On March 18, 2021, the California State Board of Education (SBE) rubber-stamped a whitewashed, anti-Palestinian Ethnic Studies Model Curriculum (ESMC) in the face of massive public backlash. This version of the curriculum was opposed by teachers, students, community organizations, and Ethnic Studies scholars—including Angela Davis, Cornel West, and Marc Lamont Hill. Citing this as an insult to Ethnic Studies, all 20 of the educators who drafted the original version of the curriculum demanded that their names be removed.
The approved curriculum abandons Ethnic Studies principles and pedagogy in favor of a potpourri of disjointed lesson plans. The critical edge of Ethnic Studies, the analysis and critique of racism and other systems of oppression have all been sanitized. And all mention of Palestine has been erased.
The erasure of Palestine was of particular concern to Cornel West, Barbara Ransby, Robin DG Kelley, and others, who wrote in an Open Letter from Black Scholars:
“One story that is vitally important to tell today is that of the Palestinians, Arab Americans, and Muslims. . . The absence of any mention of capitalism and its embedded racial structures combined with the minimizing of Arab Studies render the revised and watered-down version of the curriculum as clearly misaligned with the purpose and principles of the discipline.”
According to a letter signed by the Center for Constitutional Rights, the National Lawyers Guild Bay Area and other legal organizations:
“As a result of both the final product and the process to arrive at this draft, it is our belief that the ESMC does not currently meet the mandate set forth by AB 2016 (Alejo) and therefore should not be passed.”
In an effort to sell the curriculum, the CA Department of Education began the meeting with a string of testimonials, including speeches by Dolores Huerta and CA Secretary of State Shirley Weber. But, as Amira Jarmakani, president of the Arab American Studies Association and professor at San Diego State University, noted:
“I wholeheartedly agree with Dolores Huerta, Shirley Weber, and others that it is time to introduce ethnic studies in K-12 curriculum. But this version, gutted of its antiracist, decolonial, liberatory tenets, doesn’t serve anyone.”
The California Teachers Association, one of the largest and most powerful teachers’ unions in the countryalsovoiced their opposition to the curriculum:
“Although we are pro-Ethnic Studies, California Teachers Association is unable to approve and give support to the current draft of the ESMC.”
“Today CDE has put on a production to mask the mass opposition to this curriculum,” said Lara Kiswani, Executive Director of the Arab Resource and Organizing Center. “They have continued to center whiteness, allowing white right-wing interest groups to shape a curriculum intended on eradicating racism.”
The SBE has turned its back on the needs of California students. But the tremendous solidarity we have built among educators, students, and communities will surpass this attack on our youth. The Save Arab American Studies Coalition will continue fighting for an anti-racist Ethnic Studies curriculum for all students.
Contact the Save Arab American Studies Coalition to learn more about ways to defend Ethnic Studies in your local district.