AP Photo / Don Thompson
Sen. Ben Allen of Santa Monica, chairman of the Legislative Jewish Caucus, center, speaks beside State Superintendent Tony Thurmond at a news conference in Sacramento in August 2019.

In a preview of what it will recommend this spring, the California Department of Education is siding with ethnic studies advocates who argue that courses should focus on four ethnic and racial groups whose histories have been largely overlooked in the high school curriculum: African Americans, Asian Americans, Chicanos and Latinos, and Native Americans.

Ethnic studies examines the social justice struggles and the political and historical forces affecting racial, ethnic and religious groups. Who should be the subject of ethnic studies was one of several controversial issues that derailed a draft last fall of a model high school ethnic studies curriculum that the Legislature ordered the State Board of Education to adopt.

Some ethnic and religious groups had criticized the first draft of more than 500 pages, written by a panel of high school ethnic studies teachers and university experts, for excluding their stories and struggles in America. Jewish leaders criticized the omission of anti-Semitism in the draft and what they characterized as a one-sided view of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in the section on Arab American ethnic studies.

Later this spring, the education department will present its revision to an advisory committee of the state board for further editing. The revised version will go to the state board for final adoption by March 2021.

In an update on Jan. 24, Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Thurmond agreed with activists who argued that ethnic studies courses fill a vacuum. What’s taught in schools hasn’t done enough to highlight “the contributions of people of color and has actually minimized the importance of their role,” Thurmond wrote. “Therefore, our recommendations will acknowledge and honor the four foundational groups” that are the core of ethnic studies.

Elaborating during a press conference last week, Thurmond said that there are opportunities in classes besides ethnic studies to discuss the full American experience. “Sometimes, people think when you create a curriculum, it’s like the only game in town — and it’s not,” he said. “We owe it to those who founded the ethnic studies movement to kind of keep a sense of fidelity there.” But the department “will be leading conversations statewide about how we address hate, acts of violence. How we promote the beauty of the diversity of what our students represent in this state.”

Thurmond said that he met with Jewish leaders about expanding “efforts around teaching tolerance and using education” to counter “the kinds of awful acts of anti-Semitism that we have seen in recent times.”

What’s unclear is whether the experiences and past discrimination against ethnic groups that have been assimilated — the Irish, Polish, French Canadians and Jews — will be included to provide context to an ethnic studies course. In an email, a spokesperson said only that the department is months from completing the model curriculum.

In guidance to the Instructional Quality Commission, an advisory group charged with drafting the curriculum, the state board offered general principles, including to “encourage cultural understanding of how different groups have struggled and worked together, highlighting core ethnic studies concepts such as equality, justice, race and ethnicity.”

Last fall Assemblyman José Medina, D-Riverside, called for an inclusive ethnic studies curriculum that included European immigration. But in an interview with EdSource last week, Medina said he was satisfied that Thurmond had provided “clarity” in focusing on the four traditional ethnic studies groups.

Medina, whose former wife is Jewish and whose children were raised as Jews, has the distinction of belonging to the Legislative Jewish Caucus and the Legislative Latino Caucus. He also taught a general ethnic studies course and Chicano studies for three decades at Riverside Unified.

In his own ethnic studies classes, Medina said, he gave examples of how Jewish experiences can be interwoven in the curriculum. But he said he didn’t support requiring these types of comparisons in the curriculum.

Last year, amid the controversy over the draft curriculum, Medina withdrew Assembly Bill 331, which would require all high school students to take a semester of ethnic studies. He said he would move ahead with the bill this year.

In 2017-18, according to a legislative analysis of Medina’s bill, 17,354 students — about double the number from two years before — took ethnic studies in 943 courses in 555 schools. Sixty percent of the courses satisfied the A-G requirements for admission to the University of California or California State University.

With interest rising, a model curriculum would provide teachers, particularly those unfamiliar with the subject, with guidelines and resources they could use if they choose. Ethnic studies teachers say that ethnic studies is effective in engaging black and Latino students. They point to a 2017 Stanford University study that found “surprisingly large” increases in grade point averages and school attendance for “at-risk” students who were assigned an ethnic studies course.

Disagreements over content and terms

The draft curriculum generated 20,000 comments for and against, according to the education department. Which groups should be the focus of a course was just one issue. The debate over the proposed content was contentious.

Critics charged that the draft curriculum had an activist agenda and a left-wing bias in the language it uses and in a 22-page glossary. Ethnic studies, the curriculum introduction read, “critically grapples with the various power structures and forms of oppression, including but not limited to white supremacy, race and racism, sexism, classism, homophobia, Islamophobia, transphobia and xenophobia, that continue to impact the social, emotional, cultural, economic and political experiences of Native People/s and people of color.”

The department took down the draft of the model curriculum after the public comment period ended last August. However, you can find the proposed introduction here, the glossary here and the full document here.

Linda Darling-Hammond, the chairwoman of the state board, agreed with some of the criticisms last fall when she called for more time for a rewrite of the draft. “A model curriculum should be accurate, free of bias, appropriate for all learners in our diverse state and align with Governor Newsom’s vision of a California for all,” she wrote in a statement last August co-signed by board members Ilene Straus and Feliza Ortiz-Licon. “The current draft model curriculum falls short and needs to be substantially redesigned.”

Since last fall, the drafters of the curriculum have organized a large Save CA Ethnic Studies Coalition supported by more than 100 ethnic advocacy and social justice organizations, university and school ethnic studies groups, the California Teachers Association and the Asian & Pacific Islander, Black and Latino legislative caucuses. In a document last month, the coalition demanded that the department and the state board “keep the current model curriculum draft (with some revisions) focused on the histories and social justice struggles of communities of color in the U.S.”

“Groups with little to no experience in the discipline have waged an aggressive lobbying campaign” that could undermine the work of expert practitioners, the statement said.

In emails over the past week, R. Tolteka Cuauhtin, a teacher in Los Angeles Unified who co-chaired the 19-member committee that created the draft curriculum, said, “We also understand this is a political process and project, as all curriculum is. Thus, we are here to help consensus building and, if necessary, negotiations, with and between all reasonable stakeholders.”

The draft curriculum, he said, should be reconciled with the state board’s guidelines but not compromised. And the academic language of ethnic studies, which critics have dismissed as jargon, is essential.

“If the expertise of leading Ethnic Studies educators is marginalized or ignored in deciding what the model curriculum needs to be to retain its transformative potential, then it is likely self-sabotaging it, setting it up for failure, as has been done for students of color for far too long, and that would be tragic.”

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  1. eyeswideopen 3 weeks ago3 weeks ago

    If the author and educational board were aiming at truth and perspectives around historical events, then this makes sense and as stated above to help with critical thinking. However, the bias and prejudice against whites, men, other religions outside of Islam is palpable. There are plenty of examples of people from diverse backgrounds contributing to the American society that can be used and should be used. Pride in one's own background is generally good but … Read More

    If the author and educational board were aiming at truth and perspectives around historical events, then this makes sense and as stated above to help with critical thinking. However, the bias and prejudice against whites, men, other religions outside of Islam is palpable.

    There are plenty of examples of people from diverse backgrounds contributing to the American society that can be used and should be used. Pride in one’s own background is generally good but does not have to be main goal of schooling. Pride should be being American, ideals behind the founding and how we did not live up to those ideals, being a good just person, understanding one’s own prejudice and bias overt or hidden and that we are all capable of committing atrocities. Aiming for meritocracy are goals that is American.

    Social justice, racial justice, homosexuality, religion, patriarchy, cisheteropatriarchy, capitalism, ableism, anthropocentrism, and other forms of power and oppression at the intersections of our society should not be concepts used to brainwash kids under the guise of “ethnic studies” as they are political concepts and have nothing to do with ethnicity.

  2. Bakari Chavanu 2 months ago2 months ago

    The real resistance to the ethnic studies curriculum is that some people want to control the narrative about America’s history of racist denomination. If the curriculum has a leftist interpretation, it's because you can’t talk about the history of ethnic minorities without doing critical interpretations of capitalism, genocide, enslavement, and gender oppression. There’s no ideological neutral way to talk about minority ethnic groups in this country without critically examining forces of White supremacy and privilege. … Read More

    The real resistance to the ethnic studies curriculum is that some people want to control the narrative about America’s history of racist denomination. If the curriculum has a leftist interpretation, it’s because you can’t talk about the history of ethnic minorities without doing critical interpretations of capitalism, genocide, enslavement, and gender oppression.

    There’s no ideological neutral way to talk about minority ethnic groups in this country without critically examining forces of White supremacy and privilege. The curriculum should also focus on forms of resistance to that oppression. Youth need to understand what resistance means.

  3. Cirenio Rodriguez 2 months ago2 months ago

    Keep the emphasis on the four groups but do not ignore the other issues. It is about anti-racism, social justice and anti-discrimination.

  4. Gerry 2 months ago2 months ago

    If it’s been always wrong to focus only on Northern European ethnic groups only, why is it right now to focus only on these other four groups?
    Why not celebrate all ethnic groups? What are you afraid of?

  5. Dr. Bill Conrad 2 months ago2 months ago

    Only a little more than one quarter of African American Students in California meet or exceed Mathematics Standards on the 2019 California Assessment of Student Performance and Progress (CAASPP). Similar results can be found for other students of color. Tony Thurmond and the rest of the K-12 education organized crime network like to signal their cultural virtuosity by engaging in ethnic studies curriculum projects rather than doing the necessary work of transforming the … Read More

    Only a little more than one quarter of African American Students in California meet or exceed Mathematics Standards on the 2019 California Assessment of Student Performance and Progress (CAASPP). Similar results can be found for other students of color. Tony Thurmond and the rest of the K-12 education organized crime network like to signal their cultural virtuosity by engaging in ethnic studies curriculum projects rather than doing the necessary work of transforming the K-12 education system so that it can assure that all students including students of color achieve academic success!

    The revised ethnic studies curriculum should help students better understand how the K-12 Education system that they currently experience is racist and actively denies them a quality education. A chapter on the abysmal student achievement data and how to interpret it might be helpful. Maybe they can learn how cowardly educational leaders sanctimoniously espouse equity but act quite differently by assigning the least qualified teachers and wannabee Teach for America Charity workers to students of color while reserving the most qualified teachers for the White children.

    A chapter should be include on how the K-12 system continues to promote zombie educational practices such as the disproportionate suspension of African American males for make believe disciplinary offenses like “Defiance.”. There are so many opportunities to begin to awaken the children to the active racism within their midst! Unfortunately, the system will not incorporate the real racism students experience into the curriculum as that might offend the White power structure that maintains the racist structures within the current U.S. educational systems.

    How refreshing it would be to engage our students in learning and applying the powerful actions that were taught to us by great Civil Rights Leaders like Martin Luther King and Malcolm X. Students should learn how to march for their rights, actively address school boards to demand equity in teacher assignments. They should learn the current techniques including the use of social media campaigns being used by Woke students like David Hoag who advocate for gun control and climate change and apply those techniques to educational transformation.

    Of course the K-12 system is way too cowardly to make these ethnic studies class real for students. Presenting a sanitized and saintly version of Ethnic Studies will suffice, thank you!

    Si se puede!

  6. Ann 2 months ago2 months ago

    This is the exact nonsense that has divided our society.

  7. Mark LeVine 2 months ago2 months ago

    As a professor of Middle Eastern history (including Jewish and Israeli history) who has followed the development of the ethnic studies curriculum closely I am very happy that the Department of Education is backing the determination by experts in the field that the curriculum should focus on groups who for too much of California history have been specifically marginalized –not merely economically and politically, but in the way the State's history has been taught and … Read More

    As a professor of Middle Eastern history (including Jewish and Israeli history) who has followed the development of the ethnic studies curriculum closely I am very happy that the Department of Education is backing the determination by experts in the field that the curriculum should focus on groups who for too much of California history have been specifically marginalized –not merely economically and politically, but in the way the State’s history has been taught and publicized.

    This does not demean or neglect the history of Jews (my own ancestry) or any other historically discriminated group, whose own histories have ample place elsewhere in the primary and secondary curricula to be introduced to students. Rather, it enables educators to fulfill the mandate of the curriculum to ensure that students not only learn more about the histories of long under-represented groups (which include a large number of “minority” students), but also learn how to compose and give voice to such histories themselves, thereby ensuring the marginalization doesn’t continue yet another generation.

    What will now become imperative as the curriculum is actualized is to ensure its integration into the curriculum and a productive dialog with other curricula so that students wind up with a more holistic and comprehensive understanding of California history than they’ve heretofore received.

  8. Brian Ausland 2 months ago2 months ago

    This is a great step forward, and the challenge of navigating input and confronting issues with balance and sensitivity will ultimately be worth the efforts required to move the conversation forward and produce a curriculum guideline. A critical next step however will be in identifying and developing content to support this curriculum and produce materials that teachers can readily use to support learners in the classroom with age-appropriate and engaging instructional strategies. This last fall, … Read More

    This is a great step forward, and the challenge of navigating input and confronting issues with balance and sensitivity will ultimately be worth the efforts required to move the conversation forward and produce a curriculum guideline.

    A critical next step however will be in identifying and developing content to support this curriculum and produce materials that teachers can readily use to support learners in the classroom with age-appropriate and engaging instructional strategies. This last fall, we had the privilege to work on a new online California state curriculum project (teachingcalifornia.org) funded by the CDE and led by the combined talents of the UC History-Social Science Project and the California Historical Society to create a more inclusive look at our state’s history through the lens of primary source objects, artifacts, first-person accounts, and authentic period-piece texts to better illuminate the contributions of all communities and people to our state’s collective history. Then acting CA Historical Society Director Dr. Anthea Hartig stated, “With this project, we are recognizing the need to frame California experiences, peoples, and the phenomenal diversity of our past, and to incorporate that into contemporary life and the dominant narrative of how history is taught.”

    Not surprisingly, she was lately called upon to take on the lead position (and first female) Director of the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History in DC. But the project that was created by archivists, librarians, historians, and educators working together remains freely available to all educators and curriculum specialists at https://www.teachingcalifornia.org/ and I hope that more collaborative work like this combined with this effort will continue to create the materials for teachers to easily carry into our classrooms.

  9. Matt 2 months ago2 months ago

    So it begins: identity politics and Social Justice Warriors activism (indoctrination) in the public school classroom. And we wonder why our society has become so polarized. I’m relieved to know my child we have graduated from high school before this nonsense is implemented.

  10. anonymous 2 months ago2 months ago

    I thought the why was to unite students by studying everyone’s story; focusing on four groups is too narrow when almost everyone outside of the Brits has been marginalized

  11. Bo Loney 2 months ago2 months ago

    Every new wave of people experienced hardships. Irish, Germans, etc. I think it had a lot to do with replacements of jobs to people who will take less. And it may continue to do so to this day. And these groups may be playing a part in that. This curriculum should be inclusive of all and teach the real lesson. Are we healing and uniting all of our … Read More

    Every new wave of people experienced hardships. Irish, Germans, etc. I think it had a lot to do with replacements of jobs to people who will take less. And it may continue to do so to this day. And these groups may be playing a part in that. This curriculum should be inclusive of all and teach the real lesson. Are we healing and uniting all of our future citizens or working on tribal division based on melanin levels?

  12. Anonymous 2 months ago2 months ago

    It's really disturbing to me how legitimate criticism of Israel is constantly conflated with anti-Semitism, while the far right anti-Semites are given a pass because many of them support Israel. It's also a disgrace to drop the Arab-American and Muslim-American experience from this curriculum. There are rich traditions of Islamic practice especially within the African-American community, and to a lesser extent among Asian, Latinx and Native Americans. Will this be covered in the curriculum? Will … Read More

    It’s really disturbing to me how legitimate criticism of Israel is constantly conflated with anti-Semitism, while the far right anti-Semites are given a pass because many of them support Israel. It’s also a disgrace to drop the Arab-American and Muslim-American experience from this curriculum. There are rich traditions of Islamic practice especially within the African-American community, and to a lesser extent among Asian, Latinx and Native Americans. Will this be covered in the curriculum? Will the Muslim part of Malcolm X and Muhammad Ali’s stories be erased?

    It’s another example of racism and Islamophobia. Also, the conservative leadership of the Jewish community is consistently given precedence over the younger generation of progressive Jews who have a more holistic view of diversity and solidarity.

    Replies

    • John Fensterwald 2 months ago2 months ago

      Anon, one of the issues is relevance: why a course on the experiences of ethnic groups in America would delve into the polarizing, complex politics of the Mideast and then take what appears to be a one-sided view of it.

      • Anonymous 2 months ago2 months ago

        Thanks for your response. There are controversial issues associated with all the groups now included: African Americans, Asian Americans, Chicanos and Latinos, and Native Americans. Avoiding controversial parts of history and identity is a betrayal of what the social sciences are supposed to be about. Every group of Californians should be included. RE relevance: Many Palestinian students are here in the first place because their ancestors were ethnically cleansed from their homeland, or as the … Read More

        Thanks for your response. There are controversial issues associated with all the groups now included: African Americans, Asian Americans, Chicanos and Latinos, and Native Americans. Avoiding controversial parts of history and identity is a betrayal of what the social sciences are supposed to be about. Every group of Californians should be included. RE relevance: Many Palestinian students are here in the first place because their ancestors were ethnically cleansed from their homeland, or as the result of fleeing discrimination. That’s as relevant and important as teaching about how African-Americans, Jewish-Americans or any other group arrived in this country.

        All students are hurt when we exclude the identities of those deemed “inconvenient” for the powers that be. Students from these marginalized identities are especially hurt by decisions like this. They’re effectively being told that the stories of their families are just too controversial to talk about.

        LGBT issues are controversial and disliked by many Californians, including for religious reasons, but we don’t hesitate before including their contributions in new textbooks as part of state law. So why is there a different standard for Palestinians, Arab-Americans and Muslim-Americans?

    • Yosef 2 months ago2 months ago

      The Ethnic Standards as proposed over the summer did not have contain legitimate criticism of Israel. Instead, as anti-Zionism always does, it quickly moved into antisemitism. Fortunately for the Jewish youth today, be it progressive or conservative, are more pro-Israel than the generation before them. Organizations, like Birthright Israel, continue to connect Jewish souls to our ancestral homeland.

      • Mark LeVine 2 months ago2 months ago

        Your claim that there is no legitimate criticism of Israel is only true to the extent that there is no criticism of Israel at all, because it doesn’t deal with Israel. There is also absolutely no anti-Semitism in the curriculum. The one mention of BDS is in no way advocating it and merely describes it, accurately, as a tactic used by various marginalized groups covered under the curriculum as a strategy for advocating for their rights.

        • Yosef 2 months ago2 months ago

          How many other countries were mentioned for boycotting? Wait...the only Jewish State was singled out? Not to mention the lies about Israel in the definition of BDS. T his draft also mentioned the Nakba, which is the day of mourning for the inability to win a genocidal war (the countries that attack Israel during the war of independence wanted every Jew removed from the land). Using the lyrics that call Israel a colonizer, another lie. It’s … Read More

          How many other countries were mentioned for boycotting? Wait…the only Jewish State was singled out? Not to mention the lies about Israel in the definition of BDS. T

          his draft also mentioned the Nakba, which is the day of mourning for the inability to win a genocidal war (the countries that attack Israel during the war of independence wanted every Jew removed from the land). Using the lyrics that call Israel a colonizer, another lie.

          It’s clear that the draft ethnic standards were antisemitic. The Jewish caucus agrees, countless Jewish agencies and organizations, the 18,000+ plus comments that specifically highlighted the antisemitism, and Tony Thurmond who apologized for it. It’s strange to me to see antisemitism grasp at straws to hold that it was not antisemitic. It was and, fortunately, the state is on a path to fix it and create better standards.

          • Chris White 2 months ago2 months ago

            Really, a sliver, less than .02% of the entire curriculum was the basis of the major controversy over alleged anti-semitism, even from pro-Israel groups and advocates -- less than .02% of the whole curriculum, think about that. That's why many Jewish community leaders are now in support of the overall draft. Aside from this issue, there's also been the issue of "conflation" as Anon noted, where any criticism of Israel policy is conflated as anti-Semitism, … Read More

            Really, a sliver, less than .02% of the entire curriculum was the basis of the major controversy over alleged anti-semitism, even from pro-Israel groups and advocates — less than .02% of the whole curriculum, think about that.

            That’s why many Jewish community leaders are now in support of the overall draft. Aside from this issue, there’s also been the issue of “conflation” as Anon noted, where any criticism of Israel policy is conflated as anti-Semitism, and where the “the conservative leadership of the Jewish community is consistently given precedence over the younger generation of progressive Jews who have a more holistic view of diversity and solidarity.” I agree, and in these times of presidentially sanctioned white nationalism, I personally think we need to teach more about both anti-Semitism, and Islamophobia, and learn to respect and accept each other more as human beings, beyond any single issue.

            • Yosef 2 months ago2 months ago

              It matters little how much antisemitism existed in the draft standards. All that matters was antisemitism was present and I applaud the efforts to eradicate it, even if it was only 0.2%. However, antisemitism is not exclusive to one political party but exists in every political party. All too often people use antisemitism as a club to beat their political opponent over the head with, all the while ignoring the antisemitism in their political party. … Read More

              It matters little how much antisemitism existed in the draft standards. All that matters was antisemitism was present and I applaud the efforts to eradicate it, even if it was only 0.2%.

              However, antisemitism is not exclusive to one political party but exists in every political party. All too often people use antisemitism as a club to beat their political opponent over the head with, all the while ignoring the antisemitism in their political party. From an Imam from Davis, CA calling for the hunting of Jews to the rise of antisemitism in New York/New Jersey (most notably a shooting at a kosher market and stabbing at a Hanukkah party last December), antisemitism exists on the political left, as well as the political right.

      • Chris White 2 months ago2 months ago

        *to the last comment on this thread, ending with "exists on the political left, as well as the political right." I agree Islamophobia, Racism, and anti-Semitism still exist across the political spectrum in the US - sadly this has been a reality of the fabric of America for centuries and continues today. Though not everyone agrees any anti-Semitism was present in the draft in the first place (even in that .02%), for the sake of moving … Read More

        *to the last comment on this thread, ending with “exists on the political left, as well as the political right.”

        I agree Islamophobia, Racism, and anti-Semitism still exist across the political spectrum in the US – sadly this has been a reality of the fabric of America for centuries and continues today. Though not everyone agrees any anti-Semitism was present in the draft in the first place (even in that .02%), for the sake of moving conversation forward – let’s.

        This Ethnic Studies curriculum guide is actually not mandated, not at all, they are not “standards”; districts still have their choices to do whatever they please with Ethnic Studies.

        On the contrary, when it comes to current K-12 CA History Social Science State Standards (very outdated from 1998), most would agree they have a very White and conservative bias, and actually still are mandated today for all students in California, and have been doing harm to Black and Brown students for over 20 years now. Why is this tolerated?

        I think one of the main questions is… how do we help this entire situation in our school system? So we can help heal the pain and discrimination felt by all the communities we are discussing here, yes, from Hasidic Jews in New York to Muslim students in Elk Grove to Black and Brown Students in Oakland and South LA, and all students in communities throughout CA and the US? Is there hope for this, especially in these highly polarized times we live in today?

        Discrimination and hate suffered by different communities is real, both in the world, and in our education system and general curriculum, and we should all come together to address it.