Non secular ethnic minorities argue over California’s exemplary curriculum for ethnic research

LOS ANGELES (RNS) – In California, where color students make up more than 70% of the public school population, making ethnic studies an integral part of their education is a breeze for many.

It is for this reason that state decision-makers are creating a curriculum for K-12 that is considered to be the first exemplary curriculum for ethnic studies in the country for public schools.

However, the curriculum, which was originally designed to focus on the experiences of Chicanos and Latino-Americans, African-Americans, Asian-Americans, and Native Americans, is fraught with arguments as to who else should be represented. The focus of these discussions is the implementation of a curriculum that remains committed to the discipline of ethnic studies.

“We have been open to people that we have to be faithful to these four groups, these four disciplines that have done ethnic studies,” Tony Thurmond, superintendent of California schools, told the Sacramento Bee. “But we have also tried to allude to many other groups that have faced some kind of oppression and send a message about interconnectivity between groups. Many share similar stories of immigration and dealing with oppression. “

It comes as no surprise to Nolan L. Cabrera, Associate Professor of Education at the University of Arizona that additional groups may want to be included in the curriculum, but “self-interest,” he fears, “could be at the core of what matters Ethnic studies are blown away. “

“As soon as someone gets a seat at the table, everyone wants a seat,” said Cabrera. “That can be very problematic.”

The existence of ethnic studies, Cabrera said, was a “protracted struggle” by color communities demanding a discipline that would help students reflect critically on the history and experiences of marginalized people. “It took a lot of sacrifice to make this happen,” he said.

From this story, ethnic studies should treat racism as a systemic reality, not an individual error.

By law, California is required by March 31, 2021 to develop a model ethnic studies curriculum that will serve as a guide for K-12 schools offering these types of courses. Governor Gavin Newsom, who said the curriculum needed further revision to be sufficiently balanced and inclusive, vetoed a separate bill in September that would have made a course in ethnic studies a prerequisite for high school. The author of this law, Congregation member Jose Medina, D-Riverside, has pledged to reintroduce it.

Photo by Taylor Wilcox / Unsplash / Creative Commons

Recalling the recent race riots and President Donald Trump’s backlash against anti-racism training, Medina wrote in a September 20 statement: “To build racial justice in this state and country, all of our students must learn the true history of America – and this story includes the diverse experiences and perspectives of people with color. “

Proponents say this model curriculum could serve as an example for the rest of the country.

“If California screws this up, you’d better believe that it is creating a negative example that is repeated in many different areas,” said Cabrera.

Since the first draft curriculum was introduced last year, California officials have made a number of revisions after numerous groups classified lesson plans as anti-Semitic and tried to include religious and other ethnic groups. Another revised version of the draft should be published on Friday (December 4th). The public has 45 days to review and propose changes.

This new revision comes after parents, students, Jewish Americans, Arab Americans, Sikh Americans, Armenian Americans, and Korean Americans attended a virtual meeting of the Instructional Quality Commission on Nov. 18 – which serves as the advisory body to the State Board of Education – and they either expressed concerns about the proposed curriculum or tried to be included in it.

The original draft, written by scholars of ethnology, received praise from some for incorporating the Arab-American experience into the main Asian-American department. Palestinian stories and the effects of Islamophobia were included.

Others, however, criticized the curriculum’s inclusion of the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement – a strategy pressuring Israel to free itself from Palestinian lands – which, according to the California Jewish Legislative Caucus, is widely regarded as an “effort to promote discrimination against Jews, Israelis and / or Jews ”. or Israeli-American. “

In a most recent version, Arabic-American material has been removed from the main Asian-American curriculum and moved to an appendix with additional resources that includes Jewish, Sikh, and Armenian-American content. Mentions of Palestine have been removed.

“This is not even just about Arab-American studies,” said Lara Kiswani, managing director of the Arab Resource and Organizing Center. “We are concerned about the future of ethnic studies in California and the way local teachers can understand these conversations with students in their classrooms, especially at this political moment.”

A chain link lock can be seen on a gate of a closed Ranchito Elementary School in the San Fernando Valley of Los Angeles on Monday, July 13, 2020. (AP Photo / Richard Vogel)

The Arab Resource and Organizing Center is part of the Save Arab American Studies coalition calling on the California Department of Education to reintroduce Arab American Studies into Asian-American unity. The coalition is also calling for the reintroduction of the original Arab-American curriculum.

For Seth Brysk, a regional director of the Anti-Defamation League, however, the curriculum should be free from the politicization and bias that can be directed against any community. Brysk said criticism of Israel or Zionism could be problematic if it became a “proxy for prejudice and discrimination.” This criticism could “be used as a placeholder for other expressions of anti-Semitism”.

An example of anti-Semitism is an example of anti-Semitism, denying the Jewish people the right to self-determination by claiming that the existence of a state of Israel is a racist endeavor.

As the curriculum progresses, a major point of contention is how anti-Semitism is defined in the ethnic studies program.

The ADL, which supports ethnic studies, would like the California Department of Education to use the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s definition and examples to identify anti-Semitism.

The groups have also spoken out against extreme anti-Israel content and asked for safeguards against teaching BDS material and against curricula that are considered anti-Semitic.

Ellen Brotsky, a volunteer director of Jewish Voice for Peace, defines anti-Semitism as follows: “Discrimination, violence against, prejudice against Jews as Jews.”

“That’s how it was historically,” she said. “It has nothing to do with the State of Israel.” Jewish Voice for Peace supports the BDS movement.

Brotsky said Jewish groups who criticized the curriculum “do not speak for those of us in the Jewish community who believe that” never again “means” never again “for everyone.”

“We believe that our Jewish community must be able to unite and show solidarity with colored communities such as Arab Americans, Black Americans, and indigenous peoples who face systemic injustice, and that they must be able to do theirs To hear stories as we would expect other communities to tell our story as Jews, ”she said.

Meanwhile, the Sikhs also hope their advocacy and testimony will encourage state education officials to move Sikh content from the appendix to the main Asian-American curriculum.

Behind this effort are the Sikh coalition and groups in the Jakara Movement, who say that 250,000 Sikhs in California “must be meaningfully incorporated into the curriculum” of education, according to a letter from both groups to the California Department.

A number of Sikhs participated in the public comment section of the meeting on November 18, telling the board that they were not represented in the school and had never read about Sikhs in history class.

The groups have also proposed curriculum changes, supported by 52 Sikh houses of worship and more than 1,200 petition signers.

As part of these changes, the groups want the curriculum to incorporate more nuances into their identity, rather than just being highlighted after 9/11 in the context of Islamophobia. They suggested recording stories about how Sikhs shaped California and how they immigrated to the Golden State.

If they were simply added to an appendix, “such minimal representation would lead to further marginalization and misunderstanding of the Sikh community,” the groups said.

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