Long-Awaited Ethnic Studies Curriculum Approved by Board of Education

After years of debate and hundreds of revisions, the California Board of Education has signed off on curriculum for teaching ethnic studies in K-12 schools. The curriculum is not yet mandatory, but could become a requirement in the future.

The model curriculum highlights the contributions and struggles of African Americans, Latinos, Native Americans, Arab Americans, Jewish Americans, Armenian Americans, and Sikhs. Local districts will have flexibility to choose from dozens of sample lesson plans, based in part on the demographic makeup of their schools.

“Adopting the model curriculum today that is balanced, focused and bold is an extraordinary test that may not please everyone, but facing our history is an uncomfortable endeavor and making landmark educational change is never easy,” said Monterey County Supervisor Luis Alejo, who authored the 2016 law mandating the creation of the curriculum when he was in the Assembly. 

The murder of eight people last week at Asian-owned businesses in Atlanta added to a sense of urgency to get the model passed before the March 31 deadline. Thursday’s hearing lasted eight hours and featured 250 speakers.

The Board of Education released the first draft of the curriculum in 2019, but was quickly forced to scrap it after complaints from Jewish organizations, conservatives, organizations representing Koreans, Armenians, Hindus, and more. The introduction of critical race theory, comments on capitalism, and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict were among the sticking points.

Conservative groups are still dismayed by much of the plan, which they see as an attempt at Leftist indoctrination. They're now worried that students will be forced to worship Aztec gods through chant (yes, really). Meanwhile, many diversity advocates say the curriculum does not go far enough and accuse the Board of capitulating to a cacophony of critics and provocateurs. Secretary of State Shirley Weber acknowledged there were still problems but insisted the “perfect should not be the enemy of the good.”

Gov. Gavin Newsom has included $5 million in the 2021-22 state budget to help teachers learn how to teach ethnic studies in their classrooms. As for the controversy they’re about to encounter, that’s free.