jewish Americans) from the perspective of a person of that group during that time period.
    • Appendixes, page 34, List of course materials for example course Ethnic Studies: U.S. History from Oakland includes the book “Holocaust and Human Behavior.”  
    • Appendixes, page 100, “After Pearl Harbor, the unit moves into the ways the US transitioned into a war time economy and a state of total war as well as the civil rights issues that arose out of that (including the role of women in the war effort, Executive Order 9066 and Korematsu v. U.S., general divisions among African Americans about serving and other issues of tension created by the Second Great Migration, the Zoot Suit Riots, anti-Semitism and the limited response to the Holocaust, etc).”
  • 99.8% of the document does not deserve to be eliminated because of only 0.2% of the content that encouraged research and discussion on a controversial topic.  The Advisory Committee was not given enough time to review the entire document, including a draft before being posted to the public.
  • In the California Assembly and in the California Senate, all of the Jewish Caucus members voted in favor of this Ethnic Studies bill, as it was written.  Following the intention of the law, the Department of Education wrote the model curriculum to focus on California’s communities of color. 
  • The Los Angeles Times reported that the Jewish Caucus Chair, “Allen said he fully supports an Ethnic Studies requirement for high school graduation and believes it’s appropriate for the focus to remain on California’s four major communities of color”.  Note that previously, Allen presented the initial complaint about the model curriculum being Anti-Semitic, and then was newly appointed as a member of the Instructional Quality Commission.
  • Historically, Jewish Studies had its own discipline and form of study with a “religio-historico-cultural focus”.  Historically, Jewish Studies has not sought to be included in the racial-ethnic groups of color defined by the Council of Ethnic Studies.

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Media Myth #2: What about Jargon?

Like other areas of study, Ethnic Studies has its own language, vocabulary, concepts, and terms to understand the complexity of identities, structures, resilience, and cooperation across groups. Since it is a multidisciplinary field of study, it also uses terms and concepts from the social sciences and humanities as well.

According to San Francisco Unified School District, “…Ethnic Studies is complex, just as physics and chemistry are complex. Equating it to the periodic table, would we get rid of it or water it down because it’s complex? We need to be careful when people say that the guiding principles are “too academic” or “jargon” because this promotes an anti-intellectualism which downplays and counters the intellectual and ideological traditions that emerged from communities of color and Native peoples, and that have contributed to the development of Ethnic Studies. It also assumes that teachers are not academic and intellectual themselves and this is dangerous, especially in Ethnic Studies, who some may attack as not being rigorous.”

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Media Myth #3: Was it written by agenda driven activists?

No. The Ethnic Studies Model Curriculum was developed by California Department of Education writers under the close direction of Department of Education leadership, and approved by the Instructional Quality Commission.  Writing the model curriculum was required by law, in AB2016, which was passed by the California Assembly, Senate and was signed by the Governor. The California Department of Education received input, suggestions, and recommendations for developing the curriculum by the Advisory Committee and also from the Instructional Quality Commission.

The law required the California Department of Education to work with educators who have a background in the study and teaching of Ethnic Studies.  The 19 members of the Ethnic Studies Model Curriculum Advisory Committee were selected for their expertise in Ethnic Studies by the Board of Education and Instructional Quality Commission, out of about 130 applicants. They were mostly high school teachers. The Advisory Committee was only given 3 working sessions (six days) to review the entire curriculum and give their feedback based on their training and public comment.  Three sessions was not enough time to review and vote line by line for the entire document. Following the work of the Advisory Committee, the Instructional Quality Commission reviewed and approved the curriculum before opening the curriculum for public comment from June to Aug 15.

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Media Myth #4: Why was this curriculum sprung on us?

It wasn’t.  The process began in 2014 when the bill AB2016 was introduced.  The bill was discussed and voted on in the California Assembly and again in the California Senate.  The State Board of Education approved and posted the timeline for the model curriculum process in advance.  The meetings were open to the public.  The entire curriculum was open for public comment since June.  It just felt sudden when the media picked on it in August.

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Media Myth #5: What is the Ethnic Studies Model Curriculum and who supports it?

First, the law states that the model curriculum shall be written as a guide to ensure quality courses of study in Ethnic Studies.  It is not mandated curriculum.  While the state Model Curriculum focuses on the major racial-ethnic groups, it encourages district/site administrators to “consider the local [histories], demographics and particular needs of your district/site’s students and their respective communities, including recognition of the Indigenous Peoples wherever a course is being taught” (Chapter 1, page 25). It is a resource for high school teachers.  It includes lists of figures, topics, and few sample lessons. Because of limited resources (i.e., time, writer capacity, funding) it is not a full blown curriculum with complete histories of every racial ethnic group in the United States.

The current draft has strong support from the 22 California State University Ethnic Studies programs and departments represented by the Council on Ethnic Studies, several University of California Ethnic Studies faculty, Ethnic Studies Researcher Christine Sleeter (whose Ethnic Studies research review for the National Education Association is the only publication specifically cited in AB2016 legislation), the Black Legislative Caucus, Third World Liberation Front veterans who demanded that Eurocentric curriculum expand 50 years ago, and over 60 organizations (i.e., educational, civil rights, and labor) with membership in the thousands.   Click here to see the list of supporters.

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Media Myth #6: Is Ethnic Studies divisive?

Ethnic Studies is the direct opposite of being divisive. It provides opportunities for the voices of people of color who have been excluded in mainstream curricula to be heard. This attempts to bridge gaps between racial and ethnic groups and promotes a sense of understanding and empathy between students of all races.

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Media Myth #7: Does Ethnic Studies exclude any communities?

Although the curriculum in Ethnic Studies is focused on presenting the history and experiences of people of color, this does not equate exclusion. Ethnic Studies is meant to be relevant and responsive which encourages students of all races to make meaningful connections to the curriculum. Larger frameworks and concepts of power, privilege, and oppression open up the discussion for students of all races to engage how they fit in the structures of American society and even offers opportunities for them to challenge systems that have created and perpetuated inequity and bigotry.

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Media Myth #8: How does Ethnic Studies serve white students? Is Ethnic Studies anti-white? Is it anti-American?

In a research review from the National Education Association, Dr. Christine Sleeter outlines the academic and social value of Ethnic Studies. Research shows that Ethnic Studies curriculum intentionally includes historically racially marginalized communities and encourages cross-group communication to address racial tensions. Traditionally, history and social science courses for centuries have centered the white experience and instead Ethnic Studies centers the experiences of people of color because they have been excluded from the mainstream courses. This not only benefits students of color in that they finally get to see themselves in the curriculum, this centering of non-white experiences allows white students to learn about cultures, histories, and experiences other than their own and this impacts the ways in which they live in our society. This leads to reduction of white supremacy, racism, and hate that is rooted in ignorance and stereotypes. This can also lead to a stronger sense of empathy amongst all students of all races.

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Realities from the Discipline

What is Ethnic Studies?

Ethnic Studies is a multidisciplinary field of study (drawing from sociology, anthropology, history, political science, political economy, critical race theory, critical studies, etc.) that examines race and racism towards indigenous and racial ethnic groups, and their contributions to the nation. San Francisco State University defines Ethnic Studies as “safe” academic spaces for “all to learn the histories, cultures, and intellectual traditions of Native peoples and communities of color in the U.S. in the first-person and also practice theories of resistance and liberation to eliminate racism and other forms of oppression.”

The Council of Ethnic Studies defined, “Ethnic Studies re-centered the studies of people of color, African/Black American, Asian American, Latino/Raza and Native/Indigenous Americans to insure that the study of ethnicity and race in relationship to these peoples were done centered from the perspective, questions, needs and aspirations of the peoples being studied, in intentional counter narrative to that which centered the study of people of color from the perspectives, needs, questions, and aspirations of…Whiteness as some inherent norm for humanity. Ethnic Studies is, therefore, an explicit counternarrative to decolonize the academic narratives, which would speak or act on people of color without our permission and without our self-determined interest at the center of the studies.”

In 1968 a call for expanding Eurocentric curriculum was made by the students involved in the East Los Angeles Walkouts and then by the Third World Liberation Front (TWLF) Student Strike at San Francisco State University, followed at UC Berkeley. TWLF was supported by the progressive community and labor union members who struggled towards social change and creating an anti-racist society.  The universities imposed the name “Ethnic Studies” onto Third World Studies programs and courses as they began in 1969. 

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Why is Ethnic Studies important?

Ethnic Studies improves the lives of our children. According to research, Ethnic Studies curriculum in high schools has demonstrated an increase in: (a) student attendance, (b) student engagement with school, (c) GPA across disciplines, (d) high school graduation rates, (e) high stakes standardized test scores, (f) college-going rates, and (g) sense of belonging.  Studies show that Ethnic Studies works when done correctly—narrowing and eradicating “the achievement gap” for students of color.  It also provides significant benefits for white students, teaching them valuable 21st century multicultural skills.

This curriculum will benefit all students.  There are 6 million students in California.  All of them can benefit from Ethnic Studies.  Of those students, 4.7 million are students of color.   See kidsdata.org for a racial demographic breakdown of your county.

High school students can benefit the soonest the curriculum is available.  Of the 1.9 million high school students in California, 1.4 million of them are students of color, the majority of whom struggle in the educational pipeline.  See this graphic from the 2015 report from the UCLA Chicano Studies Research Center.

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