George Boardman: Ethnic studies proposal looks more like indoctrination than education
Observations for the center stripe: Music edition
THE UPCOMING performance of the U.S. Marine Band in Grass Valley reminds of a semi-interesting factoid: Our military employs more musicians than anybody else in the world … ANYBODY WHO grew up with brothers and sisters can relate to the new Volkswagen ad with Johnny Cash singing “These Are My People” … SO WE’RE supposed to believe that Trump’s EPA, currently run by a coal industry flunky, cares about California’s air and water quality? Sure it does … A NEW polls projects that Trump will suffer a bigger defeat in California in 2020 than he did in 2016 … MAYBE THAT’S why another poll reveals that California conservatives feel marginalized …
As most American school children learn, the Statue of Liberty urges the world to “give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.”
But the author of those words, Emma Lazarus, neglected to mention that the “wretched refuse of your teeming shore” were probably victims of colonialism, state violence, racism, intergenerational trauma, and/or heteropatriarchy from the white folks who run this country and Europe.
Fortunately, we have the academic discipline known as ethnic studies to correct that oversight, and if a group of educators and politicians have their way, every California high school student will be introduced to the subject in the near future.
The field of study was born — if that’s the word — in 1968 during a five-months campus strike at my alma mater, San Francisco State, when a student coalition calling itself the Third World Liberation Front demanded a change to the school’s Eurocentric curriculum. (Before I go any further, I want to state for the record that I graduated in 1965 and was in the Army when this happened. Don’t blame me.)
Given its origin, you can pretty much guess how this field of study has evolved: An emphasis on European conquest and domination from the perspective of those who were subjugated and colonized, often contrasting the greed and brutality of the conquerors with the resistance and resilience of the conquered.
Just your basic, uplifting story of humanity.
Until relatively recently, ethnic studies was confined to university and college campuses where students are free to ignore the subject and focus on courses that can actually be useful to them later in life. But now the subject matter is working its way into our high schools: A total of 253 schools, almost 20% of California’s high schools, offered ethnic studies courses during the 2017-18 school year, according to state data.
So what exactly is being taught in those courses? Here are three examples compiled by RealClear Investigations:
Students at Santa Monica High School organize and carry out “a systematized campaign” for social justice that can take the form of a protest, a leaflet, a workshop, play or research project. They then teach about social justice to middle school students;
Students at Environmental Charter High School in Lawndale are assigned to take on a form of “oppression” such as toxic masculinity, the Eurocentric curriculum, or the Dakota Access pipeline. They must “persuade their audience of the dehumanizing and damaging aspects of their chosen topic”;
Students at schools in Anaheim, San Jose, Oakland and San Francisco are taught to write a manifesto to school administrators listing “demands” for reforms. One class holds a mock trial to determine which party is most responsible for the deaths of millions of native Tainos: Christopher Columbus, the soldiers, the king and queen of Spain, or the entire European system of colonization.
Now, thanks to legislation sponsored by Assemblyman Jose Medina, ethnic studies will be a graduation requirement in California’s high schools. But in an example of being careful what you wish for, Medina is having second thoughts after an advisory committee composed of teachers and professors of ethnic studies offered a proposed curriculum in June.
The proposal generated more than 20,000 comments, only 365 of them positive. Ethnic groups left out of the proposal want their narrative included as part of the curriculum, and critics wonder why the LGBTQ community was included.
The media’s attention centered on the part of the curriculum that promotes the pro-Palestinian Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions (BDS) campaign against Israel but doesn’t mention anti-Semitism.
Another objection is the strong language linking the U.S. and capitalism to oppression and genocide.
“They come to the view where there is a permanent state of warfare,” said Fabio Rojas, a sociology professor at Indiana University who has written a book on the evolution of ethnic studies. “It’s a Manichaean struggle between good and evil. But instead of demons and angels, we have capitalists and workers.”
Critics complain the classes are designed to recruit students into political activism and indoctrinate them with ideological jargon. Maybe that’s because the curriculum proposal describes ethnic studies as a debt to be paid to students of color, “owed after centuries of educational trauma, dehumanization, and enforced sociopolitical, cultural-historical, economic and more constraints via the education system.”
“It comes dangerously close to turning American exceptionalism on its head. Yes, we’re exceptional — exceptionally evil,” said Will Swain, president of the California Policy Center, a free market think tank. “It is mindful of the re-education camps in Vietnam or China. It is indoctrination rather than education.”
Some supporters of ethnic studies, including Medina, are not happy with the developments to date. He sponsored legislation to delay implementation for a year while the Instruction Quality Commission of the state Department of Education reworks the curriculum.
Medina, a former high school teacher of ethnic studies and Chicano studies, is uncomfortable with some of the jargon and course content.
“I probably would say there are some lessons that didn’t have the students thinking for themselves as much as I would like them to,” he said. “I want students to draw their own conclusions.”
That’s a standard the current curriculum will never meet.
George Boardman lives at Lake of the Pines. His column is published Mondays by The Union. Write to him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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