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Report: ‘Radical roots’ of California ethnic-studies curriculum

The Golden State spent $55 million in taxpayer funds in 2021-22 on programs that dub police officers “pigs,” California “occupied Mexico” and Jews oppressors.

Ethnic studies. Credit: Shutterstock/
Ethnic studies. Credit: Shutterstock/

Two radical organizations dominated by “ideological perspectives that are hostile to American democratic ideals” are behind California’s ethnic studies curriculum. The state will require the curriculum starting with the 2030 high school graduating class.

That’s according to a new report from the Institute for Liberal Values (ILV), a nonprofit that formed in 2021 and promotes “classical liberal values of reason and freedom.” (ILV partners with the Jewish Institute for Liberal Values, which was also founded in 2021 but is a distinct nonprofit.)

The California state law AB 101, which passed in 2021, requires public high school students to take a semester of ethnic studies. The bill’s mandate starts with the graduating class of 2030. “The idea is to have schools ready to offer ethnic studies to 2030 graduates when they enter the ninth grade in September 2026,” Brandy Shufutinsky, director of education and community engagement at the Jewish Institute for Liberal Values, told JNS.

The Liberated Ethnic Studies Model Curriculum Consortium (LESMCC), which formed in 2021 and is involved in ethnic-studies programs in the state, has received a good deal of attention, as has AB 101. But the two organizations behind LESMCC, Unión del Barrio and the Association of Raza Educators, have received less attention, per the report, which notes that California spent $55 million on ethnic studies in 2021-2022. (Raza is a Spanish term that some use to refer to those of Latin American descent.)

According to Shufutinsky, both UDB and ARE, and LESMCC, have connections to those who promote antisemitic and anti-Israel views. She cited Samia Shoman, an LESMCC faculty member with Palestinian roots, who is also co-coordinator of the Middle East Children Alliance’s Teach Palestine project. The alliance, a Berkeley nonprofit, has a history of anti-Israel comments, and Teach Palestine, per its site, is “a resource by and for K-12 teachers and teacher educators focused on bringing Palestine into our classrooms and schools.”

Some of Shoman’s lesson plans portray Israel as a colonialist power that oppresses Palestinians through an apartheid system. In a slideshow, a definition of the term “apartheid” notes the word is a “system of institutionalized segregation based on race in South Africa” that “is often used to describe Israel’s similar system of racialized discrimination and separation.”

To be prepared to offer ethnic studies to freshmen beginning in September 2026, California districts began to offer state money for professional and curricular development, according to Shufutinsky. 

“Some are concerned that activists are making the implementation of ethnic studies seem like an urgent need and are rushing the request (and) spending of funds,” she said. She noted that many California School districts already offer courses in Chicano, African-American history and other areas that ought to meet the legal requirement.

But ethnic-studies activists “are launching a concerted effort to paint these classes as not ‘authentic’ and their liberated version as the only ethnic studies curriculum that has ‘fidelity,’” she said.

Unwelcoming to Zionist students

The ILV’s June 5 report was released a few days after the White House unveiled its national strategy on antisemitism, which, in part, calls on state and local governments “to include Jewish studies in ethnic studies and history curricula,” including “Jewish history, as well as curricula on positive Jewish contributions to America, Jewish diversity and manifestations of contemporary antisemitism.”

A few days later, the Anti-Defamation League issued a Workplace Pledge to Fight Antisemitism on June 8. That pledge calls on public and private employers to incorporate antisemitism into diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) efforts, in accordance with the White House plan.

On March 30, 2018, the central committee of the Unión del Barrio, which is connected to LESMCC, released a statement “in solidarity with the Palestinian people for their right to return.” The statement referred to Israel’s “genocidal policy of extermination” and accused the Jewish state of “war crimes.” The statement ended, “From the river to the sea Palestine will be free!” a reference to wiping Israel off the map.

Miriam Elman, executive director of the Washington, D.C. nonprofit Academic Engagement Network, has slammed the LESMCC curriculum for delegitimizing Israel and casting Jews as hostile to racial and social justice.

“It’s hard to see how Jewish and Zionist students can feel respected and welcomed in a classroom where this perspective, and the LESMCC curriculum, is presented uncritically,” Elman told JNS. “Furthermore, it’s a perspective that coarsens the campus climate and can contribute to antisemitism by driving a wedge between Jews and other minority groups.”

Pausing ethnic studies

The ILV is still looking for direct connections between the LESMCC and the Unión del Barrio (UDB) and the Association of Raza Educators (ARE), Shufutinsky told JNS.

“However, leaders of several groups that are providing teacher training and curriculum development are affiliated with the same organizations,” she said. One example she provided is Theresa Montaño, a Chicano studies professor at California State University, Northridge, who is affiliated with LESMCC and ARE.

Brandy Shufutinsky
Brandy Shufutinsky, director of education and community engagement at the Jewish Institute for Liberal Values. Credit: Courtesy.

“The purpose of requiring ethnic studies as a high school graduation requirement may have started as a means to diversify learning materials for students. Unfortunately, others are using this mandate to further their own ideologically driven political agenda, which is divisive,” Shufutinsky said.

She noted that California went through multiple drafts of the ethnic studies curriculum—with Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom vetoing the first bill—“simply because leaders had a difficult time keeping antisemitism out and including groups, who have been a part of California’s history for decades.” Those groups were Sikhs, Koreans and Jews, according to Shufutinsky.

“It’s time to press pause on this ethnic studies experiment,” she told JNS. “Californian tax dollars should not go to organizations that are seeking to institutionalize anti-Israel biases and antisemitism into K-12 classrooms. Until leaders can guarantee that curricula is free from hate, in all of its forms, AB 101 should be repealed.”

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