Photo by Allison Shelley for American Education: Images of Teachers and Students in Action
Middle school history teachers discuss a lesson plan on American history.

With a March 31 deadline set by the Legislature looming, the State Board of Education unanimously approved a voluntary high school ethnic studies curriculum Thursday after State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Thurmond and two of the state’s civil rights heroes — labor organizer Dolores Huerta and social justice activist Karen Korematsu — urged them to during a daylong hearing on Thursday.

So did former Assemblyman Luis Alejo, whose 2016 law mandating the creation of the curriculum set off a four-plus-year process that led to one major rewrite and three revised drafts that produced guidance, but not a mandate, on how to create an ethnic studies course and what to include in it.

“Adopting the model curriculum today that is balanced, focused and bold is an extraordinary test that may not please everyone, but facing our history is an uncomfortable endeavor and making landmark educational change is never easy,” said Alejo, who is now a Monterey County supervisor.

The murders this week in Atlanta and a rise in violence against Asian Americans, along with the shooting deaths by police that spurred the Black Lives Matter movement, added a sense of urgency in passing what will be the nation’s first ethnic studies curriculum.

As one of several hundred public commenters, given one minute of testimony, said succinctly, “More delay is more hurt.”

Alejo, Secretary of State Shirley Weber and Shanine Coats, the department of education administrator who shepherded the curriculum through multiple drafts, acknowledged that disagreements remain.

But warning that the “perfect should not be the enemy of the good,” Weber said the state board should not “dillydally” and follow calls for rejecting the latest draft and trying yet another time, “because we have done the work. You have done the work. You have basically developed a strong curriculum, and it is time for California to move forward with this curriculum on behalf of our school students.”

Moving forward in this case means passing the baton to local districts, who will have the choice of picking and choosing from among the dozens of lesson plans or creating a different mix — tailoring an ethnic studies course based on their distinct student demographics and what they’re hearing from the public.

State board member Cynthia Glover Woods, a liaison to the Instructional Quality Commission, an advisory group to the board that helped draft the model curriculum, said that the document is intended to “help districts strengthen existing courses or develop their own.”

She and others characterized the model curriculum as “the first step in the conversation.”

But based on many of the passionately compressed one-minute testimonies from more than 250 commenters at the hearing, some of those conversations will be difficult and angry, reflecting unresolved disagreements over what should be taught in ethnic studies and whose stories should be highlighted.

Jewish and Arab Americans have been fighting since the first draft in May 2019 over the definition of anti-Semitism, whether the Israeli-Palestinian conflict should be included in a lesson and whether lessons on Arab Americans should be placed under Asian studies or somewhere else in the curriculum. Those fights, reflected in dozens of remarks, will now go local.

The goal of ethnic studies is to increase understanding and respect among all students while focusing on the often overlooked history, struggles and cultures of the four racial and ethnic groups that have been the foundation since ethnic studies programs were created five decades ago: Blacks, Latinos, Asians and Indigenous Americans.

The model curriculum includes goals and principles and sample lessons. Consistent with the state board’s instructions, ethnic studies “shall promote critical thinking and a rigorous analysis of history, the status quo and systems of oppression,” Glover Woods pointed out.

But critics have charged that the writers of the curriculum narrowly defined critical analysis through the prism of critical race theory. It is a specific legal theory that seeks to explain root causes of racist government policies, like exclusionary zoning and public school assignments. They complain that attributing all actions, implicit and explicit, to white oppression would pit students against one another, create tensions and undermine ethnic studies’ goal of empathy and racial progress.

Dozens of public comments expressed this concern on Thursday. The New York-based Foundation Against Intolerance and Racism has targeted critical race theory, elevating California’s ethnic studies to a national debate over what it calls a new form of intolerance.

But state board President Linda Darling-Hammond defended critical race theory and, in the only change to the draft curriculum that the board approved on Thursday, added a definition missing in the document. Critical race theory, she said, is a way to look for root causes of disparities tightly tied to race, whether post-slavery Jim Crow laws, discriminatory lending laws or inequitable funding and staffing of low-income schools. It is not, she said, “demonizing” people by race or setting groups against one another.

The burden, though, will be on teachers who will have to lead difficult conversations on sensitive topics like critical race theory and implicit racial biases. At Darling-Hammond’s encouragement, Gov. Gavin Newsom has included $5 million specifically to aid teachers as they learn how to teach ethnic studies.

Thurmond emphasized that students have said repeatedly during focus groups that they want ethnic studies. “Our students said to us that they wanted to see representations of themselves. They asked us why they didn’t learn about their own histories in school,” said Thurmond, who organized a series of webinars on intolerance and anti-Semitism separate from the curriculum last year.

Both Weber, who was a professor of Africana Studies at San Diego State for 40 years before becoming a state legislator, and Albert Camarillo, emeritus professor in Chicano Studies and Mexican American history at Stanford University, cited the benefits of ethnic studies.

“I have seen firsthand in working with the teachers and working with the students that transformative nature, the motivation that is gained by students, engaging with ethnic studies,” Camarillo said.

“A well-taught ethnic studies curriculum is beneficial to all students, regardless of race, that every student’s life is enhanced by the knowledge of ethnic studies, about learning about the four major groups that they have interacted with,” Weber said. “It transforms and changes their lives.”

Hundreds of California high schools already offer ethnic studies courses. Los Angeles and Fresno are among the districts that are considering adding ethnic studies as a graduation requirement.

Newsom vetoed a bill last year that would make it a requirement statewide over dissatisfaction with earlier drafts of the model curriculum. But the sponsor, Assemblyman Jose Medina, D-Riverside, has reintroduced it this year and, with the state board’s stamp of approval on Thursday, Newsom will face pressure to sign it.

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  1. Ron Kennedy 2 months ago2 months ago

    Please say plainly: are you or are you not planning and implementing "Critical Race Theory" or CRT's tenets and points of view in our children's curricula? Yes or no. How do we see the actual course material on "ethnic studies" to which you expose our children? CRT is made up of toxic lies. If you are using this toxic material in our schools you can expect extreme pushback, so do not dance around the issue … Read More

    Please say plainly: are you or are you not planning and implementing “Critical Race Theory” or CRT’s tenets and points of view in our children’s curricula? Yes or no.

    How do we see the actual course material on “ethnic studies” to which you expose our children? CRT is made up of toxic lies. If you are using this toxic material in our schools you can expect extreme pushback, so do not dance around the issue deleting the term “Critical Race Theory” and infusing it into the curricula by another name.

  2. Jason Cabral 3 months ago3 months ago

    This ESMC is illegal. I read sections. It clearly advocates the "Black Lives Matter" (BLM) movement. This movement is patently Marxist. You can Youtube Patrisse Collurs clearly stating she and another founding member of BLM are "trained Marxists". You can research her posts on You Tube where she explicitly advocates the abolition of court systems. This is Marxist subversion of our legal system. In the ESMC Sample Lessons and Topics #9, the language clearly … Read More

    This ESMC is illegal. I read sections. It clearly advocates the “Black Lives Matter” (BLM) movement. This movement is patently Marxist.

    You can Youtube Patrisse Collurs clearly stating she and another founding member of BLM are “trained Marxists”. You can research her posts on You Tube where she explicitly advocates the abolition of court systems. This is Marxist subversion of our legal system.

    In the ESMC Sample Lessons and Topics #9, the language clearly advocates BLM and a stance against law enforcement which is again subversion of our justice system.
    California Law, CODE: EDC Section 51530 explicitly prohibits the advocacy of Communism naming Marxism specifically.

    ESMC advocates Marxism in violation of California law.

    Resist this curriculum. It is illegal. Any public official advocating it undermines their own legally based authority.

  3. Marc Sorsky 4 months ago4 months ago

    What I have seen of critical race theory is a disaster, and has no place in the school system, and certainly should not be taught to children. It will only serve to increase disparity, divisiveness and intolerance. And the new "fad" of teaching children that gender is fluid and is a social construct, is absurd. The biological differences between boys and girls is very real, and the pronouns used since the history of … Read More

    What I have seen of critical race theory is a disaster, and has no place in the school system, and certainly should not be taught to children. It will only serve to increase disparity, divisiveness and intolerance.

    And the new “fad” of teaching children that gender is fluid and is a social construct, is absurd. The biological differences between boys and girls is very real, and the pronouns used since the history of the English language, is not a social construct.

    I live in a area with a good public school system, but if CRT and gender fluidity are taught, I will first attempt to stop this from being taught using any legal means at my disposal, and if unsuccessful will send my children to private schools that do not teach such nonsense.

  4. Lafen 5 months ago5 months ago

    In the meantime: "According to The Literacy Project, there are currently 45 million Americans who are functionally illiterate, unable to read above a 5th grade level, and half of all adults can’t read a book at an 8th grade level. In California, 25 percent of the state’s 6 million students are unable to perform basic reading skills. " AND "Just over a third of students in the 24 school districts studied had to repeat Algebra I either … Read More

    In the meantime: “According to The Literacy Project, there are currently 45 million Americans who are functionally illiterate, unable to read above a 5th grade level, and half of all adults can’t read a book at an 8th grade level. In California, 25 percent of the state’s 6 million students are unable to perform basic reading skills. ”

    AND
    “Just over a third of students in the 24 school districts studied had to repeat Algebra I either in ninth or 10th grade, yet even after a second year of study, relatively few were proficient in the subject.”
    AND
    “Next Generation Science Standards,” which California adopted in 2013. RESULTED IN:
    The scores are in for public school students in grades 5, 8, and 10-12 — and California students got far more answers wrong than right.

    Less than a third of students met standards
    Across the state, 29.9% of students met or exceeded the new science standards on this first test, with fluctuations according to grade level.

    So why don’t you do the basic job we hired you to do?

    TEACH READING, WRITING, MATH, AND SCIENCE

    Replies

    • Sarah Brown 4 months ago4 months ago

      The Democratic Party doesn't want to admit their shortcomings. One of those in California is lack of leadership. Keeping children locked up at home for over 1 year. With our lovely weather, educators were unable to create solutions to teach outdoors for our kids. Doing nothing is not leadership. Our children will pay now for leaders' dismal leadership. Critical race theory is a diversion. A diversion from the fact that public school education has … Read More

      The Democratic Party doesn’t want to admit their shortcomings. One of those in California is lack of leadership. Keeping children locked up at home for over 1 year. With our lovely weather, educators were unable to create solutions to teach outdoors for our kids. Doing nothing is not leadership. Our children will pay now for leaders’ dismal leadership.

      Critical race theory is a diversion. A diversion from the fact that public school education has failed miserably. I would never allow my kids to be a pawn in this nonsense.

  5. Florence Flesche 6 months ago6 months ago

    How can I obtain a copy of the lesson plans and see what the curriculum looks like? I am a school teacher and a parent:)

    Replies

  6. Brenda Lebsack 6 months ago6 months ago

    As a public school teacher and former school board member, I would like to know why no one is talking about the very significant portion of the Ethnic Studies Model Curriculum portion in Chapter 3, page 6 that defines gender as an "ever-changing spectrum." This definition of gender has huge implications when applied to Critical Race Theory (CRT). CRT says cisgenders (biological males and females) are privileged oppressors, while non-conforming genders, going by … Read More

    As a public school teacher and former school board member, I would like to know why no one is talking about the very significant portion of the Ethnic Studies Model Curriculum portion in Chapter 3, page 6 that defines gender as an “ever-changing spectrum.” This definition of gender has huge implications when applied to Critical Race Theory (CRT). CRT says cisgenders (biological males and females) are privileged oppressors, while non-conforming genders, going by a myriad of pronouns & genders, are the marginalized oppressed. According to the UCSF gender care document, some of these pronouns are: THEY (both genders), ZE, (neither gender), XE, HIR (another gender explored and acquired by the child), PER (non-binary).

    As an educator, whose undergrad work was psychology, I see this as psychologically incentivizing children to identify as non-biological genders. After all, what child wants to be labeled a mean oppressor? Ethnic Studies equates these many non-conforming genders to minority races, thus anyone who does not accept this radical ideology, will be deemed racist.

    In my estimation, this is psychological and social manipulation. Plus, according to elementary cartoons recommended to school districts by the California Dept of Ed, (https://www.brenda4kids.com/index.php/our-media/curriculum-samples/puberty-blockers) these cartoons encourage students, who are unsure about their gender, to go on puberty blockers (which according to UCSF) increase risks for many medical side-effects such as: cardiovascular disease, osteoporosis, diabetes, and infertility. https://transcare.ucsf.edu/sites/transcare.ucsf.edu/files/Transgender-PGACG-6-17-16.pdf

    The California State Board of Education passed the Health Framework in May 2019, that also refers to gender as an “ever-changing spectrum of identities,” in other words, unlimited. It’s interesting that, though the Health Framework and Ethnic Studies documents claim their goal is “inclusion”, the Calif Dept of Education excluded all non-English speaking parents from the community input process by only providing the document in English. These immigrant parents were denied access by the CDE after requesting the document in their language. Sounds to me the real goal is indoctrination not inclusion.

  7. Hueling M. Lee 6 months ago6 months ago

    Here's my comment to the State Board and I will say it again here: In the past week, 8 people, 6 of whom were Asian Americans were murdered in three different locations in Atlanta. On June 17, 2015, nine African Americans were murdered in Charleston. On October 27, 2018, eleven Jews were murdered in Pittsburgh. The common thread is that all of these murders were conducted by white men acting on white supremacy. We need to acknowledge and critique … Read More

    Here’s my comment to the State Board and I will say it again here:

    In the past week, 8 people, 6 of whom were Asian Americans were murdered in three different locations in Atlanta. On June 17, 2015, nine African Americans were murdered in Charleston. On October 27, 2018, eleven Jews were murdered in Pittsburgh.

    The common thread is that all of these murders were conducted by white men acting on white supremacy. We need to acknowledge and critique these realities based on race. The marginalization of people of color in our education curricula trained most Americans to not see people of color as equals. Our education system owes a debt to students and people of color to be seen, heard, and valued. Ethnic Studies is supposed to elevate the narratives of the marginalized, to combat the legacies of racial injustice. When the current ESMC dilutes the naming of systemic racism, white supremacy and exclusion of people of color, it continues to advance whitewashed narratives while failing to advance marginalized narratives.

    I have met many well-meaning white people telling me about how they don’t see race, how we are all part of the human race. It’s a privilege to not have to reconcile with having a racialized identity. And, I wish we all can do that. That is an ideal. Not a reality.

    For now, and the historically, the privilege of not having to reconcile with having a racialized identity, to be only seen as full fledged individuals, is usually preserved for European Americans in the United States. That is a reality that people of color have to reckon with, often on a daily basis.

    Until we, as a collective, can name and acknowledge the atrocities motivated by race as real, we cannot address them. If we can face up to what is wrong to see and acknowledge the problems, then we can work together to address the root causes of those problems. However, if we continue to pretend that white privilege, white supremacy, and racism don’t exist (in order for white people to feel more comfortable, even as people of color are getting murdered due to these implicit biases), then we cannot address these problems.

    In that, we become complicit to the problems. I invite those of you who (pretend to) not see race, to open your eyes and ears, acknowledge the reality that exists for people of color and the their lived experiences. If not, I would invite you to step into the shoes of a black man being pulled over by the police and tell them that you don’t see race.

  8. Jonathan E Burack 6 months ago6 months ago

    This curriculum is pure nonsense. One comment in the above report is this: “Our students said to us that they wanted to see representations of themselves. They asked us why they didn’t learn about their own histories in school.” The purpose of teaching history, civics, etc., should be to refocus kids away from themselves and outward to the broader society. In the name of ethnic identity you teach ethnic inwardness, hubris, a false sense of … Read More

    This curriculum is pure nonsense. One comment in the above report is this: “Our students said to us that they wanted to see representations of themselves. They asked us why they didn’t learn about their own histories in school.” The purpose of teaching history, civics, etc., should be to refocus kids away from themselves and outward to the broader society. In the name of ethnic identity you teach ethnic inwardness, hubris, a false sense of victimhood, and intolerance of broader trans-ethnic realities. All that this divisive curriculum will promote is more division.

  9. Lisa Gray 6 months ago6 months ago

    California is one of the most diverse U.S. states. The concern is the spin put on this Critical Ethnic Studies curriculum which is actually critical race theory with another name. In Critical Ethnic Studies, students are divided by race into oppressors and oppressed, in an immutable hierarchy of victimhood. Students with “white privilege” are identified and made to feel guilty before other students. It thereby creates a discriminatory, hostile, and disempowering educational environment. The statistical facts … Read More

    California is one of the most diverse U.S. states. The concern is the spin put on this Critical Ethnic Studies curriculum which is actually critical race theory with another name.

    In Critical Ethnic Studies, students are divided by race into oppressors and oppressed, in an immutable hierarchy of victimhood. Students with “white privilege” are identified and made to feel guilty before other students. It thereby creates a discriminatory, hostile, and disempowering educational environment.

    The statistical facts need to be the foundation of any conversation. If you talk about the hate crimes involving one race like Asian Americans & 85% of attacks on Asians are by one specific race, is that going to be discussed or not mentioned? If you are going to speak of the Asian culture and why they excel in academics due to their family culture, then explain why their SAT scores have point shaven off as a punishment.

    Why not spend this money on emotional intelligence training which focuses on self-awareness, self-regulation, Empathy, Motivation & Social skills? Kids are not racist unless indoctrinated. With children so behind in math and reading, this is put as a priority? It seems purely political.

    Will you discuss why some households with a 70% rate of single motherhood will most likely be impoverished?

    The US has a huge shortage of engineers and technical workers. Create a program for thousands of high school grads in every state out of poor communities and fund their school, housing and all living expenses for 4 years & expand programs to place them into corporations after graduation. Thousands of corporations would donate for this initiative. Billions could be invested into the poor communities to empower the poor and give them the skillsets to thrive which will end the cycle of poverty for those families and generations to come. Stop keeping the poor down. This is what will solve financial inequality. Do you think the poor youth who are criminals would still be involved in crime after they earn their Bachelor’s and or Master’s Degree?

    I am heartbroken that CA, where my parents immigrated to, is moving backwards, and the narrative will not change, but will just create even more hate & divide with the targets now being our own children. This curriculum just boosted the enrollments & revenues of private schools all over California.

    Replies

    • Ana Rodriguez 4 months ago4 months ago

      Hi Lisa,

      Thank you!!!! My thoughts exactly. I am a person of color, I am also Native American and so are my children. I will not allow them to be victims. I do not want my children raised hating another culture or race based on skin color and “privilege.” We need to invest in our children’s well-being, empathy, and structural educational value. This is the path to real change.