California educators urged to promote true tolerance, not victimization

"We are dumbfounded by a curriculum that consistently elevates Socialism, Marxism and Communism as the way students are encouraged to become socially responsible," Hartford said.

DIVERSITY CANNOT be purchased.  (photo credit: REUTERS)
DIVERSITY CANNOT be purchased.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
A grassroots group of parents, students and teachers has urged California’s Department of Education (DOE) to rethink its ethnic studies curriculum, fearing that the curriculum as it stands "is divisive, encourages victimization, and promotes a narrow political ideology" – the opposite of what it was intended to do.
A course on Ethnic Studies is now a requirement for every high school student in California after the state assembly gave final legislative approval to bill AB331, introduced by Democratic Assemblyman Jose Medina. The vote was 53-10 in favor, with the dissenters all being Republicans, according to the San Francisco Chronicle.
“Ethnic studies courses empower students and help build culturally competent citizens,” Medina said in a statement on Monday following the vote. “Requiring ethnic studies will help ensure that all students learn a more holistic and representative history of the United States.”
But the legislation is not without its critics, thanks to the content of the Ethnic Studies Model Curriculum (ESMC) proposed by the DOE.
"For those of us that grew up in Soviet bloc countries, the ESMC is like deja vu," said Vera Hartford, a California lawyer who was a political refugee from communist Czechoslovakia. Hartford is a member of the Alliance for Constructive Ethnic Studies (ACES), a grassroots group of parents, teachers, students and immigrants from all backgrounds, races, ethnicities and political affiliations, who have joined forces to lobby for a change to the proposed curriculum.
"We are dumbfounded by a curriculum that consistently elevates Socialism, Marxism and Communism as the way students are encouraged to become socially responsible," Hartford said.
"We are familiar with an educational system that proselytizes this specific political dogma, which is proven to be unworkable and discriminatory in itself. It grooms and conditions impressionable minds to an ideology in service of a political agenda. Intolerance, bullying, and loss of freedom inevitably follow."
Fellow alliance member Lori Meyers, an experienced teacher from Sunnyvale, California, agreed.
“As educators, we ask for a pedagogically-sound curriculum that includes guiding principles to guard against bias and political indoctrination, supports multiple viewpoints, and develops critical thinking consistent with the 2016 History-Social Science Framework," she said. "This requires students to think critically about the world around them [so they] develop... respect for cultural diversity and see the advantages of inclusion."
The curriculum caused such controversy last year that Medina pulled his bill. It has now been redrafted, and in mid-August was put out for consultation. However, the alliance argues that the revisions have not fixed the fundamental faults with the curriculum as it was drafted.
“The alliance is working to ensure that the final curriculum will be based on balanced principles and outcomes, consistent with widely accepted K-12 teaching principles,” said Elina Kaplan, a founding member ACES.
“Los Angeles Unified is one of many excellent examples of K-12 ethnic studies curricula which aggressively confront racism without political indoctrination. Its Elements of a Balanced Curriculum state that, unlike university curriculum, which is sometimes taught from a specific political point of view, ‘in K-12 education it is imperative that students are exposed to multiple perspectives, taught to think critically and form their own opinions on these and other issues.’”
Overall, the alliance has recommended that "the Ethnic Model Studies Curriculum should be revised to provide a balanced range of perspectives, remove the harmful political agenda, and inspire mutual respect and dignity," empowering students to overcome challenges, and elevating ethnic groups without denigrating others.
California Governor Gavin Newsom now has until September 30 to decide whether to sign the bill into law.