Board Receives Update on Ethnic Studies in Davis

Jann Murray-Garcia in 2007 helped to create the popular Race and Social Justice program at DHS

The DJUSD School Board on Thursday received an update on the status of the Ethnic Studies program.  Administration recommended that the board appoint in future meetings an Ethnic Studies Task Force with the purpose of asking how Ethnic Studies can best meet the needs of DJUSD students.

The task force would be comprised of community members who apply through a process.  There will be four meetings through the spring and they will report on the findings and recommendation to the board by June 2020.

Key questions include:

  • What problem can Ethnic Studies solve? How does that problem exist in Davis?
  • What does research say about the impact of Ethnic Studies?
  • What can we learn from case studies of Ethnic Studies implementation in other school districts?

Rody Boonchouy, the Associate Superintendent of Instruction, talked about AB 331 and noted that the Ethnic Studies Model Curriculum has experienced quite a bit of controversy.   Among the controversies: which ethnic groups are included, claims of bias in the curriculum, and the inaccessibility of some of the language and the jargon.

As a result, the State Board of Education has decided to do more outreach and is conducting a listening tour.

During public comment, Melissa Moreno expressed “gratitude and appreciation for being willing to take up this topic and listen to the voices of the community.”

Carl Jorgensen, a retired professor at UC Davis, said, “I think it’s really important to provide ethnic studies teacher training so that you have future teachers trained in ethnic studies.”

Jann Murray-Garcia noted that when they started the Race and Social Justice course in 2007, they were told they needed to get 29 students for that course.  One hundred eight signed up.  As a result, during the first three years of the program, Kevin Williams taught three different sections.

“It was quite remarkable to see how much the young people really wanted to engage with this material and with one another – now it’s the most popular option of the US History requirements,” Murray-Garcia said.  “It’s not a mandatory class, not everyone has to take it. “

Cecilia Escamilla-Greenwald said, “The climate now is challenging and somewhat negative for immigrants and diverse people.  When we see these trends nationally they have a trickle-down effect locally for the communities…  The way to address that isn’t to hide, but it’s to talk and address these issues.”

The school board was overwhelmingly supportive of the program going forward.

Tom Adams said he hopes that the district will not fall into some of the traps that the state board fell into with the state guidelines.

“It’s a question of which ones,” he said.  “I don’t want us to say it has to be a certain three, four, or five groups.  I’m hoping we come with a framework that is flexible enough that it can change from year to year based upon student interest.”

Bob Poppenga said, “Last year we certainly heard in the community about a need for ethnic studies.  At the time we said it’s not a matter of if, but when.  It is now.”

He noted some research that he stumbled on as he was researching this topic.  He read: “Multicultural education should rest on dialogue in which groups that have the most power learn to listen to and collaborate with those who have less power – particularly around educational issues.”

He noted that what people and students from dominant backgrounds think about certain issues and best solutions “are not necessarily the same as what students, parents and community members from non-dominant groups think.”

Dr. Poppenga further added that one of the most valuable lessons for those who are used to being in charge is to “learn to listen to and take seriously those they have learned to dismiss.”

He said, “As an older white male, who had all of the privileges in life, this is something that I think about a lot.”

Cindy Pickett

Board President Cindy Pickett said, “We need to be proactive in terms of ensuring that there’s representation at these meetings – going beyond our usual channels.”

She noted, “There’s the idea of intersectionality.”  She said if you take African American women, “there’s these nuances” in terms of voting behavior and other concerns.  She said it’s important to “have the historic social context” and “here is the developing context” in the 21st century.

She suggested that we need to be really forward thinking in that regard.

Dr. Pickett added, “There’s dynamics of power in the classroom that really do shape what students get from it.  We need to be really mindful of that – who are the voices, who is going to speak up.”

Cody Kodira

Cody Kodira, the student representative from Davis High, noted that he started the Indian Culture Education club  and he believes that “an emphasis on ethnic studies is an amazing idea.”

He noted that the Race and Social Justice class has been an amazing experience.  He says about his friends, “After taking the class, their perspective and general understand of US history has completely changed.  They’re more aware of the injustices they see.  They’re more aware of how they speak to their friends and how they address certain issues.”

No formal action was taken on Thursday.  The next step going forward will be to create the task force to guide the process.

—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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  1. Alan Miller

    The climate now is challenging and somewhat negative for immigrants and diverse people.

    Please define “diverse people”.  I ask because I am curious what a non-diverse person would look like.

    1. Bill Marshall

      I am curious what a non-diverse person would look like.

      That would be someone who looks exactly like EVERYONE else.   Hope that helps… and, you make an important point.

    2. David Greenwald

      If only there was a quick way to search for definitions…. they’d probably make a lot of money…

      oh wait

      Diverse people means a group of people comprised of different backgrounds, races, ethnicities. A non- diverse people would be homogeneous.

      1. Bill Marshall

        Perhaps it should be ‘individual studies’ for the curriculum…

        Diverse people means a group of people comprised of different backgrounds, races, ethnicities. A non- diverse people would be homogeneous.

        Except possibly for twins, raised exactly alike, we are individuals…

        Methinks, if “Ethnic Studies” is about “diversity”, as you have defined it, David, it is an improper term.

        Or, perhaps, “Ethnic Studies” is ‘code’ for something other than ‘diversity’…

        Just saying…

      2. Bill Marshall

        Asians, Blacks, Hispanic, Whites, Native Americans, etc., etc., are not monolithic. We ALL have different backgrounds, faith systems (or, lack thereof)… ethnicity is a relatively small piece of the ‘puzzle’ of humanity.  We ALL are diverse, as individuals.

        Yet, we it seems we have an “Ethnic Studies” imperative…

        1. Mark West

          “we have an “Ethnic Studies” imperative”

          The real value here is to develop empathy for those not like yourself. It really doesn’t matter what the differences are (or how they are described) as long as you come away with an appreciation for how their lives and experiences differ from yours and perhaps begin to understand how the world appears from their point of view. The reverse is true as well, but those of us of European descent likely have more work to do since our world has been fashioned primarily along the lines of our own ancestry.

        2. Bill Marshall

          True, as written, Mark… respect and empathize with others, including ethnicity and well beyond that criteria, and differences… but,

          those of us of European descent

          may be a euro-centric guilt thing some may have, but the phrase is a kind of ‘profiling’…

          Lots of “euro folk” who were blatantly intolerant of other “euro folk”… ‘no Irish need apply’ is but one of dozens of examples of intolerance, sometimes rising to persecution, within the “euro-folk” ‘ethnicity’.

          Similar is true within other ethnic groups.  Not unique to “whites”.  Many Chinese  folk are intolerant of Japanese folk… Black folks with ethnic roots in Africa… same …

          Nigerians often look down on other Nigerians based on ‘tribal’ affiliations… same is true among ‘Native Americans’… even within their so-called ‘ethnic groups’… many other examples.

          European descendants are not unique… and, many of us are ‘multi-ethnic’, yet lumped together as “white”.


        3. Mark West

          “European descendants are not unique…”

          Yawn…history is written by the ‘winners’ and our history has largely been written by light-skinned folks of European descent. I never said that was a monolithic group.

          There are many ways you can define the concept of “not like me.” It doesn’t matter what criteria you pick, ethnicity, religion, political outlook, love of chocolate, our ability to understand the diversity in our community and address the needs of our neighbors will always come back to our ability to empathize with their point of view.

          I fully admit that I have very little empathy for those who behave like the most important thing in life is to prevent ‘others’ from moving to town and ‘stealing the cheese.’

  2. Eric Gelber

    Once again, and predictably, comments on the Vanguard focus on semantics rather than acknowledging the impact of, and legitimacy of addressing, the predominantly Eurocentric perspective of typical educational curricula.

    1. David Greenwald

      Yes, To me the most important thing was that it seems like the district is going to avoid making the same mistake that the state did with the guidelines and avoid limiting the groups.

    2. Bill Marshall

      Eric… is not our number system, Hindu-Arabic, and algebra ‘middle-eastern’?

      Recognizing all of the roots, across ethnic lines, across religions, etc. is good… do you know the roots of the five-string banjo?  I do… it crosses ethnic, racial, religious, economic/class lines, big time… and the music played from it truly stirs my soul…

      You speak of semantics… words… Dad would shake his head, sometimes, and say “they know the words, but haven’t heard the music”… great musical works have included horns, woodwinds, strings, percussion, etc.  All could be considered ‘ethnically’ different… if you wan to focus on words, cool… I prefer the music.

      1. Eric Gelber

        if you wan to focus on words, cool…

        Bill – With your efforts at being pedantic, I have no idea what point you are making and you clearly don’t understand my comment. It’s not I who want to focus on words. Rather it’s the continual focus of certain commenters on parsing terms like ethnicity, diversity, etc. who fail to focus on the larger issues concerning ethnic studies. It’s a “failure to see the forest for the trees” thing.

        1. Bill Marshall

          It’s a “failure to see the forest for the trees” thing.

          Well, I do see it differently… unless one sees the different species of trees, and how differences in even trees of the same species have grown, due to soil, other factors, one cannot grasp the forest’s nature.  Or, appreciate its awesome nature.  Few forests are ‘monolithic’… and they are generally at high risk for disease, etc.

          Our society and culture is composed of folk from different ‘species’ (ethnicity/races), different environmental factors (socio-economic status growing up, home environment, educational opportunities), age (context of when we grew up), cultural background (spiritual/non-spiritual, and how that has been expressed in religion, or lack thereof), etc.

          If you believe you are defined, and others are defined based solely on primary ethnicity (and more and more we are becoming, as a society and as individuals [genetically] are ‘multi-ethnic’)… well, we’ll just need to agree to disagree.

          I was taught, primarily by example, and we passed on to our children, to deal with folk as individuals… you may call me a ‘denier’, but our kids have never referred to a friend as their black friend, their white friend, their Jewish friend, their ‘handicapped’ friend, etc.

          Do I realize that not everyone was brought up that way?  Sure.  More is the pity.

          But unless “ethnic studies” is done right, without blaming any group for past wrongs, and without ‘pidgeon-holing’ folk based on ethnicity (a form of ‘profiling’, BTW), it could actually “feed” prejudices and divisiveness… not my idea of good education.

          If that is “pedantic”, Ok, guilty as charged… mea culpa.


        2. Bill Marshall

          Oh… I didn’t intend (effort) to be pedantic.  Note that you ‘labelled’ me
          (or at least my intentions/efforts).  Which is fine.  It does not define me.

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