California has struggled for five years to create a politically palatable “ethnic studies” curriculum that would teach high schoolers how systemic racism, predatory capitalism, heteropatriarchy and other “structures of oppression” are foundational to American society.
Now, after more than 82,000 public comments, and four major rewrites, the state Board of Education is expected to approve the latest version next week, clearing the way for lawmakers to make a semester-long course in the material a graduation requirement for all of California’s 1.7 million high school students.
The latest curriculum, however scaled back, still shares similarities with an earlier, rejected draft that a top state official said failed to comply with state law, and the Los Angeles Times editorial board characterized as a jumble of “politically correct pronouncements” that feel like “an exercise in groupthink, designed to proselytize and inculcate more than to inform and open minds.”
When all is said and done, the material emphasizing whites’ subjugation of non-whites is not a conventional textbook subject, but an ideology with an activist political agenda. Revisions may never satisfy parents and teachers who believe public schools shouldn’t be in the business of teaching kids how to develop a “social consciousness” or using class time to pinpoint a student’s intersectional identity to determine where they fit on a hierarchy of power.
At the same time, ethnic studies activists are furious that their efforts at promoting social justice, and centering “voices of color” are being diluted by, as they put it, power structures such as “whiteness,” Zionism and assimilationism.
Passage of the landmark curriculum at the board’s scheduled meeting on March 18 should mark a hard-fought victory for the half-century-old ethnic studies movement and help advocates promote their movement across the country. But it will not end the conflict in California, where the issue will be forced to the local level to be decided by local schoolboards or in individual classrooms.
The reason: The state’s guidelines grant teachers wide flexibility in how they teach the subject. Ethnic studies activists — including those who wrote the first, rejected draft of the curriculum — say high school teachers will have an escape clause to teach a watered down version that the activists deride as a “Foods, Heroes & Holidays” and “all lives matter” pabulum. These advocates insist on hewing to a heroic narrative about how people of color have suffered from and fought against European capitalism, colonialism, and imperialism.