Thursday, November 20, 2014

The Los Angeles School Board votes to require Ethnic Studies

by Duane Campbell 
On Tuesday, the LAUSD board voted to require courses to offer ethnic studies classes at all of the district high schools.  A few courses had already been offered, but this provides a substantial increase in offering.
San Francisco Unified will consider a similar decision at their December meeting.

Children and young adults need to see themselves in the curriculum.  Students, particularly students of color, have low levels of attachment to California and U.S.  civil society  messages in significant part because the government institution they encounter the most- the schools- ignore the students own history, cultures and experiences.
A fundamental way to engage students in civic culture is to engage them in their own schools and communities.  That is where the students most encounter civic opportunities.

When the 51  % of the California students who are Latino , and the 9  % who are Asian do not see themselves as part of history,  for many their sense of self is marginalized.   Marginalization negatively impacts their connections with school and their success at school.  It contributes to an up to  50% drop out rate for Latinos and some Asian students.  A more accurate, more complete  history  provided in Ethnic studies courses  would provide some students with a  a sense of self, of direction,  of purpose, even a sense that  they should stay in school and learn more.  And, ethnic studies would provide Anglo  students with an informed, accurate history of the political and cultural development of our society. Ethnic studies classes should help young people acquire and learn to use the civics  skills, knowledge, and attitudes that will prepare them to be competent and responsible citizens throughout their lives.   
Add their history to the textbooks.  Add their literature to the literature books.  Include all students in Ethnic Studies classes.  These students are are California’s children.  You can start by revising the California History/ Social Science Framework to include their history.



In 2014 some California policy “leaders” called for a renewal of civic learning in order to promote civic education.  Unfortunately, but predictably, they have not proposed increasing ethnic studies.  Instead, they have written a report, Revitalizing K-12 Civic Learning in California, and they call it a Blue Print for Action. http://www.powerofdemocracy.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/02/CLTF-Final-Report.pdf

The report even recognizes  the diversity of California students.  They say,
Civic learning is also vital for our increasingly diverse California society. In 2012-2013, our 6.2 million K-12 students were 53 percent Latino, 26 percent white, 9 percent Asian and 6 percent African American, with the remaining 6 percent comprised of other ethnicities. In addition, an increasing number of our students are not native speakers of English. Almost 4 in 10 kindergarteners are English language learners. This diversity, and the attention it requires, is now acknowledged in our school funding model. The Local Control Funding Formula (LCFF) recognizes
the necessity of investing in the reduction and ultimate removal of inequitable outcomes in California public schools. Revitalizing civic learning opportunities, in an equitable manner, can contribute to meeting these goals.”

While it is beneficial to recognize the need to “revitalize civic learning opportunities, in an equitable manner,” it is not equitable to continue to impose an inaccurate and deceptive view of  history on the students.
While it is accurate that we have a general problem of civic engagement of the young,  it is also true that we have a very specific problem with the rate of Latino and Asian voter participation and  civic engagement.

The report, as is common, is well illustrated with compelling photos of very pleasant multi racial and multiethnic student faces.  They  even note  that the current History Social Science Framework and Standards are over 15 years out of date- a  reminder that the State Board of Education and the California Legislature should heed.
Regretfully the curricular directions they propose take little or no account of the diversity of the students in our schools.
What happens when students and teachers are not considered- just policy insiders?
Two recently passed legislative bills  in California provide avenues through which communities and advocates can work with schools to increase youth voter participation:
Assembly Bill 700 (2013) requires the Instructional Quality Curriculum in all California high schools. This bill was developed to increase civic participation and education
Assembly Bill 1817 (2014) encourages voter participation among high school students, allowing students to register or pre- register qualified classmates on high school campuses to vote in upcoming elections. This bill amends current Education Code §49040 which established “High School Voter Education Weeks” during the last two weeks in April and September of a school year.


The report and these new laws miss the single most direct and clear issue.   The 1987 California History Social Science  Framework still in use today to guide the selection of  California textbooks   expanded African American, Native American, and women’s history coverage but remains totally inadequate in the coverage of Latinos and Asians. The only significant change between the 1985 and the 2005 adopted Framework was the addition of a new cover, a cover letter, and a photo of Cesar Chavez. 
The current Framework permits the development of such courses as an elective in the 9th. grade. Locally, in Sacramento, a number of Chicano teachers have altered their instruction to make the 9th. grade class more of an Ethnic Studies class.  However, they received no support, or actual pressure from their site administrators to teach "to the standards".  As a consequence these teachers have left teaching in the public schools. 

 When the 51  % of students who are Latino , and the 9  % who are Asian do not see themselves as part of history,  for many their sense of self is marginalized.   Marginalization negatively impacts their connections with school and their success at school.  It contributes to an up to  50% drop out rate for Latinos and some Asian students.  A more accurate, more complete  history  provided in Ethnic studies courses  would provide some students with a  a sense of self, of direction,  of purpose, even a sense that  they should stay in school and learn more.  And, ethnic studies would provide Anglo  students with an informed, accurate history of the political and cultural development of our society. Ethnic studies classes should help young people acquire and learn to use the civics  skills, knowledge, and attitudes that will prepare them to be competent and responsible citizens throughout their lives.   
Add their history to the textbooks.  Add their literature to the literature books.  Include all students in Ethnic Studies classes.  These students are are California’s children.  You can start by revising the California History/ Social Science Framework to include their history.

 For more see the Democracy and Education Institute. 
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