Still Fighting for Ethnic Studies in California

California Ethnic Studies Update

The california board of education (cbe) is attempting to finalize the model curriculum for ethnic studies in public schools. The possibly final meeting will be on March 18, and people have been urged to call in once again to make public comments, which the board will ignore.

In 2016 the legislature passed AB 2016 requiring the state board of education to adopt a model ethnic studies curriculum. An advisory board was set up to review curriculum proposed by several experts in ethnic studies. The draft curriculum published in the summer of 2019 was attacked as being far too radical. Zionists took the lead in the attack, claiming the curriculum was anti-Semitic. So it has gone through several rounds of drafts, each getting further from the concept that ethnic studies needs to address the work, culture, oppression, and resistance of people of color in California. In February all of the writers and advisory committee members involved in the original draft of the curriculum wrote to the board of education demanding their names be removed from the revised draft. 

Meanwhile in September AB 331, which would have required an ethnic studies course for high school graduation was vetoed by gov. newsom, who called it not sufficiently inclusive. By the time the bill had passed the legislature, it included “guardrails” which would have established a basis for suing a school or school district if the parent considered the curriculum to be “biased” in any way. Some advocates for ethnic studies are now promoting development of “liberated ethnic studies.” For more information, see http://www.liberatedethnicstudies.org.

In a letter this month supporting a return to the original curriculum as the basis for ethnic studies in California, QUIT! (Queers Undermining Israeli Terrorism) wrote:

QUIT!, Queers for Palestine, a community-based activist group, strongly opposes the current version of the CA Ethnic Studies Model Curriculum (ESMC)  We support an Ethnic Studies curriculum that centers the voices and experiences of communities of color.  The original version of the ESMC, written by experts in the fields of education and Ethnic Studies, provided guiding principles to ground the Ethnic Studies course in anti-racist, de-colonial and liberatory pedagogy.  Students taking the original Ethnic Studies course would have been empowered with critical thinking skills to analyze current systemic injustices.

QUIT!  as an LGBTQ organization, recognizes that the struggle for Queer liberation cannot be achieved without a clear intersectional anti-racist and de-colonial focus that was woven into the original Ethnic Studies.  We stand in solidarity with communities of color in the struggle for a genuine Ethnic Studies that provides empowering representational models of people of color.  We recognize that LGBTQ students faced a similar struggle, in which we were frequently told that our need for accurate curriculum was impossible to achieve. 

In particular, we demand that the Arab American lessons, including Palestine, that were written by Arab American educators, be reinstated under the Asian American rubric.  We find intolerable the use of a racist definition of anti-Semitism as criticism of Israel and the inclusion of Ashkenazi Jews in Asian American Studies, which have no basis in foundational scholarship. 

We also demand the restoration of the original key Ethnic Studies concepts, guiding principles and pedagogy that defines the foundations of an Ethnic Studies course compared to a general course in history.  This will entail reinserting the key terms and definitions aligned with Ethnic Studies scholarship and the correction of erroneous information about Ethnic Studies.  

Finally, as one of many groups who spoke at the Instructional Quality Committee, addressed public comments to the California Department of Education, and showed up in support of principle based Ethnic Studies that included Arab American Studies and Palestine, we are appalled that tens of thousands of comments and letters could be ignored in forming the revisions of the original Ethnic Studies Curriculum.  The resulting revision has led to the silencing of all those who are struggling to create a public education system that is formed by and serves our students of color and their families, who make up the majority of California’s public schools.

As California works to educate all students from kindergarten to community colleges to expand educational possibilities, and as California strives to address systemic racism through transformational policies, it is urgent that the State Board of Education sends a message of support for an anti-racist, de-colonial and liberatory Ethnic Studies in the spirit of the 1968 Third World Liberation Front and Black Student Union strikes.  It is not too late to call for the reinstatement of curriculum to reflect the current anti-racist struggles for liberation. 

Author: lagai

LAGAI-Queer Insurrection is one of the oldest radical queer liberation groups in the U.S. We publish UltraViolet, a more or less bimonthly newspaper, which is mailed free of charge to over 1500 people, including over 800 prisoners. Our website is www.lagai.org.

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