“Ethnic studies curriculum is what our students need in this moment”
— Luis A. Alejo, Special to CalMatters
By Luis A. Alejo, Special to CalMatters
Luis A. Alejo, a former state Assemblymember, is Monterey County Supervisor, District1@co.monterey.ca.us. He is the author of Assembly Bill 2016, which mandated the creation of the first state model ethnic studies curriculum.
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More than four years ago when I authored Assembly Bill 2016, the legislation that requires California to develop a model curriculum in ethnic studies, there was no question that our students needed and deserved an education that more truthfully and completely reflected the experiences and contributions of people of color. In a state as diverse as ours, our students must see themselves in their classrooms and instructional materials.
Fast forward to today – in the wake of racial unrest, and the resurgence of hate and bigotry across our country – and the need for a comprehensive and inclusive ethnic studies model curriculum could not feel any more urgent. Today, we have the opportunity to use the power of education as a force for lasting change in the pursuit of racial and social justice.
The California Department of Education’s latest recommendations to the draft Ethnic Studies Model Curriculum are the right approach at the right time for our students.
Ethnic studies is a course that focuses on the experiences, struggles, scholarship and contributions of people of color whose historically marginalized populations are inextricably tied to our state and nation’s history – but whose stories have largely gone untold in public school classrooms. Ethnic studies traditionally has focused on four core disciplines: African American Studies, Asian American Studies, Chicano Latino Studies and Native American Studies.
On Nov. 18-19, members of the Instructional Quality Commission – an advisory panel to the State Board of Education, which must adopt a model curriculum by March 31, 2021 – will consider and act on the California Department of Education’s most recent round of recommendations to the draft.
The direction laid out before the commission – developed under the vision and leadership of State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Thurmond – is the strongest and boldest set of recommendations yet for a draft that has been scrutinized and politicized at an intensity unlike any other public school topic. While focusing on the four core disciplines of ethnic studies, the Department of Education’s most recent recommendations also give educators more resources to explore additional identities whose experiences intersect in California.
Let’s be clear: Ethnic studies is a course for all students. By learning how we all connect and by digging deep into the complicated histories of our communities, students can become unstoppable change agents at a time when their civic engagement is crucial.
Learning about and sharing the stories of marginalized groups builds empathy for one another as we prepare youth for life in a diverse, rapidly evolving society and global economy that requires us to understand our shared experiences. And uplifting the voices of those who have been systemically oppressed can liberate communities for generations to come.
Adopting a model curriculum that is balanced, focused and bold is an extraordinary task that may not please everyone by the time this process is finished. But facing our history is an uncomfortable endeavor.
It’s time to put aside politics and personal agendas, and to do what’s truly best for our students. I urge our leaders on the Instructional Quality Commission to endorse the recommendations presented to them – and to send a strong message to the rest of the nation that California’s public schools can be the change we want to see.