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Ethnic studies teach the lessons of tolerance

By Norah Shen and Pavana Upadhyaya Oct. 20, 2020

Jessica Lin Art

As increasing attention is being drawn to racism, Calif. is making a historic move towards racial equality with Assembly Bill 331 (AB331), proposed by Assemblyman Jose Medina. AB331 would require all high schoolers in Calif. to take a semester of an ethnic studies course to graduate, starting with the class of 2025-2030. The bill passed the state legislature, and according to Edsource, it will likely be signed by Gov. Gavin Newsom by Sept. 31. By teaching students about the oppression of certain ethnicities, educators hope to facilitate understanding of other cultures and strengthen relationships between people of different cultures.

A recent Fordham Institute study found that most states’ social studies classes were Eurocentric in an analysis of all fifty states’ world history curriculums, with Latin America receiving little to no attention across the country. Due to the rising demand for representation of all ethnicities in curricula, the Calif. Department of Education revised a model syllabus for the new cultural studies to stress inclusion of all cultures while mainly revolving around the cultures and accomplishments of four groups: African Americans, Latinos, Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders and Native Americans.

“Passing this bill would be a huge step because up until now, almost all our social studies lessons were Eurocentric. By mandating an ethnic studies class, students will become more open minded to their peers' cultures and have more conversations about other cultures,” Sophomore Nora Thomas said.

However, some marginalized groups still feel that they are not sufficiently recognized by the new curriculum. According to EdSource, Some of the Sikh members were upset that their stories would not be addressed fully despite ongoing discrimination against them. Other groups, such as Jewish Americans, were uncertain whether their challenges would be shown and if the curriculum would have negative undertones about Jews. The Jewish Community Relations Council expressed that they wanted to see Jews of color within the curriculum, as did Jews indigenous to the Middle East and North Africa who wanted to see Mizrachi Jews included.

In comparison, those who only wanted the four main groups featured in the curriculum became wary about the possible new additions, because content on the four main groups would be shortened in order to accommodate the requests to include various Jewish groups, Koreans and Armenians. The Calif. Department of Education has yet to publish a finalized version of the curriculum.

“It will help students have a more complete understanding of their place in the world compared to the rest of the world. [Ethnic studies] is focused around the mindset of ‘why are we learning this, and why are we not learning that. What is the reasoning behind this? Whose voice is not being heard here?’” Andrea Dashe, Social Studies Department, said.

Ethnic studies could also be the saving grace for some struggling students. The Atlantic reports that a study conducted by Stanford University from 2010 to 2014 shows the significant impact of the new curriculum on ninth graders who were considered students at high risk of not graduating or dropping out. The studies about the history of the marginalized groups were able to encourage emotional learning as well, as students were able to learn and celebrate their history. The results were stunning—attendance jumped by 21 percent and the average GPA of students rose by 1.4 points. The new curriculum interested the students, promoted engagement and heightened concentration.

“While the concept of ethnic studies is great, the content about ethnic minorities should just be integrated into our regular history lessons. Not only will this be easier to learn, but including the narratives of minorities whose voices have not been heard will be able to diversify the narrative of our regular history lessons. In order to embrace the diversity in America, US history should not just include white narratives, but all ethnicities and cultures,” Junior Anita Britto said.

The new cultural studies could be coming to K-12 school in Calif. in the next decade. While giving students the opportunity to listen to experiences that do not mirror their own is crucial, the merits of a completely distinct ethnic studies class have been disputed. Today, amid the increasing recognition of racism, students should have greater opportunity to build strong relations with people of other cultures and break down the walls between the different cultures.


About the Contributors

Norah Shen

Staff Writer

Norah Shen is a freshman at Leland High School and is a new staff writer. She likes to read, listen to music, and relentlessly tease her younger sister.

Pavana Upadhyaya

Staff Writer

Pavana Upadhyaya is a sophomore at Leland High School and is a staff writer. She likes to read nonfiction in her free time

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