California holds first experts hearing on ethnic studies graduation requirement

“Despite four revisions, the approved ethnic studies curriculum remains firmly rooted in Critical Ethnic Studies, a narrow conceptualization of the field that is politically- and activist-driven."

California State University, Chico (photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)
California State University, Chico
(photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)
After years of contention and revisions, California’s State Board of Education approved last month the final draft of the controversial curriculum meant to guide the state’s schools in teaching ethnic studies. 
During the California Assembly Education Committee’s first hearing on AB 101 Wednesday, a bill being considered by the California legislature recommending that courses based on this curriculum serve as the basis for the high school graduation requirement, AMCHA Initiative Director Tammi Rossman-Benjamin was one of two experts to testify in opposition to the bill.
“Despite four revisions, the approved ethnic studies curriculum remains firmly rooted in Critical Ethnic Studies, a narrow conceptualization of the field that is politically- and activist-driven. As an organization that investigates campus antisemitism, we have witnessed how courses based on Critical Ethnic Studies incite hatred and division among all students."
"In addition, filtered through the lens of Critical Ethnic Studies, Jews are viewed as ‘racially privileged oppressors.’ And at a time when anti-Jewish hostility and violence has reached unprecedented levels, indoctrinating students to view Jews in this way is tantamount to putting an even larger target on their backs,” testified Rossman-Benjamin before the Committee.
The Ethnic Studies Model Curriculum aims to teach students about the histories, experiences, contributions and struggles of minority groups in the state. Jewish activists vehemently criticized the first draft of the curriculum, which schools are not required to use, for both excluding and discriminating against Jews.
Rossman-Benjamin also cautioned during her hearing that “even more highly politicized and divisive curricula are being successfully peddled to California school districts by activist-educators responsible for the curriculum’s rejected first draft, whose overt anti-Semitic content outraged the Jewish community, state legislators and the Governor. But AB 101 would allow courses taught using this appalling first draft to fulfill the graduation requirement.”
She noted that more than 150 distinguished university scholars and academics, including a Nobel Laureate, recently determined that claims about the academic and social benefits of the curriculum are empirically false.
At the time of the vote, the approval a curriculum sparked waves of criticism from Jewish groups and community leaders.
Roz Rothstein, CEO of the pro-Israel group StandWithUs, said she was “disappointed” in the adoption of the curriculum which “is a model that can and should be changed before implementing ethnic studies in schools.” The American Jewish Committee also released a statement expressing disappointment, saying that revisions since the first draft were a “salve but ultimately not curative.”
Jewish organizations in the state and beyond had pilloried the first draft, which was released in 2019, both for not discussing the American Jewish experience and for including antisemitic language as well as anti-Israel sections. The draft effectively endorsed the movement to boycott Israel, and also included a song lyric suggesting that Jews manipulated the press.