Commentary: Why Wait for the State on Ethnic Studies?

The school board this week has a letter asking for Senator Connie Leyva and Assemblymember Jose Medina to support AB 331, “which will add a course of ethnic studies to be a high school graduation requirement beginning the school year of 2023-24.”

In the letter, the district notes: “While the District’s history-social science curriculum already includes a multicultural education component which is designed to teach students to respect and appreciate cultural diversity and different points of view, ethnic studies will further develop students’ understanding of commonalities, conflicts, and injustices that form the collective experiences of people from various cultural, ethnic, gender, racial, religious, and social groups.”

But, while there are good reasons to support AB 331 which would impose these requirements statewide, there is no reason that the school board should wait for the legislature to act, waiting until 2023-24.

Parents and other local advocates are pushing for the district to “modify its existing graduation requirement to include the Ethnic Studies framework that students can fulfill by taking courses in history, English, social studies, arts, or math.”

They are pushing for these changes to take place by next school year, writing in their draft resolution that “the Governing Board of Education directs the Superintendent to develop curriculum and provide professional development to ensure quality courses in Ethnic Studies that fulfill the cultural diversity requirement” and that “the funding for this program and each of its elements shall be incorporated into the budget and LCAP for the 2019-20 school year, and every year thereafter until fully implemented.”

While it is probably too late to include this for the 2019-20 school year, even a 2020-21 implementation would be three years earlier than the earliest possible date for statewide mandates.

The district in their letter writes: “AB 331 will help us build on existing courses and/or develop new courses, as well as integrate ethnic studies across the curriculum. As ethnic studies seek to engage students in school and in their learning, we believe this will help close the achievement gap by reducing student absenteeism, improving student graduation rates, and better preparing Californian youth to be college, career, and civic ready.”

But why wait for the state to act?

Community members are calling for the following:

  • A resolution supporting the integration of Ethnic Studies into pre-K through grade 12 education in DJUSD.
  • The formation (as soon as possible) of an Ethnic Studies Advisory Committee that includes community members–not a study group, but an advisory committee–to begin meeting before Fall 2019.
  • A plan to increase the funding for Ethnic Studies in LCAP funds to $20,000 (for the 2019-2020 school year) that will be used for teachers’ professional development to create and implement Ethnic Studies pilot classes.

None of those are contingent on a statewide bill.

As Anoosh Jarjorian explained at the last meeting during public comment, the group wanted to partner with the district in order to get the program implemented for an upcoming school year.

“What we are proposing is primarily professional development because we want to see ethnic studies integrated in the curricula from pre-K through grade 12,” she said. “That means professional development for all teachers.”

She noted that some current classes could be “re-done with an ethnic studies focus.”

She said, “What we’re trying to propose is not burdensome. We’re trying to integrate with what already is in place so we can help you bring ethnic studies into the program and basically fill the primary buckets that LCAP aim ameliorate – in terms of having a 21st Century education, ethnic studies helps with that.

“In terms of closing the achievement gap, we have studies that demonstrate that ethnic studies accomplishes that. And in terms of developing the social and emotional learning of students, ethnic studies addresses that as well.”

One of the group’s calls is the allocation of $15,000 to $20,000 specifically for professional development, with the first step being to pass a resolution.

At the board meeting a few weeks ago, administrator Rody Boonchuouy explained, “The challenge is trying to figure out the logistics of introducing a new course of study and what that would look like in making sure that (we) do it in a sustainable manner… particularly with enrollment the way it is.”

He asked, “How would we introduce? At the expense of what? And the process by which we would get there.”

However, Melissa Moreno, who spoke at public comment a few weeks ago, pointed out that while AB 331 is moving through the legislature, there are already over 30 school districts in California that have either passed Ethnic Studies resolutions and/or made Ethnic Studies a graduation requirement.  That includes Woodland Joint Unified.

In fact, she argued, Woodland was well ahead of where Davis is on ethnic studies offerings, as is the state of California.

The letter by the district is fine, supporting AB 331 is a good thing, but it doesn’t substitute for the district passing its own local standards that take place well before 2023-24.

—David M. Greenwald reporting


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About The Author

David Greenwald is the founder, editor, and executive director of the Davis Vanguard. He founded the Vanguard in 2006. David Greenwald moved to Davis in 1996 to attend Graduate School at UC Davis in Political Science. He lives in South Davis with his wife Cecilia Escamilla Greenwald and three children.

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24 Comments

  1. Bill Marshall

    Wish those so adamant would use the term “ethnic studies (or awareness)”, rather than “Ethnic Studies”… I can see the potential of much divisiveness in the latter… wrong teacher, wrong curriculum materials, could come out saying “whites inherently evil, POC inherently good”… divisiveness, and factually incorrect… just as much teaching “POC inherently evil/stupid, whites inherently good…”

    Someone said it much better…

    I have a dream that my … children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.”

    We should be focusing on the content of individuals’ character, and their contributions to society, be it math, science, arts, history, music, etc. …

    I believe ‘ethnic studies’ curriculum should come from  DJUSD, not from the State (or “state”)…

    Looks like DJUSD is ‘punting’… unacceptable… IMO

    1. Alan Miller

      “whites inherently evil, POC inherently good”… divisiveness, and factually incorrect… just as much teaching “POC inherently evil/stupid, whites inherently good…”

      You’ve described the “New Normal” of US race relations . . .

      . . . by the way, where do Jews fit into the above paradigm?

      1. Bill Marshall

        As far as I’m concerned, anywhere they’d like, is appropriate… as I understand it, the Jewish people are currently not of one ethnicity, not even close… originally, arguably Semitic, but if you did DNA tests on those of Jewish faith, you’d probably find an interesting bell curve as to race/ethnicity… everywhere from Swedes to Sammy Davis, Jr.

        So, appears we are not just talking ethnicity, we’re talking cultures and perhaps faith… the Jewish culture in America is different from those Jews in Palestine in the 1800’s… etc.

        Sidebar:  perhaps “cultural studies” rather than “ethnic studies”?  That could be good.  Many Blacks, Asians, Hispanics/Latin(x) are more “white”, culturally, than many Whites/Caucasians… begs the question as to what “ethnic” means… race? culture? religion? gender identification? blind? deaf?, other? [and there are very much ‘cultures’ in the deaf and/or blind ‘communities’… have experienced those in folk I’ve know who are deaf and or blind]

        Follow-up sidebar:  perhaps “humanity studies”?  Beethoven was profoundly deaf according to legend… Helen Keller was deaf and blind… should their stories/contributions not be told?  But ethnically they were same/similar…

        How about mental illness/physical illness?  Many great people who made great contributions to knowledge/discoveries suffered various degrees of mental or physical illness… Abraham Lincoln cannot be understood without the context of physical (Marfans) and MH issues he and Mary Todd Lincoln had.

        So, what remains other than race/color (ethnicity?), and culture, physical attributes, is religion/faith/belief… Cartesian coordinates, in math… should it be pointed out that Rene Descartes was a devout Catholic?  Gregor Mendel (genetics)?  Should it be pointed out that Jews had slaves/servants, when discussing slavery?  That Jews persecuted those who didn’t follow their mindset?  That Torquemada was a Catholic?  That Attila was agnostic?  That Hitler was basically a hypocritical, narcissistic atheist?

        So now, wondering more and more, what “ethnic studies” means, and increases my concerns about having the State of California define it, and developing the curricula… am OK with DJUSD, with community input, take a swing at those issues… doubt they will, particularly on the religion/faith, cultural things… sounding more and more it will all be about “race”…’color’…

        1. Bill Marshall

          My 7:10 post is more pertinent than my latter… but Alan raises issues that I embellished on… his  was a damn good question, but necessarily raises others..

        2. Alan Miller

          I didn’t intend for you to bite . . . potentially hazardous food if you don’t know how to eat it.

          But this line . . .

          … everywhere from Swedes to Sammy Davis, Jr.

          . . . had me rolling on the floor laughing.  Metaphorically

        3. Bill Marshall

          Alan… the very far ends of the bell curve of ethnicity and those who identify as Jewish… no offense intended… glad I made you laugh…

          Old joke… priest and rabbi, talking religion… after the priest goes on and on, rabbi pauses, says “yeah, I hear one of our boys made it to the top of your organization”…

      1. Bill Marshall

        That would, likely, not be the case is the State dictates standards… might have a separate “Ethnic Studies” division/department at DHS…

        For now, I am hopeful, but more and more skeptical, that:

        programming would be embedded in current courses.

        Seen no commitments from DJUSD, to date, that would be the case.

      2. Bill Marshall

        Still, what is the definition of “ethnic studies”?  Strictly racial?  Cultural?  Social/religious?

        Or, is “ethnic studies” just a feel good/buzz phrase?  Easy to implement, hard to show effectiveness… some would really like to devote resources (new hires), very reluctant to measure effectiveness…

          1. Don Shor

            I believe it usually refers to persons of color from historically marginalized populations.

        1. Bill Marshall

          I believe it usually refers to persons of color from historically marginalized populations.

          r
          Which brings in additional variables… defining a person “of color”… “marginalized populations” is another term, very subjective, particularly given “history” and location and context… guess white/brown/black/’red’ women were ‘marginalized’, but we only teach about non-white women being ‘marginalized’?

          Guess from you definition, Don, white/caucasian males did all the marginalization, not only in recent past, but historically, in the US, and the world… K… you are entitled to your vague, possibly misleading ‘definition’…

          1. Don Shor

            Guess from you definition, Don, white/caucasian males did all the marginalization, not only in recent past, but historically, in the US, and the world… K… you are entitled to your vague, possibly misleading ‘definition’…

            I neither said, nor implied, any of that.
            The usual usage when referring to ethnic studies is about people of color from marginalized populations. Since the prevailing curriculum has been Anglo-centric, the goal is to provide another perspective and some balance. It has the added benefit of providing role models and affirmation for children from non-Anglo backgrounds in their schooling.
            Per Wikipedia:

            Ethnic studies was originally conceived to re-frame the way that specific disciplines had told the stories, histories, struggles and triumphs of people of color on what was seen to be their own terms.

        2. Bill Marshall

          Alan… “pinkish” is a ‘shade’, or nuance if you will… except perhaps when discussing race or political (are they different?) views on economic/political systems, particularly socialism or communism… then the real question, is what, if anything other than pigments to be placed on a canvas, what does “pinkish”mean?

          [have had two dogs, with “pinkish” noses… both were mixes, and had “pittie” in their bloodlines… great dogs, loved everyone and every dog they met… neither liked squirrels much, though]

  2. Ron Oertel

    Quote from David, above:

    “The way they are proposing it, it should not have an additional cost because the programming would be embedded in current courses.”

    Quote from article, above:

    A plan to increase the funding for Ethnic Studies in LCAP funds to $20,000 (for the 2019-2020 school year) that will be used for teachers’ professional development to create and implement Ethnic Studies pilot classes.

     “ . . . the funding for this program and each of its elements shall be incorporated into the budget and LCAP for the 2019-20 school year, and every year thereafter until fully implemented.”

    David:  Are you sure that your statement corresponds with those in the article?

     

    1. David Greenwald

      Yes. The $20,000 which is basically nothing in a $70 million general fund is basically one-time (or maybe a couple times costs) for training to start the program, it’s not an ongoing expense.

  3. Alan Miller

    So . . . DG say:

    The way they are proposing it, it should not have an additional cost because the programming would be embedded in current courses.

    and . . .

    we are not talking about creating new courses, but rather talking about the integration of additional material into existing courses.

    Yet, if you read Rich Rifkin’s column in today’s Enterprise, everything he sites is about adding an Ethnic Studies course, and about the lobby promoting this.

    So let me be clear:  as implemented as described by Rich Rifkin, I am AGAINST Ethnic Studies.

    Let me also be clear:  the white, male, WASP-Christian victor-centric history I was taught in school as a child was DISGUISTING and cannot be tolerated in modern society.  But a separate Ethnic Studies course perpetuates the “Us and Them” mentality that must come to a halt.  (And the lyric from that song continuing ” . . . and after all we’re only ordinary men” must be changed to, though it will never rhyme again:  ” . . . and after all we’re only ordinary X”)

    Rifkin ends on a perfect note, quoting Maya Angelou:

    “Won’t it be wonderful when black history and native American history and Jewish history and all of U.S. history is taught from one book? Just U.S. history.”

    I’m with Maya Angelou!

        1. David Greenwald

          That’s not clear.

          The bill would add the completion of a one-semester course in ethnic studies, in either the subject of social studies or English, studies based on the model curriculum in ethnic studies developed by the Instructional Quality Commission, to the high school graduation requirements commencing with the 2023–24 2024–25 school year.”

          Here is language from the model Ethnic Studies curriculum: “Pursuant to the legislation and SBE guidelines, this document will: (1) offer support for the inclusion of Ethnic Studies as either a stand-alone elective, or to be integrated into existing history social science courses.”

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