With some Ventura County school districts already offering ethnic studies, and others considering developing courses, the Ventura County Office of Education is sharing these questions and answers about ethnic studies.
What is ethnic studies?
Ethnic studies is the interdisciplinary study of race, ethnicity and indigenous groups, with an emphasis on the experiences of people of color in the United States. Courses outline the contributions made by people of color in government, politics, arts, medicine, economics and other sectors.
By affirming the identities, struggles and contributions of all groups, students can expand their perspectives and better see themselves — and their peers — as part of the story of the United States.
What is the California Ethnic Studies Model Curriculum?
On March 18, 2021, the California Board of Education unanimously approved the first model ethnic studies curriculum for the state’s high schools.
Focusing primarily on the often-underrepresented contributions and struggles of Native Americans, African Americans, Latino Americans and Asian Americans, this model curriculum is not mandatory for any school or district. Instead, it was created to offer local districts ideas and examples to consider if they choose to develop their own ethnic studies coursework.
Why did California adopt an Ethnic Studies Model Curriculum?
In 2016, Governor Jerry Brown signed legislation requiring the State Board of Education to adopt a model curriculum for ethnic studies. The law said the state’s educational standards should be guided by core values of equity, inclusivity and universally high expectations. It also cited research showing the importance of culturally relevant curriculum.
The State Board of Education approved California’s ethnic studies model curriculum after four years, four drafts and more than 100,000 public comments. The 900-page document is “aimed at empowering students by illuminating the often-untold struggles and contributions of Native Americans, African Americans, Latino/a/x Americans, and Asian Americans in California,” according to the California Department of Education.
Is ethnic studies now required?
While ethnic studies is not required by the state, Ventura County school districts have the option of developing their own ethnic studies courses under the leadership of their locally elected school boards and superintendents. Districts that choose to offer ethnic studies may decide whether to make it an optional (elective) course or a requirement.
State legislation proposing to make ethnic studies a high school graduation requirement in California is under consideration. If passed by the legislature and signed by the governor, the bill known as AB 101 would require districts to develop and offer an ethnic studies course by the 2025-26 school year and include an ethnic studies course as a graduation requirement by 2029-30.
Opponents of ethnic studies sometimes cite “Critical Race Theory.” Is the Ethnic Studies Model Curriculum based on this theory?
Critical race theory is not synonymous with ethnic studies, and a discussion of critical race theory may or may not be included in a district’s ethnic studies courses. That decision is made at the local level. Critical race theory is rarely mentioned in California’s ethnic studies model curriculum. It is defined in a footnote referencing an article from the American Bar Association, included in a list of topics for teachers to be familiar with, and mentioned in one example of a district-developed UC-approved course outline.
Ethnic studies more broadly uses critical thinking to nurture an understanding of how different groups have struggled and worked together in the United States, exploring core concepts such as equality, justice, race and ethnicity.
What is the desired outcome of an ethnic studies course?
The goals of ethnic studies courses are for students to better appreciate the contributions of people of many different ethnicities to American democracy, to better understand the efforts and struggles to put the American principles of equality and freedom into practice, and to better engage in the civic enterprise of ending racism and forging a society true to America’s vision of “liberty and justice for all.”
Where Can I Learn More?
The State of California Ethnic Studies Model Curriculum may be viewed in its entirety at https://www.cde.ca.gov/ci/cr/cf/esmc.asp.