Stephens: California’s Ethnic Studies Follies: A proposed curriculum magnifies differences, encourages tribal loyalties and advances ideological group think.

Some exaggeration regarding divisiveness but valid points regarding over-reach and the risks in not using ethnic studies to look at both the commonalities and differences:

The first time California’s Department of Education published a draft of an ethnic studies “model curriculum” for high school students, in 2019, it managed the neat trick of omitting anti-Semitism while committing it.

More than a million Jews live in California. They are also among the state’s leading victims of hate crimes.

Yet in a lengthy draft otherwise rich with references to various forms of bigotry, there was no mention of bigotry toward Jews. There was, however, an endorsement of the Boycott, Divest and Sanction movement, which essentially calls for the elimination of the Jewish state. There was also an approving mention of a Palestinian singer rapping that Israelis “use the press so they can manufacture” — the old refrain that lying Jews control the media.

The draft outraged many Jews. And they were joined by Armenian, Assyrian, Hellenic, Hindu and Korean civic groups in a statementurging the California Department of Education to “completely redraft the curriculum.” In its original form, they said, the document was “replete with mischaracterizations and omissions of major California ethnoreligious groups.”

Last September, Gov. Gavin Newsom vetoed a bill that would mandate ethnic studies as a graduation requirement in California’s high schools, pending further review of the model curriculum. While some maintained that a critical ethnic studies curriculum was a mistake, and not just for Jews, others took the view that, when it came to those revisions, it was better to be at the table than on it. Progressive Jews helped redraft a curriculum that included two sample lessons on the Jewish-American experience, along with testimonials about Jewishness from the likes of Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Dianne Feinstein.

A victory? One can still quarrel with the curriculum’s tendentiously racialized view of the American-Jewish experience. But at least the anti-Semitic and anti-Zionist dog whistles have been taken out and the history of anti-Semitism has been put in.

Yet as the Board of Education is set to vote on the new curriculum this month, it is likelier than before to enthrone ethnic studies, an older relative to critical race theory, into the largest public school system in the United States. This is a big deal in America’s ongoing culture wars. And it’s a bad deal for California’s students, at least for those whose school districts decide to make the curriculum their own.

What is “ethnic studies”? Contrary to first impressions, it is not multiculturalism. It is not a way of exploring, much less celebrating, America’s pluralistic society. It is an assault on it. “A multiculturalist framework that views our people through a colonialist lens is what literally led to the need for ethnic studies,” Sharif Zakout of the Arab Resource and Organizing Center told a state Education Department panel last year.

Ethnic studies is less an academic discipline than it is the recruiting arm of a radical ideological movement masquerading as mainstream pedagogy. From the opening pages of the model curriculum, students are expected not just to “challenge racist, bigoted, discriminatory, imperialist/colonial beliefs,” but to “critique empire-building in history” and “connect ourselves to past and contemporary social movements that struggle for social justice.”

That would be fine if it appeared in the pages of, say, The Nation. It would be fine, too, if students were exposed to critical race theory the way they might be exposed to Marxist philosophy or some other ideology — as a subject to be examined, not a lens through which to do the examining. The former is education. The latter is indoctrination. The ethnic studies curriculum conceals the difference.

It also does so in a uniquely lopsided way. “Ethnic studies is for all students,” the curriculum announces. Actually, not so much. Irish-Americans have faced a long history of discrimination in the U.S. and are famously proud of their heritage. But the word “Irish” hardly appears anywhere in the model curriculum, and nowhere in its sample lessons. Russians, Italians, Poles and others rate only the briefest mentions.

Perhaps this is because all of them, like most Jews, have a new identity, known in the jargon of ethnic studies as “conditional whiteness,” which simultaneously erases their past and racializes their present. Leave aside the ignorance this fosters regarding the long history of differences, struggles and achievements by various European ethnic groups in America. It’s also the mirror image of longstanding prejudices regarding “Asians” or “Hispanics” as ethnically undifferentiated masses of mainly identical people.

When the main thing left-wing progressives see about America is its allegedly oppressive systems of ethnicity or color, they aren’t seeing America at all. Nor should they be surprised when right-wing reactionaries adopt a perverse version of their views. To treat “whiteness” — conditional or otherwise — not as an accident of pigmentation but as an ethnicity unto itself is what the David Dukes of the world have always wanted.

It shouldn’t be like this. Public education is supposed to create a sense of common citizenship while cultivating the habits of independent thinking. This is a curriculum that magnifies differences, encourages tribal loyalties and advances ideological groupthink.


‘Herstory’ is out as California revamps K-12 ethnic studies course guide

Hard to update curricula for ethnic studies and develop consensus and balance (as in the case of citizenship guides):

State officials unveiled their latest try at an ethnic studies curriculum for K-12 students Friday, and it’s clear their hope is that this time fewer people will be offended.

To appease critics of academic jargon, the new draft ditches terms such as “herstory” for the more traditional “history.” To better honor diversity, teachers are encouraged to let the ethnic composition of the class influence study topics.

Still, the new version retains a focus on the four groups long associated with ethnic studies: African Americans, Asian Americans, Chicanos/Latinos and Native American and Indigenous peoples. That aspect could reassure leaders in the field of ethnic studies, who shaped the first version but had less influence over the revision.

All told, the latest draft represents an attempt at compromise among strong, difficult-to-resolve passions. Ethnic studies is innately and even intentionally political in challenging established norms. All the same, it embodies widely supported goals that include empowering students of color, nurturing empathy among white students and developing critical thinking and historical perspective among all.

The push for ethnic studies in California has recently gained momentum, buoyed by Black Lives Matter protests that followed the May killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis police custody. Ethnic studies, supporters say, has the potential to dismantle systemic and unconscious racism through the education of the citizens of tomorrow.

“Our schools have not always been a place where students can gain a full understanding of the contributions of people of color and the many ways throughout history — and present day — that our country has exploited, marginalized, and oppressed them,” state Supt. of Public Instruction Tony Thurmond said in a statement Friday. “At a time when people across the nation are calling for a fairer, more just society, we must empower and equip students and educators to have these courageous conversations in the classroom.”

Expect the reviews — positive and negative — to trickle in for weeks.

The debate is not merely for academics. This model curriculum is expected to guide teaching in K-12 public schools across California. The state Board of Education is scheduled to approve a final version by the end of March. And pending legislation would make ethnic studies a high school graduation requirement.

The latest version attempts to tone down references that some regarded as overly political or ideologically one-sided. There had been particular criticism of elements seen as anti-Semitic or anti-Israel, although there were Jews on both sides of the debate.

Among those with reservations about the original curriculum were members of the California Legislative Jewish Caucus, which had contended that the guide intentionally excluded Jews. The lawmakers faulted the first version for failing to explain anti-Semitism while providing an overly positive representation of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement against Israel.

“There were 14 forms of bigotry and racism in the glossary,” said Assemblyman Jesse Gabriel (D-Encino), who called the exclusion of anti-Semitism glaring, obvious and offensive.

Anti-Semitism is now noted more clearly in the curriculum as a form of bigotry.

Critics are not entirely satisfied.

The draft has improved, but not enough, said Sarah Levin, executive director of Jews Indigenous to the Middle East and North Africa.

“These supplemental materials ignore the stories of all our coalition members — who together represent an estimated 60% of Californians who hail from the Middle East and North Africa — while portraying the Arab American experience as a monolith to represent the region,” she said.

Another critic, Williamson Evers, also felt the improvement was inadequate.

“The proposed model curriculum is still full of left-wing ideological propaganda and indoctrination,” said Evers, a senior fellow at the Independent Institute, an Oakland think tank. “It still force feeds our children the socialist dogma that capitalism is oppression. It’s almost all Berkeley and little Bakersfield.”

The new draft arrived nearly a year after the California Department of Education shelved the original.

Officials arrived at the latest iteration after reviewing thousands of public comments, convening experts and conducting teacher focus groups.

At its core, supporters say, ethnic studies teaches students how to think critically about the world around them, “tell their own stories,” develop “a deep appreciation for cultural diversity and inclusion” and engage “socially and politically” to eradicate bigotry, hate and racism, according to the earlier draft of the model curriculum.

The model curriculum is meant to serve as a guideline rather than a mandate for schools that choose to offer ethnic studies classes. In California, as nationwide, these courses are increasing in number, with grade-school enrollment nearly doubling from 8,678 in 2013-14 to 17,354 in 2016-17, according to the state Department of Education.

There appears to be broad legislative support for making ethnic studies a high school graduation requirement. Some school systems already have taken that step.

Supporters of the original curriculum include 25,000 people who have signed a “Defend Ethnic Studies” petition, ethnic studies faculty from the California State University and University of California, and many Jewish groups.

R. Tolteka Cuauhtin, a Los Angeles teacher and co-chair of the advisory committee that created the original draft curriculum, said ethnic studies courses can be responsive to all students in a class and integrate other ethnic groups “without de-centering communities of color.”

Cuauhtin said ethnic studies terminology should remain in the curriculum. “Students of color need to also be respected as young intellectuals and given access to academic concepts and disciplinary language,” he said. “Every academic field has its own language, and yes, so does ethnic studies — let’s uplift that and ensure it’s accessible, not erase it.”

“Herstory,” for example, is a term used to describe history written from a feminist or women’s perspective. The term is also deployed when referring to counter-narratives within history.

Assemblyman Jose Medina, the author of the bill that would mandate ethnic studies, is optimistic about how the final product will turn out.

“The model curriculum is still a draft and in the early stages of the input process,” said Medina (D-Riverside). “I trust this process and believe we will end up with a strong ethnic studies framework that will provide a solid structure for educators to build off as they bring ethnic studies to life in their classrooms.”

In a related development, last month the Cal State Board of Trustees revised its general education curriculum for the first time in 40 years to create an ethnic studies and social justice requirement of all undergraduate students.

Ethnic studies faculty and some trustees criticized the requirement as being too broad and diluting the mission of ethnic studies, advocating instead for a narrower requirement proposed in a bill that is currently making its way to Gov. Gavin Newsom’s desk.

Source: ‘Herstory’ is out as California revamps K-12 ethnic studies course guide

Trending in Politics Is California’s ethnic studies plan too politically correct even for California?

Would appear so on substantive grounds, by any objective manner:

As Americans grapple with shifts in culture and demographics, majority-minority California is developing a high school curriculum in ethnic studies, one of the first nationally. Not long ago — while managing his extracurriculars and winnowing his college choices — Eli Safaie-Kia, 17, found time to discover a draft of it.

Its contents were, in some ways, standard-issue: readings and projects aimed at fostering tolerance, offering non-traditional perspectives and helping a massive, multicultural populace better understand one another. But in other ways, the draft was confusing even to a Generation Z kid from a blue-state. For one, it presented Israel in a way that went heavy on Palestinian oppression and scarcely mentioned the Holocaust.

So unsettled was the Israeli-American teen by the California Department of Education’s proposed model curriculum, required by a 2016 law, that the Los Angeles high school senior fired off a comment to the department.  “I kinda came across the document,” he said, “and once I began reading through it, it was a little bit disturbing to see how one-sided some parts of the ethnic studies proposal was.”

Now, as the comment period for the draft approaches its Aug. 15 deadline, hundreds of complaints, suggestions and op-eds have posted, from conservatives who don’t like its depiction of capitalism as a “form of power and oppression,” to parents stumped by its academic jargon to no small number of Californians who, like Safaie-Kia, wonder why it says so little about anti-Semitism. A bill winding its way toward the governor’s desk (Gov. Jerry Brown vetoed an earlier version) would make ethnic studies a high school graduation requirement.

The model curriculum is intended to serve as a guide for high schools in a state in which non-Hispanic whites represent only 42% of the population, and its proponents say it’s the logical next step for a state that has already adapted, more than most, to an increasingly diverse culture.

But as anti-immigrant rhetoric, violent white nationalism and rising hate crime roil the nation, the furor around it, even here, underscores how far even California has to go.

For example, some commenters have complained that the curriculum’s language, examples and tone are so left-leaning that they won’t work effectively in more conservative parts of California. “After reading this latest school curriculum twist to the left, it makes the decision much easier to go with charter schools and private education,” one critic commented this month.

Supporters of the draft say it’s time for students to learn about the U.S. through a lens often ignored by those in power.

“Sometimes people want to approach ethnic studies as just a superficial diversity class and that’s it,” said R. Tolteka Cuauhtin, a member of the advisory committeethat worked on the draft. “Ethnic studies is an academic field of over 50 years that has its own frameworks, its own academic language, its own understandings of how it approaches subjects and our world.”

He pointed to criticism of the draft that questions the curriculum’s repetition of academic jargon — words like misogynoir, cisheteropatriarchy and hxrstory.

“It seems to be fine for other academic disciplines to have their own academic language,” he said. “AP Chemistry for example has some very complex academic terms, difficult to pronounce, but it’s expected because it’s AP Chemistry.”

Colloquial language, Cuauhtin said, doesn’t always sufficiently express the nuances of race, ethnicity and society, and academic terminology can bridge that gap.

Also controversial, including among state lawmakers, is what the draft appears to have left out. The California Legislative Jewish Caucus submitted a letter to the department expressing its concerns:

“While the [model curriculum] specifies the importance of studying hate crimes, white supremacy, bias, prejudice and discrimination, and specifically discusses bias against other communities, it omits any meaningful discussion of antisemitism,” wrote the caucus.

Democratic Assemblyman Jose Medina of Riverside, the author of the bill making ethnic studies a graduation requirement, also signed the letter and is a member of the Jewish caucus. Assemblyman Jesse Gabriel, a Democrat from the San Fernando Valley and vice chair of the caucus, said he supports teaching ethnic studies in schools, but found the draft offensive.


“Our caucus meetings tend to be relatively low-key but really across the board people were really really upset, really disturbed by the model curriculum and by the way it treats the Jewish community,” he said. “It really reflects an anti-Jewish bias. It’s pretty outrageous that it omits anti-Semitism.”

The draft’s glossary lists other forms of bigotry like islamophobia and xenophobia. “It’s really hard to understand how that could possibly happen given everything that’s going on in the world given the statistics about the dramatic increase in anti-Semitic violence,” Gabriel said.

Earlier this year a report released by the Tel Aviv University’s Kantor Center found that anti-Semitic violence has increased around the world. In April, a gunman opened fire in the Chabad of Poway synagogue near San Diego. One woman was killed and three others were injured.

Critics also say the draft takes a one-sided approach to the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement which calls for countries to sever ties with Israel in solidarity with the Palestinians.

The draft’s glossary defines BDS as a “global social movement that currently aims to establish freedom for Palestinians living under apartheid conditions.” Gabriel, the Democratic assemblyman, called the definition  “one-sided propaganda” and said the draft appeared to bend over backwards to include BDS.

“If you’re going to get into issues related to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict — I don’t know why that would be something you’d do in an American Ethnic Studies course — then do it in a way … that’s inclusive and presents perspectives that young people could do critical thinking about these issues,” said Gabriel, adding that he understands the draft will go through multiple revisions. But he said the caucus was also concerned with the draft’s inclusion of a song stating that Israelis “use the press so they can manufacture,” perpetuating an anti-Semitic trope.

The portrayal of Israel was what prompted Safaie-Kia, the Los Angeles teenager, to share a public comment.

“Being a proud Californian and Israeli-American, I would never want to feel hated or discriminated against at my public school, and the inclusion of anti-Israel bias in curriculum would threaten my safety as a minority student,” he wrote.

Stephanie Gregson, the Deputy Superintendent of Public Instruction said the draft currently posted will look very different after review by the Instructional Quality Commission in September. The department is recommending edits and the commission will consider those edits at the meeting.

She said while public comment is posted as open until August 15, people can send comments to anytime throughout the process, which will continue until January or March of next year. She added that the department is aware of concerns.

Cuauhtin, a committee member who helped create the draft, said the draft is a work in progress, and he agrees that it should say more about anti-Semitism as a form of oppression.

“Given our time constraints, the limited parameters we were given to work with and the public comments we received at the time, I’m proud of our work,” he said in an interview with CalMatters. “If we were still meeting today with the public comments that have been received since, I’m confident there would be some changes made.”

Incoming 12th-grader Safaie-Kia said he has confidence in California to come up with a lesson plan for the diverse demographics that are spreading to the rest of the country. The U.S. Census has determined that, by 2060, America will, like California, be majority-minority.

“As a state I think that we really excel in trying to promote a sense of large community and we are a humongous state and it is difficult,” he said.

“But I think pieces like this curriculum, if done correctly, can really help make such a big state feel like a big community instead of such a place where people aren’t friends with their neighbors or people aren’t connected to someone who may live 300 miles away from them.”

Source: Trending in Politics Is California’s ethnic studies plan too politically correct even for California?

Ethnic Studies: A Movement Born Of A Ban : NPR

Interesting account of some of the history of ethnic studies, the political debates and the evidence of how it encourages more engagement among minority students:

In Jr Arimboanga’s ninth-grade classroom, students learn about critical consciousness: how to read the word, but also the world. It’s a concept popularized by a Brazilian educational theorist named Paulo Freire in his book, Pedagogy of the Oppressed.

The class is ethnic studies. It’s part of an effort by San Francisco educators like Arimboanga to teach courses centered on the perspectives of historically marginalized groups. Just last year, California passed a law mandating a model ethnic studies curriculum.

Sometimes called multicultural education or culturally responsive teaching (though there are subtle differences among the three), ethnic studies has been expanding on the west coast and in pockets across the country. San Francisco’s curriculum is “designed to give high school students an introduction to the experiences of ethnic communities that are rarely represented in textbooks,” according to the school district’s website.

Teachers of ethnic studies argue that these courses give students a pathway to break the cycles of poverty, violence, and incarceration that so many communities of color face.

“Ethnic studies works,” says Artnelson Concordia, a veteran teacher who is helping to develop the San Francisco curriculum. He wants students to see that “all of their experiences can be connected to larger issues.”

“So by the end of the school year, they’re seeing themselves as makers of history,” Concordia says.

Movements and Counter-Movements

Ethnic studies has “gained momentum, frankly, with the election of Donald Trump,” says Ravi Perry, president of the National Association for Ethnic Studies. This summer, Oregon set a timetable for the adoption of K-12 ethnic studies standards. Efforts to introduce statewide legislation are also ongoing in Kansas and starting this year, Indiana high schools will be required to offer ethnic and racial studies as an elective course. States with large indigenous populations — like Montana and Alaska — have already written standards for culturally responsive teaching.

“We have an obligation to ensure their heritage is aptly reflected in how we talk about America,” Perry says. “This is not about promoting an individual agenda. It’s about understanding the importance of community solidarity.”

Other movements are concentrated at the district level. Seattle has passed a resolution, based on recommendations from the NAACP. Students in Providence, R.I., have successfully lobbied for a pilot of the ethnic studies curriculum. Albuquerque, N.M., has launched ethnic studies courses in all of its high schools.

Though the start of the ethnic studies movement can be traced to the early 1900s, it really kicked off in the 1960s at colleges and universities. In the past decade, the growth has accelerated in K-12 schools, partly in response to an Arizona law that banned the curriculum.

There, Republican lawmakers were specifically targeting a Mexican-American studies program at Tucson High School — where minority enrollment is 88 percent. The Republicans who wrote the legislation, Tom Horne and John Huppenthal, claimed the classes were stoking racial tensions and “radicalizing students.” They pointed to the course materials — among them, Freire’s Pedagogy of the Oppressed and Rodolfo Acuña’s Occupied America — as well as the class decor, which included a poster of Che Guevara.

In 2010, Horne and Huppenthal passed HB 2281, prohibiting classes and materials that “promote the overthrow of the U.S. government,” “resentment toward a race or class or people,” or “ethnic solidarity.” (This happened soon after the passage of SB 1070, which gave local police the authority to question a person’s citizenship.)

There were other ethnic studies courses in Tucson that were not touched by the bill, Huppenthal says. He mentions African-American studies, for one. But the teachers of Mexican-American studies classes at Tucson High, Huppenthal says, were “indoctrinating students.”

“They were doing a very simplistic application of Karl Marx’s dictum: All of history is the struggle between the ‘oppressor’ and the ‘oppressed,’ ” Huppenthal says. “And they were going to identify whites as oppressors and Hispanics as the oppressed.”

Myths and Truths

“One of the things you would hear was that our classes were hateful. That we were teaching resentment,” says Curtis Acosta, who piloted one of the Mexican-American studies classes that sparked the controversy in Arizona. “That’s exactly the antithesis of what you would see.”

Acosta taught for 18 years in Tucson Unified School District. On a typical day in his Chicano literature class, Acosta says, you’d find students sitting at tables “doing really controversial things like reading and writing well.”

Each morning, his class would begin with an affirmation, a Mayan precept called In Lak Ech, which translates to “You are another me.” Students would recite in Spanish and English part of the poem by Luís Valdez:

Tú eres mi otro yo. You are my other me. Si te hago daño a ti, If I do harm to you, Me hago daño a mi mismo. I do harm to myself. Si te amo y respeto, If I love and respect you, Me amo y respeto yo. I love and respect myself.

“Students were sharing and taking risks and that didn’t happen by accident,” Acosta says. “It was real intentional.”

Alexei Marquez can attest to that. She was in Acosta’s class the first year it was offered. Up until then, she had been a dutiful, if disengaged, student. “I learned from an early age to play the game as it was,” Marquez says.

When she took Acosta’s class, it was the first time she’d connected to literature on a personal level. She fell in love with The Devil’s Highway by Luís Alberto Urrea. “I can’t even tell you what I read in AP English,” Marquez says.

She is starting her PhD in Educational Leadership and Policy at the University of Arizona. And she is not a lone success story. While 48 percent of Latino students were dropping out of high school, 100 percent of those students enrolled in Mexican-American studies classes at Tucson High were graduating, and 85 percent were going on to college.


“The research says, plainly, that this stuff works,” explains Christine Sleeter, a California State University professor and ethnic studies expert. In 2010, the National Education Association asked her to review the academic and social impact of ethnic studies.

A few things happen when students take courses that connect with their lived experience, Sleeter says. Engagement increases, as do literacy skills, overall achievement and attitudes toward learning.

“As students of color proceed through the school system, research finds that the overwhelming dominance of Euro-American perspectives leads many such students to disengage from academic learning,” Sleeter writes in the NEA report. “Ethnic studies curricula exist in part because students of color have demanded an education that is relevant, meaningful, and affirming of their identities.”

Something else happens in these classes: students develop “a sense of agency,” Sleeter writes. So they aren’t just learning about history, they’re engaging with it and shaping it — reading the word and the world.

A Stanford study finds similar outcomes — particularly for high school students at risk of dropping out. Taking a course which examines “the roles of race, nationality and culture on identity and experience” improved not only academic performance, but also attendance.

“Kids react when the curriculum isn’t speaking to their experiences or to the things that really matter to them,” Sleeter says. “They just get bored and they either intellectually drop out or physically drop out.”

Source: Ethnic Studies: A Movement Born Of A Ban : NPR Ed : NPR