(October 8, 2021 / JNS) Jewish groups in Massachusetts are raising concerns about a bill being proposed by state lawmakers that would facilitate the teaching of ethnic studies in schools.
The legislation, known as S.365 “An Act relative to anti-racism, equity and justice in education” has been proposed by State Sen. Jason Lewis (5th Middlesex District). The bill, citing the Jan. 6 “insurrection” and the “imminent danger” posed by “disinformation and white supremacy,” says that it would be in the best interest of Massachusetts students “that education in dismantling racism be taught to all students.”
It calls for the establishment of a fund and a “Commission for Anti-Racism and Equity in Education,” which would “develop curriculum materials with a social-justice perspective of dismantling racism” and “ensure that ethnic studies, racial justice, decolonizing history and unlearning racism are taught at all grade levels.”
The bill was introduced earlier this year and has been referred to the committee on education. In September, a virtual hearing was held where Jewish groups submitted testimony raising concerns over the language.
Robert Leikind, director of the American Jewish Committee’s New England regional office, wrote that while they support efforts to educate students on racial justice, the “terms used are undefined and vague, leaving the proposed commission broad discretion to interpret their meaning and shape policy accordingly.”
Similarly, in a letter to Lewis and other lawmakers, the Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Boston expressed concern over the legislation.
In particular, it noted issues related to the oversight of the “commission (in the bills’ current form, the commission has no members from the legislature or the administration, for example), transparency, definitions of vague terms in the commission’s enumerated goals and the fiscal power of the commission to disburse funds without requiring legislative or administrative oversight.”
The JCRC said that it looks forward to future opportunities to work with lawmakers to have more in-depth conversations on the bill and its current language.
‘Part of a political movement’
Andrea Levin, executive director of the Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting and Analysis (CAMERA), which is based in Boston, told JNS that ethnic-studies curriculum as it stands now is infested with anti-Semitism.
“There is now overwhelming evidence that critical ethnic studies and the ‘anti-racist’ pedagogy are not genuinely concerned with combating the evil of bigotry and prejudice, but are instead part of a political movement that’s shot through with anti-Semitism and rank anti-Zionist propaganda. To mandate this pernicious ideology in public schools is a violation of public trust, brainwashes children of all backgrounds and will ultimately put a target on the backs of every Jewish child,” she said.
The concern over the bill comes as California is close to enacting mandatory ethnic-studies curriculum as a high school graduation requirement.
The debate over ethnic studies in California has been ongoing for several years. The first draft of the state-approved Ethnic Studies Model Curriculum (ESMC) was criticized by pro-Israel groups and others for promoting the BDS movement against Israel and not including lessons about anti-Semitism.
While a revised version did address some issues, groups fear that the law mandating ethnic studies, known as AB 101, could lead to some school districts using portions of the first draft.
As such, a number of pro-Israel groups and individuals had been pressuring California Gov. Gavin Newsom to veto the bill. However, Newsom signed the bill into law on Oct. 8.
Charles Jacobs, president of Americans for Peace and Tolerance, told JNS that ethnic studies and racial-justice curricula as now constructed are “poisonous to American society, as they promote tribalism and racism.”
“They also follow the woke-ist formula that casts Jews as privileged white-adjacents whose very accomplishments and success become the very proof points that we are ‘exploiters and oppressors’ here and illegitimate rulers over ‘people of color’ in Israel,” he said.
He also cast doubt on whether the established Jewish community can have an impact on improving the curriculum, such as in the case of California, where major concerns still linger. “Jewish efforts to ‘improve’ these curricula will likely backfire because any ‘improved versions’ will make the entire effort seem kosher, when it is not. And in any case, it will be hard or impossible to monitor radical-minded teachers who will use the cover of an approved ‘racial-justice’ curriculum to treat Israel and Jews here as they wish,” he said.
Jacobs concluded by saying, “the Jewish community’s mainstream leadership, already paralyzed by its embrace of the very minority groups which are openly hostile to our interests, will likely be able to ‘make improvements’ and brag about it, but they will have only put lipstick on the pig.”
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