CA’s proposed ethnic studies curriculum still lacks necessary breadth, depth

STATE AFFAIRS: To truly confront prejudice in education, CA cannot dilute the new curriculum’s focus on marginalized perspectives

Illustration of a person cutting up a page of an ethnic studies textbook
Jericho Tang/Staff

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Curriculums across the United States tend to offer rather one-sided versions of history, glorifying white, Eurocentric narratives while papering over those of marginalized peoples.

Since 2016, a panel of California educators has been working to change that, drafting a model ethnic studies curriculum for public high schools in the state. But with the deadline to approve the curriculum now just weeks away, the latest iteration, incorporating thousands of revisions from the public, remains far from perfect.

Among its most blatant faults, the curriculum seems to dedicate uneven space to underrepresented minorities. The section on Native American studies, for example, is given significantly less attention and detail compared to others, such as Asian American and Pacific Islander studies.

Gaps such as this are concerning: In addressing marginalization, we mustn’t reinscribe it. The latest draft of the curriculum seems to have fallen victim to similar dilution as the ethnic studies movement at UC Berkeley did decades ago. Most telling is the fact that, following recent revisions, all original writers of the statewide curriculum have requested their names be removed from the document.

In criticizing the proposed curriculum, it’s important The Daily Californian differentiate our concerns from those of critics who have denounced ethnic studies entirely.

Counteracting the prejudice in education will naturally feel uncomfortable to a populace conditioned to ignore it. But that is much the point. If all young adults aren’t working with the same basic understanding of inequity and injustice in the United States, how can we collectively imagine a future that knows neither of those things?

Crucially, a systemic problem — racism — requires a systemic solution — anti-racist education. And this statewide curriculum will help provide students with diverse, welcoming learning environments.

Still, the curriculum in its current form doesn’t seem sufficient.

The model is only a guide, meaning school districts can decide not to use it. While the American Cultures requirement at UC Berkeley is less rigorous than originally hoped for, it is, importantly, mandatory. If California truly wants to challenge established ways of teaching and learning, students shouldn’t have to wait until college to encounter repressed voices and histories.

An ethnic studies curriculum also shouldn’t remain isolated. Confining underrepresented points of view to specific classes neglects the need for diverse perspectives in all parts of education.

In the end, given the changing dialogue around race in the United States today, the proposed curriculum will likely soon be outdated. Keeping in line with the ethics of ethnic studies, it’s important that, in pushing for change, California implements an educational standard that invites future revision.

As we consider this new ethnic studies curriculum, we must do so with a degree of attention, care and foresight equal to the great potential and power the framework holds.

Editorials represent the majority opinion of the editorial board as written by the spring 2021 opinion editor, Jericho Rajninger.