State’s Ethnic Studies curriculum, part 2, fails to sufficiently impress KHSD board

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BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (KGET) — On Friday, state education officials unveiled the latest version of what has been a controversial Ethnic Studies curriculum for K-12 students.

On Monday, the Kern High School District board of trustees politely declined to adopt it, despite impassioned pleas from the community. But no one was dismissing the potential value of an ethnic studies requirement. The question is, what will that curriculum look like?

The state Department of Education has been working on Ethnic Studies curriculum for a year now, fueled by the belief that history more broadly and fully explained empowers minorities and builds cross cultural empathy and unity. But how is the question.

Version one of the curriculum issued last summer was criticized as both anti-Semitic and anti-capitalistic.

The updated version is said to have addressed those issues, at least to the satisfaction of some.

But the consensus of the Board of Trustees Monday night was that now — in the middle of a pandemic that has fractured the educational process in so many profound ways — is not the time to roll out dramatic changes to graduation requirements.

But this isn’t just about the coronavirus. Another big issue — biggest of all, in fact — is politics.

The first version “was controversial and it even had racist overtones in the model Ethnic Studies curriculum, particularly and anti-Semitism,” said KHSD Trustee Jeff Flores. “The Legislative Jewish Caucus voiced their concerns as did a number of others across the state. So those issues are being fleshed out. I think they’re working on a better product.

“If Ethnic Studies is done correctly, there is value. If it’s done with political agendas and motivations, that’s something for pause.”

But, as a line of virtual public speakers said in letters to the board read aloud Monday, the value of Ethnic Studies curriculum is significant.

“The value is, in my opinion, that the kids will engage in history,” said Aleida Rojas, as East High history teacher. “They’re going to understand that they are part of the history of the United States. And then, because of that, they’re going to become more active citizens. Because if I teach you a history that has nothing to do with you, why should you participate?”

The framework for the Ethnic Studies curriculum — when, not if, it is approved in some form — is Assembly Bill 331, which mandates one Ethnic Studies class as a requirement for high school graduation starting in 2028-29, with the first classes held in fall 2024. The bill comes before the Assembly Appropriations Committee on Aug. 20.

The only question is, will an Ethnic Studies curriculum, like everything else in our world today, please every political and cultural sensibility? We all know the answer to that.

With approval of an Ethnic Studies requirement, California’s K-12 schools would be joining the largest public university system in the country — the California State University system. The Cal State system announced just last month that all students would be required to take an Ethnic Studies or social justice course in order to graduate, starting with the 2023-24 academic year.

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