Elias: Ethnic studies shapes up as big fight in early 2021
As the key committee behind the extremely flawed ethnic studies curriculum planned for California public schools gets set to ratify its pet project in a mid-November meeting, it’s become clear this plan will become a major quarrel between the so-called progressives and every other stripe of Californians early in the new year.
That’s because under current law the state Board of Education has only until late March to ratify some sort of curriculum for ethnic studies, and myriad ethnic groups and organizations complain that the current version of the plan is so flawed it would promote grudges rather than real education.
Odds are the state Department of Education’s Instructional Quality Commission (IQC) will do little more than ratify the plan it released to fanfare late last summer, as there has been no publicized revision since that release. The current plan is little more than a cursory rewrite of a 2019 proposal that was so bad the state board sent it back for an overhaul rather than approve it last year.
The same thing ought to happen again this time, but may not unless state legislators extend the deadline for approval of some kind of plan allowing students to learn about the achievements, problems, and prospects of California’s more than 80 ethnic groups.
So bad is the current version, which essentially reflects the priorities of the academic Critical Ethnic Studies Assn. (CESA), that Gov. Gavin Newsom in September vetoed a bill that would have made ethnic studies a high school graduation requirement throughout the state.
The CESA dominated creation of the plan because its members volunteered to help write it, while few others stepped up. Websites associated with that group stress “colonialism and conquest, racial chattel slavery and white supremacist (doctrines).”
Adopting the current draft would likely see schoolchildren learn that Spain conquered most of Latin America by infecting Aztecs, Incas, Mayans, and others with smallpox, allowing a very small force of conquistadors to take over huge territories and subdue previously large and powerful empires. Chances are kids would not hear that the conquistadors also ended human sacrifice and some forms of cannibalism. It would probably ignore how English settlers brought ideas like freedom of religion here after being persecuted in Britain.
In short, this would be education toward resentment, not toward an understanding of motives, ideals, and achievements that came alongside the conquests that have always been part of human history.
The CESA also divides Californians into four basic groups: whites, Asians/Pacific Islanders, African Americans, and Hispanic Americans. Groups that don’t fit easily into those categories, like Native Americans, Jews, Armenians, and Arab-Americans, could easily be ignored if the current plan reaches classrooms.
Newsom was completely unsatisfied with the first version of this proposal last year, spurring the order for a rewrite. He’s equally unhappy now, as his veto message made clear. “Last year, I expressed that the initial draft of the model curriculum was insufficiently balanced and inclusive and needed to be…amended,” he wrote. “In my opinion, the latest draft…still needs revision.”
One area obviously in need of change is the plan’s proposed treatment of capitalism. “They treat capitalism not as a system of private property and…risk and investment, but they frankly say in the original 2019 (ethnic studies) draft that capitalism is a system of exploitation of labor where surplus value from workers is confiscated,” complained Williamson Evers, an assistant U.S. Secretary of Education under ex-President George W. Bush and now Director of the Center on Educational Excellence at Oakland’s Independent Institute.
Added Evers, “You might be a white person and think ‘I’m not racist,’” he said. “Critical race theorists are going to say ‘You are racist…you have white skin privilege.’”
Which is another way of saying the proposed curriculum could cause California public school students to believe that all whites persecute all minorities, even if those whites come from ethnicities that have experienced bigotry and immense persecution of their own.
So unless the IQC recants very quickly much of what it has proposed, it will be up to legislators to extend the ratification deadline so that a fair and reasoned program can, at last, be created.
Email Thomas Elias at firstname.lastname@example.org.