(February 28, 2020 / JNS) Several Jewish and other ethnic minority organizations are urging California’s leaders to reconsider narrowing the state’s proposed ethnic-studies curriculum, which focuses solely on “people of color” at the expense of other minority groups in the state. The new course of study has generated controversy over allegations of anti-Semitism in past proposals.
In a letter addressed to California Gov. Gavin Newsom, Department of Education Superintendent Tony Thurmond and State Board of Education president Dr. Linda Darling-Hammond, the groups raise concern over a recent decision that will exclude many California ethnic minority groups from the Ethnic Studies Model Curriculum (ESMC) currently being developed.
“A curriculum based on a narrowly focused and politicized approach consciously and erroneously divides Californians into ‘people of color,’ on the one hand, and all other supposedly ethnic and non-ethnic whites, on the other,” wrote the groups. “Such exclusion is inconsistent with AB 2016, the assurances made after the release of the unacceptable first draft of the ESMC, and is contrary to California and federal law.”
Referring to Assembly Bill 2016, the groups added that: “California legislators envisioned a multi-cultural approach to ethnic studies in which the focus is for students to gain a deeper understanding of American society and its diverse ethnic composition and to develop respect for cultural diversity in our pluralistic society.”
The organizations behind the letter include: the American Jewish Committee, American Hellenic Council, Faith and Community Empowerment, Armenian National Committee of America, Hindu American Foundation, Armenian Assembly of America, Korean American Coalition, the Assyrian American Association of Southern California and Jews Indigenous to the Middle East and North Africa.
On Jan. 24, California’s Department of Education announced that it would proceed to develop the ESMC on the basis of four “foundational” groups: African-Americans, Asian-Americans, Chicano/Latino and Native American.
“Ethnic studies as a whole should represent a broad range of topics, but it must devote a special emphasis to people of color, including their experiences and their important role in our state and national history,” wrote Thurmond in a press release on the meeting.
In August 2019, Jewish and pro-Israel groups widely condemned an ethnic-studies curriculum proposal for its “blatant bias against Israel,” including sections discussing the boycott of the Jewish state, as well as usage of classic anti-Semitic tropes.
In response to outrage at the draft, Newsom apologized to the state’s Jewish community, and promised the it “will never see the light of day” and be substantially amended.
American Jewish Committee Los Angeles director Richard S. Hirschhaut and Northern California director Rabbi Serena Eisenberg told JNS that, along with their partners, they are urging California to adopt “a fully inclusive, multicultural curriculum” that would align with Newsom’s vision of a “California for All.”
“We support the focus of a model curriculum that empowers students from ethnic communities of color that have experienced systematic oppression,” they said. “But we also believe that California students will benefit from a curriculum that addresses all forms of discrimination and reflects the broad range of ethnic groups that have contributed to California’s cultural diversity.”
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