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CA State Board of Education Approves Ethnic Studies Curriculum

Updated: Mar 24

Jewish Journal

By Aaron Bandler

March 18, 2021


The California State Board of Education unanimously approved the Ethnic Studies Model Curriculum (ESMC) on March 18.


According to Gabe Stutman, editor of the Jewish News of Northern California, the final draft “includes two lessons on Jewish Americans and part of the [International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance] definition of antisemitism (not the Israel part).” He also added that the final draft does not mention the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement and features lessons on Middle Eastern Jews.


Some Jewish groups praised the approved ESMC as being an improvement over the initial draft.


“The model curriculum approved today by the State Board of Education is a vast improvement over prior drafts and a win for everyone who fought to remove bigoted and discriminatory content about Jews and Israel,” California Legislative Jewish Caucus Chair Assemblymember Jesse Gabriel (D-Woodland Hills and Vice Chair Senator Scott Wiener (D-San Francisco) said in a statement. “Importantly, the final curriculum explicitly defines antisemitism and includes lesson plans that teach about the contributions and struggles of the American Jewish community, including Jews of color. This is important progress.”


They added that “our work is far from complete. In the coming months, the Jewish Caucus will continue to remain actively engaged to ensure that the model curriculum is properly implemented by local school districts and that the teaching of ethnic studies adheres to the highest educational standards.”


Rabbi Meyer H. May, executive director of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, also said in a statement, “The Simon Wiesenthal Center, like the majority of Jewish community leaders and organizations, is encouraged that the Ethnic Studies Model Curriculum released today does not include any content that is, or can be perceived as, anti-Semitic or anti-Israel. While we remain concerned regarding some of the finer details of the curriculum, the consensus in the Jewish community is that the curriculum addresses the most critical concerns raised by our community.”


Tyler Gregory, executive director of the San Francisco Bay Area Jewish Community Relations Council, similarly said in a statement, “The just-approved model curriculum, while not perfect, addresses the major concerns our community identified nearly two years ago: It keeps out denigrating content about Jews, Israelis and Israel; includes lesson plans on the Jewish American experience, as well as references to and definitions of antisemitism; and adds language to protect students from discrimination.”


Other Jewish groups, however, criticized the final draft as still being too flawed.


“StandWithUs is disappointed that this model curriculum was approved as is, despite massive numbers of students, parents, and concerned citizens calling for reasonable and important changes,” Roz Rothstein, co-founder and CEO of StandWithUs, said in a statement. “We are proud that so many spoke out at today’s meeting and for nearly two years leading up to this vote – especially our amazing students. Without their voices, the curriculum would have been dramatically worse. The ESMC is a model that can and should be changed before implementing ethnic studies in schools. We will fight relentlessly to educate local school districts and ensure those courses help and do not harm our community.”


AMCHA Initiative Director Tammi Rossman-Benjamin similarly said in a statement that the final draft is still “rooted in the principles of Critical Ethnic Studies, which unlike the broader field of ethnic studies, has a politically- and activist-driven mission that will incite hate and division and is dangerous for all high school students. Most profoundly concerning for the Jewish community is the portrayal of Jews, filtered through the lens of Critical Ethnic Studies, as ‘white’ and ‘privileged.’ At a time when anti-Jewish sentiment, hostility and violence has reached truly alarming levels, indoctrinating students to view Jews as ‘white’ and ‘racially privileged’ is tantamount to putting an even larger target on the back of every Jewish student.”


Lawfare Project Executive Director Brooke Goldstein also said in a statement, “The board’s decision to adopt a curriculum that is divisive and fraught with bigotry, is clear evidence of systemic Jew-hatred in education – present not just in California but on campuses throughout the country. The Lawfare Project is actively investigating members of the California state education board through a public records request and will act accordingly on its findings.”



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