California Ethnic Studies: Education or Agitation

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The latest version of California’s Ethnic Studies Model Curriculum leads me to question the state’s real motivation. Is the objective to generate critical thinking and reflection on race relations or is the objective to agitate students into social action outside the existing sociopolitical structure? It seems to lean more toward political agitation that will generate civil unrest similar to the current chaos in Portland OR, Seattle WA, and Minneapolis MN.

I’m going to address a few of my concerns in this and the next few posts. My immediate concern is the meeting scheduled for Thursday August 13, 2020. The Instructional Quality Commission will meet and “Recommend to the Full Commission Approval of the Draft Ethnic Studies Model Curriculum for the Public Review and Comment Period (Action)”.

Since the public can submit comments, I submitted the following statement.


Chair Iniguez, Vice Chair Muñoz, Members of the Commission,

            Regarding Agenda Item 2, History–Social Science Subject Matter Committee, I (Joseph N. Allen, California Resident and U.S. Citizen) recommend continuing the rewrite of the Ethnic Studies Model Curriculum document for the following reasons:

            1) The document still contains inflammatory language with respect to racial preference. The following passage from the Preface contradicts the commission’s intent of designing curriculum that encourages critical thinking and dialogue on race.

(Lines 69 – 71) Ethnic studies courses address race within the context of how white dominated culture impacts racism and other forms of bigotry including anti-Semitism and Islamophobia.

            If the objective is to engage all students in this discussion, focusing on “white” as a source of oppression will make dialogue impossible. White students will have little interest in critical thought if they are defending themselves against the sins of their fathers, grandfathers, great-grandfathers, and every generation that preceded them.

            2) The very use of the word white seems to contradict the definition of race included in the Footnote for Line 44  Race: the idea that the human species is divided into distinct groups on the basis of inherited physical and behavioral differences. Genetic studies in the late 20th century refuted the existence of biogenetically distinct races, and scholars now argue that “races” are cultural interventions reflecting specific attitudes and beliefs that were imposed on different populations in the wake of western European conquests beginning in the 15th century.

            If you embrace the view that genetic studies have “refuted the existence of biogenetically distinct races”, isolating the white race (old definition) is reverse discrimination. It implies the program is focused on social agitation for revenge, retaliation, and intimidation, not education. The following quote is taken from New draft ethnic studies curriculum for California students issued after a year of study, by John Fensterwald

            Characterizing the revision as “more of a reformat than a rewrite,” R. Tolteka Cuauhtin, a Los Angeles teacher and co-chair of the advisory committee that created the original draft curriculum, said Saturday he was pleased that it incorporates key elements of the original draft.

            But he also said  there are “some significant omissions” in the new document and concerns that will be fleshed out in coming days. In responding to the critics last year, the revision “now further caters to whiteness and the status quo attacks in significant ways,” he said.

            It appears this Los Angeles teacher is not interested in a curriculum focused on critical thinking and dialogue that includes white students.

            If the commission members are interested in providing leadership in California (as well as national leadership if this is the first ethnic studies program for grades 7 – 12), this document still needs serious work. I will submit more detailed comments during the Public Review period in September.

I’ll close this (as I usually close my correspondence and blog posts) in the words of Edward R. Murrow, “Good night and good luck”.

Joe Allen, Ph.D.

Porterville, CA


I encourage readers to exercise their rights and actively participate in the review of this curriculum design. Your future depends on it!

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