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CA Abandons Its Commitment to Ethnic Studies under Right Wing Pressure—The Fight Continues
by Arab Resource & Organizing Center (AROC)
Saturday Mar 20th, 2021 10:04 PM
On March 18, 2021, the California State Board of Education (SBE) rubber-stamped a whitewashed Ethnic Studies Model Curriculum (ESMC) in the face of massive public backlash. This version of the ESMC was panned by teachers, students, community organizations, and Ethnic Studies scholars—including Angela Davis, Cornel West, and Marc Lamont Hill. In disgust, all 20 of the Ethnic Studies educators who drafted the original version of the ESMC demanded that their names be removed.
The approved curriculum abandons Ethnic Studies principles and pedagogy in favor of a potpourri of disjointed lesson plans. The critical edge of Ethnic Studies has been sanitized, and there is a lack of analysis and critique of racism and other systems of oppression. In a blatant capitulation to the demands of pro-apartheid Israel lobbyists and legislators, Jewish American lessons have been added to the Asian American/Pacific Islander section of the curriculum, despite the complete lack of historical or academic justification. And all mention of Palestine has been erased.

The erasure of Palestine was of particular concern to academics Cornel West, Barbara Ransby, Robin DG Kelley, and others, who wrote in an Open Letter from Black Scholars:

“One story that is vitally important to tell today is that of the Palestinians, Arab Americans, and Muslims... The absence of any mention of capitalism and its embedded racial structures combined with the minimizing of Arab Studies render the revised and watered-down version of the curriculum as clearly misaligned with the purpose and principles of the discipline.”

In fact, according to a letter signed by the Center for Constitutional Rights, the National Lawyers Guild Bay Area and other legal organizations:

“As a result of both the final product and the process to arrive at this draft, it is our belief that the ESMC does not currently meet the mandate set forth by AB 2016 (Alejo) and therefore should not be passed.”

In an effort to sell the ESMC, the SBE meeting began with a string of testimonials, including speeches by Dolores Huerta and CA Secretary of State Shirley Weber. But, as Amira Jarmakani, president of the Arab American Studies Association and professor at San Diego State University, noted during public comment:

“I wholeheartedly agree with Dolores Huerta, Shirley Weber, and others that it is time to introduce ethnic studies in K-12 curriculum. But this version, gutted of its antiracist, decolonial, liberatory tenets, doesn’t serve anyone.”

The California Teachers Association voiced their opposition to the curriculum:

“Although we are pro-Ethnic Studies, California Teachers Association is unable to approve and give support to the current draft of the ESMC.”

“Today CDE has put on a production to mask the mass opposition to this curriculum,” said Lara Kiswani, Executive Director of the Arab Resource and Organizing Center. “CDE has chosen to continue to center whiteness, and allow white rightwing interest groups to shape a curriculum intended on eradicating racism.”

“The SBE has turned its back on the needs of California students,” she noted after the meeting. “But the tremendous solidarity we have built among educators, students, and communities will surpass this attack on our youth. The Save Arab American Studies Coalition remains committed to fighting for an anti-racist curriculum for all California students.”
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