Newsom signs bill requiring ethnic studies for California high school students



SACRAMENTO – High school students in California will need to learn about the contributions and oppression of people of color in America, under a measure signed by Governor Gavin Newsom on Friday.

AB101 by Assembly Member Jose Medina, D-Riverside, adds a one-semester Ethnic Studies course to the state’s high school graduation requirements for public schools, starting in school year 2029-30. Schools are also set to start offering elective ethnic studies courses by 2025-2026.

“America is shaped by our common history, much of it painful and etched with dire injustice,” Newsom wrote in a signature message. “Students deserve to see themselves in their studies, and they must understand the whole history of our country if we are to expect them to ever build a more just society.”

The effort to demand ethnic studies in public schools has been a long and controversial struggle on Capitol Hill. Last year, Newsom vetoed a similar bill Medina passed after critics said a draft curriculum for the course was flawed, despite signing another law requiring a course. of ethnic studies for students of the California State University system.

But opposition to the bill establishing a high school requirement faded after the state Board of Education approved a model ethnic studies curriculum for public school students last spring.

Drafts of the Ethnic Studies Guidelines sparked a torrent of complaints. Many comments focused on concerns that the program evoked anti-Semitic stereotypes or unnecessarily dwelled on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

The final version of the program removed these references, although it received criticism from some educators and activists who said it erases Palestinians and dilutes content on American Arabs.

The California Ethnic Studies course is designed to teach students about the history, culture, and struggles of different racial and ethnic groups, including a discussion of what the model curriculum describes as “institutionalized advantage systems.” and the “causes of racism and other forms of fanaticism. “

It focuses on four historically marginalized groups: African Americans, Asian Americans, Latinos, and Native Americans. The guidelines also include additional lessons on Jews, Armenians and Sikhs.

When the bill was passed by the legislature, Medina called it the culmination of a 50-year struggle to diversify the public school curriculum. The ethnic studies movement began in the late 1960s, when students at San Francisco State University and UC Berkeley went on strikes demanding classes on people of color.

“The inclusion of ethnic studies in the high school curriculum is long overdue,” Medina said in a statement. “The signing of AB 101 today is a step in the long struggle for equal education for all students. “

California set out to write an ethnic studies curriculum in 2018. From the start, the process was embroiled in tensions, and Medina’s legislation was shelved for two years in a row as the state searched to resolve disputes regarding the course curriculum.

Some Republican lawmakers have said the course is inappropriate for high school students, arguing that it is rooted in critical theory of race, a view that racism is ingrained in laws and government institutions.

Proponents say ethnic studies classes help students of color improve academically because they feel empowered by seeing themselves reflected in textbooks, rather than in a “Eurocentric” version of history.

The final version of AB101 includes a provision that discourages school districts from using earlier versions of the model curriculum that included references to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The measure also prohibits schools from using educational material that promotes prejudice or discrimination against a group.

“I understand that the law provides a number of safeguards to ensure that lessons will be free from bias or bigotry and appropriate for all students,” Newsom wrote.

Dustin Gardiner is a writer for the San Francisco Chronicle. Email: [email protected] Twitter: @dustingardiner


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