California Ethnic Studies Model Curriculum: Analysis and Recommendations
General Analysis (followed by specifics below)
While the new draft of the Ethnic Studies Model Curriculum (ESMC) is a step in the right direction, further changes must be made to address significant problems that remain.
Examples of significant problems that still need to be addressed:
The “Guiding Values and Principles” of the ESMC should be clarified and revised to encourage critical thinking, instead of enabling harmful political agendas. One of the ESMC's guiding values is connecting to "resistance movements that struggle for social justice on the global and local levels”. This language is copied from specific pages in a book called Education at War, which encourage teachers to “develop solidarity and create linkages” with anti-Zionism, BDS, and anti-Israel narratives. As such, the "Guiding Values and Principles" can easily be twisted to justify promoting anti-Israel and antisemitic hate in the classroom, in violation of AB331.
The State Board of Education's guidelines for the ESMC require teaching about the Third World Liberation Front (TWLF). TWLF fought for the just cause of including communities of color in higher education, and at the same time promoted hateful and destructive ideas about other issues. For example, one of the most prominent leaders of TWLF gave a speech in 1968 in which he falsely, “attacked Jewish people as exploiters of the Negroes in America and South Africa and called for ‘victory to the Arab people’ over Israel,” according to a news report from that period. In another speech about TWLF, this same leader said, “it is up to us to make the revolution, to break the system, to smash it, shatter it, and destroy it, as brother Lenin said”. Vladimir Lenin was the founder of the Soviet Union, one of the most violent and oppressive empires in history. TWLF also drew significant inspiration from Mao Zedong, the communist dictator of China who was responsible for the deaths of tens of millions of people. Uncritical promotion of the TWLF and its ideas may violate AB331 and the California Education Code. As such, the State Board of Education’s General Principles should be revised to ensure the ESMC educates about the TWLF accurately and comprehensively.
The last-minute addition of a lesson plan solely focused on Arab Americans is discriminatory and lacking in transparency. The curriculum should justly and equitably represent diverse Middle Eastern communities in California, such as Jews, Iranians, Arabs, Kurds, Assyrian Christians, Coptic Christians, and others. There is no educational or moral justification for favoring one of these communities over all others, under the ESMC's broadly defined umbrella of Asian American Studies. The ESMC should be revised to add an inclusive unit about Middle Eastern Americans, which includes the lesson plan submitted by JIMENA and goes through the same vetting process as the rest of the curriculum.
Existing references to American Jews should be edited to explicitly mention the experiences of Mizrahi Jews, Jews of color, Jews from the Former Soviet Union, and other Jewish communities in California whose stories are less widely acknowledged. Furthermore, a section should be added to the ESMC covering various forms of hate, including antisemitism in all its forms across the political spectrum.
There are numerous sections of the ESMC where it is essential to expand upon or reinforce the importance of exposing students to “multiple and often competing sources of information” and ensuring that “diverse viewpoints are respected”.
Key problems from the previous draft:
Examples of positive changes in the new draft (though there are intense efforts to reverse much of this progress):
Explicitly anti-Israel and antisemitic content has been removed, although significant concerns remain about language and references in the new draft being used to justify teaching such bias regardless.
New references to the American Jewish experience and antisemitism have been included, although they do not adequately represent the diversity of the Jewish community or educate about hatred against Jews in all its forms.
Some guidance has been added that encourages teachers to expose students to “multiple and often competing sources of information,” and foster respect for diverse viewpoints. This should be expanded upon in the guiding values and principles and other parts of the curriculum.
Strong language has been added urging school districts to be transparent and actively seek public input when they implement ethnic studies locally.
Positive additions to the ESMC:
Chapter 2, Page 10, Lines 235-241:
Strong language added about transparency and public input regarding the development of local ethnic studies curriculum. This point should be strongly emphasized in communications about the ESMC.
Chapter 3, Page 6, Lines 116-120:
Crucial language added calling for students to be exposed to “multiple and often competing sources of information”. This point should be more strongly emphasized throughout the ESMC.
Chapter 3, Page 12, Lines 273-274:
Crucial language added urging educators to ensure that, “diverse viewpoints are respected”. This point should be strongly emphasized throughout the ESMC.
Appendix C, Page 119, Lines 119-130:
Great resources from the Anti-Defamation League and Facing History and Ourselves have been added to the ESMC.
Positive additions to the ESMC that should be expanded upon in the next round of revisions:
Chapter 3, Page 14, Lines 315-328:
Strong guidelines added about what teachers need in order to “effectively engage students in productive conversations and learning activities around difficult and important issues”. This section should be strengthened further by adding one more important point:
“Careful attention to their own political viewpoints and potential biases, to ensure students are empowered to form their own opinions rather than simply adopting the views of the teacher or particular educational materials.”
Chapter 3, Page 31, Line 803:
The, “recent rise in anti-Semitic violence” has been added as a topic for study in the ESMC. This positive addition should be edited to say:
“the recent rise in anti-Semitic violence, hatred, and rhetoric”.
Jewish students in California and Jews in general have also experienced a rise in antisemitic harassment, vandalism, discrimination, and rhetoric which may not fit within the category of “violence,” but should still be discussed.
Chapter 3, Page 33, Line 861-862:
The ESMC now includes “the effect that World War II and the Holocaust had upon the American Jewish population”. This positive addition should be broadened to be more representative of California’s diverse Jewish immigrant communities. The following language is an example of how to do this:
“Another example is the American Jewish population, including those who immigrated to California from Europe after World War II and the Holocaust, from Arab states after facing escalating oppression and violence, from Iran after the Islamic Revolution, and from the former Soviet Union after a decades-long struggle to be granted the right to leave.”
Shortcomings which should be addressed and important guidance which should be added in the next round of revisions:
Preface, Page 5, Lines 92-95:
The Third World Liberation Front (TWLF) rightly fought for the just cause of including communities of color in higher education, and at the same time espoused deeply harmful ideas and ideologies in other areas. For example, one of the most prominent leaders of TWLF gave a speech in 1968 in which he, “attacked Jewish people as exploiters of the Negroes in America and South Africa and called for ‘victory to the Arab people’ over Israel,” according to a news report from that period. In another speech about TWLF, this same leader said, “it is up to us to make the revolution, to break the system, to smash it, shatter it, and destroy it, as brother Lenin said”. Vladimir Lenin was the founder of the Soviet Union, one of the most violent and oppressive empires in history. TWLF also drew significant inspiration from Mao Zedong, the communist dictator of China who was responsible for the deaths of tens of millions of people. Uncritical promotion of the TWLF and its ideas may violate AB331 and the California Education Code.
The State Board of Education’s General Principles should be revised to ensure the ESMC educates about the TWLF accurately and comprehensively. Students should come away understanding that TWLF and other movements can promote good ideas about some issues and destructive ideas about others. The following addition could accomplish this:
“Include information on the ethnic studies movement, specifically the Third World Liberation Front (TWLF), including its significance in the establishment of ethnic studies as a discipline and its work in promoting the positive values of diversity and inclusion within higher education, alongside destructive ideas such as antisemitism and celebrating Communist revolutionaries responsible for tens of millions of deaths;”
Chapter 1, Page 9, Lines 173-199; Chapter 3, Pages 28-29, Lines 730-747; Appendix B, Lines 45-64:
The “Guiding Values and Principles” of the ESMC should be clarified and revised to encourage critical thinking, instead of enabling harmful political agendas which would violate AB331. For example, value and principle #6 is to “connect ourselves to past and contemporary resistance movements that struggle for social justice on the global and local levels”.
What is the definition of “resistance movements” in this section and which specific movements should teachers and students connect themselves to? The lack of clarity leaves the door open to interpretations that will be harmful when the ESMC is used in classrooms.
This concern is not simply theoretical. While the ESMC does not define the terms used in the “Guiding Values and Principles”, it does have footnotes showing where the language comes from. Footnote #20 references a chapter called Pedagogies of Resistance, from the book Education at War. Pedagogies of Resistance includes a section titled “Connecting Ourselves to Historical and Contemporary Resistance Movements That Struggle for Social Justice on the Global and Local Levels,” which matches value and principle #6 in the ESMC.
Which “resistance movements” does it suggest teachers and students should connect themselves to? Pedagogies of Resistance explains that educators should “develop solidarity and create linkages,” with other movements, referring directly to works (Maira and Shihade 2006 & Spade 2011) which promote anti-Zionism, BDS and one-sided anti-Israel narratives (see below for details).
While this may have been unintentional, it is deeply problematic that the very Guiding Values and Principles of the ESMC reference a book which promotes “solidarity and linkages” with anti-Zionism and BDS. The guiding values and principles should be revised to ensure that they cannot be used to justify promoting such hateful agendas in the classroom.
Excerpt from Pedagogies of Resistance
Maira and Shihade 2006 calls Israel a “settler-colonial’ state - terminology which erases over 3,000 years of Jewish history, identity, and rights in the historic home of the Jewish people. It also falsely accuses Israel of “annexation of the West Bank and Gaza” in 1967. In fact, Israel did not annex these territories after the 1967 War.
Most critically in regards to Principle #6, Maira and Shihade call for “Grappling with ways to connect anti-Zionism in the context of Middle East politics to anti-racist and anti-imperialist movements in the U.S.” That is, they advocate for connecting an ideology opposed to Israel’s existence with subjects covered in the ESMC.
Maira and Shihade also attack the ADL, an organization that the CDE has committed to partnering with on an antisemitism curriculum.
Lastly, Maira and Shihade tokenize a small minority of Jews in order to advance the notion that opposing Israel’s existence is not a form of antisemitism. This erases the voices of the vast majority of Jews, who believe that opposing Israel’s existence is, in fact, a form of antisemitism. Maira and Shihade attempt to use the framework of “anti-racism” and “anti-colonialism” to shield themselves and others from being criticized for rhetoric which denies the right of Jews to self-determination, while supporting that exact same right for Palestinians.
This approach fundamentally conflicts with Guiding Value and Principle #1: "cultivate empathy... self-determination, and the holistic well-being of all participants".
Spade 2011 promotes the “Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions movement against Israeli apartheid” - the type of one-sided anti-Israel advocacy that was widely criticized in the first draft of the ESMC.
Other parts of Education at War include additional one-sided references to Israel and public discourse about it.
The book refers to Israel as a “settler project” (p. 244) - terminology which erases over 3,000 years of Jewish history, identity, and rights in the historic home of the Jewish people.
Steven Salaita is described as innocently, “using Twitter to criticize Israel’s 2014 siege on Gaza,” in reference to numerous hateful statements he made, such as:
“I think of all the pain Israelis have caused, their smugness, their greed, their violence, and yet I smile, because it's all only temporary.”
“Understand that whenever a Zionist frets about Palestinian violence, it is a projection of his own brute psyche.”
“I wish all the fucking West Bank settlers would go missing.” (posted after three Israeli teens were kidnapped and murdered).
Such biased content should not be part of the reference point for the ESMC’s Guiding Values and Principles.
Chapter 1, Page 9, Line 199:
Related to the previous comment, the pages in Pedagogies of Resistance referenced in Footnote #20 include the following line:
“The United States is war. Schools are battlefields where war is waged, and the fight is between the imperial and the colonized, white supremacy and antiracism, and dominance and resistance."
Excerpt from Pedagogies of Resistance
Is this part of the vision that will now guide the ESMC and even the State of California’s education system?
If so, this should be clearly stated within the ESMC so that Californians can decide if we agree with this vision or not. If describing schools as “battlefields where war is waged” does not align with the ESMC’s values and goals, that should be clarified. This example illustrates the crucial importance of revising the “Guiding Values and Principles of Ethnic Studies”.
Chapter 1, Page 9, Lines 173-199:
The Guiding Values and Principles should be revised to include the following language:
At the college and university level, ethnic studies courses are sometimes taught from a specific political point of view. In K-12 education it is imperative that students are exposed to multiple perspectives, taught to think critically, and form their own opinions.
Chapter 3, Page 9, Lines 193-204:
It is very important for this section to include clearer guidance about the role of educators in student community engagement projects. LAUSD’s ethnic studies instructional materials include valuable guidelines that should be incorporated:
“An ethnic studies course should provide students with depth of understanding in relation to ethnic and social issues, rather than promoting specific political activism, demonstration, protest or the like. Ethnic studies is a scientific inquiry of ethnic groups and their interrelations (Yang, 2010, pg. 14).”
“An Ethnic Studies course:
Should include examples of civic engagement (e.g., voting and other peaceful social justice activities) and the impact they have had on United States history. Students who are considering volunteering, social justice activities, community engagement, etc., should consult with their school teacher/advisor and parents/guardians to evaluate that the activities are lawful, peaceful, and nonviolent.
“Whenever possible, should [create] opportunities for participation and for reflection on the responsibilities of citizens in a free society” (History Social Science Framework for California Public Schools, 2016, p. 19).”
Chapter 3, Page 21, Lines 535-536:
“the unique experiences of Arabs and other Middle Easterners” should be edited to specifically name other Middle Eastern immigrant populations that have explicitly asked for inclusion in the ESMC. This could be done as follows:
“the unique experiences of Middle Eastern populations such as Arabs, Mizrahi Jews, Iranians, Kurds, Coptic-Christians, Yezidis, and others”
The Middle Eastern immigrant communities that have asked to be represented in the curriculum include:
These diverse communities represent “an estimated combined total population of over 500,000, or at least 60%, of the Middle Eastern diasporic population in California”. They should not be simply lumped together using the term “other Middle Easterners”. While it is good that “Assyrians and Jews” are mentioned later in chapter 3, this is not sufficient because they are not equitably represented as Middle Eastern communities alongside Arab Americans. As it currently stands, the ESMC is reproducing a long history and ongoing reality of imperialist oppression and erasure of non-Arab and non-Muslim ethnic and religious groups in the Middle East.
Even worse, the last-minute addition of a lesson plan solely focused on Arab Americans is discriminatory and lacking in transparency. The curriculum should be inclusive of all Middle Eastern communities in California. There is no educational or moral justification for favoring one of these communities over all others. The ESMC should be revised to add an inclusive unit about Middle Eastern Americans, featuring the course outline, “Antisemitism and Middle Eastern-American Jews, 9–12.” This unit should through the same vetting process as the rest of the curriculum.
Chapter 3, Page 27, Line 706: