California’s Draft Ethnic Studies Curriculum Still Isn’t Right

The California Department of Education on March 5 released the fourth draft of its Ethnic Studies Model Curriculum. Not surprisingly, letters opposing critical race theory and critical ethnic studies comprised the number one concern about the latest version of the ESMC. And yet more than half of those letters were not counted by department officials, and more than 100 pages of suggested edits were likewise completely ignored.

Critical ethnic studies (CES), one approach to teaching the subject, is political indoctrination that has traditionally been limited to higher education. Based on Marxist and critical race theories, CES views history and society through a racial lens, connecting educational institutions to the revolutionary overthrow of systems. As such, it highlights militant movements and violent role models to encourage students to “radically transform” or “destroy” neo-colonial systems of oppression.

The public clearly told the state education department that it wants the ESMC to reflect a constructive ethnic studies approach—and so the public was actively ignored. Tellingly, the primary example of a constructive ethnic studies curriculum, that of the Los Angeles Unified School District, has been specifically removed from the chapter that lists recommendations. By contrast, the remaining courses focus on “mastery of the concepts/constructs of colonization, hegemony, forms of oppression . . . .”

This suppression of an opposing voice reeks of the same ideology that the critical ethnic studies approach propagates. “The CDE’s decision to alter the comment processes in the wake of constructive ES/CRT opposition reflects the CRT approach of ignoring inconvenient facts to promote a specific political agenda,” says Elina Kaplan, co-founder of Alliance for Constructive Ethnic Studies.

Instead of ensuring that students learn how to critically analyze opposing viewpoints and make informed decisions, the state has determined the only way to teach our children ethnic studies is to indoctrinate them into this victim/oppressor model. The state is wasting this opportunity to increase understanding and empathy among various ethnic groups, instead remaining tone-deaf to heartfelt concerns raised by students, teachers, parents, and community members, and powering forward with a curriculum likely to sow more division rather than build community.

Further inflaming parents and educators is the removal of trauma warnings. In the third draft, educators were advised that “[e]ngaging topics on race, class, gender, oppression, etc. may evoke feelings of vulnerability, uneasiness, sadness, guilt, helplessness, or discomfort, for students not previously exposed to explicit conversations about these topics.” This sentence has been removed from the main body of the model curriculum, as has the suggestion to have counselors available when “negative emotions/trauma” arise from ethnic studies classes. Individual sample lessons, however, still notify educators of the possibility of trauma.

Although the original intent of the model curriculum was to provide a model for a high school-level course, it has morphed into a K-12 curriculum, in large part due to the push from ideologues. The content of many of these lessons is not age-appropriate and citizens are enraged about teaching a victim/oppressor model to children as young as five. Removing the warning without fundamentally adjusting the approach does not solve the problem nor does it change the fact that our education system should not be pushing a curriculum that may traumatize our children.

The latest draft continues to reflect the divisive critical ethnic studies victim/oppressor paradigm. “While the ESMC should engage students in open and honest discussion about difficult topics, teaching students to focus on being victims of oppression, rather than empowering them with skills and pathways to succeed, is a terrible injustice,” says Mauricio Cevallos, founder of Latinx for Quality Education.

The State Board of Education meets Thursday to consider this proposed curriculum. School districts across the state will be using this model as they design their individual courses as early as this year.

Rather than bury their heads in the sand, we hope board members will reconsider the purpose of this curriculum—to deepen our sense of shared history, help our students understand and appreciate the rich histories and cultural contributions of California’s various ethnic communities, and work together to tackle the hard questions around racism and equality Parents and community members are encouraged to call in to the SBE public comment period on March 18 to share concerns about the ESMC.

Victimhood is not a static state and our children should be encouraged to look beyond the past into a brighter tomorrow. It is time to tell the stories of our collective history—the good, the bad, and the ugly, in a balanced manner. Molding students’ world vision has lasting consequences. It is past time for the state to adopt a constructive approach to ethnic studies.

Editor’s note: A version of this article first appeared in the Southern California News Group family of newspapers and at the California Policy Center.

About Larry Sand and Lia Rensin

Larry Sand, a retired teacher, is president of the California Teachers Empowerment Network. Lia Rensin is a mother of three school-aged children in Santa Clara County and a member of the Alliance for Constructive Ethnic Studies.

Photo: iStock/Getty Images

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