Desert Sands's FAQ Ethnic Studies

FAQ Ethnic Studies

What is ethnic studies?

Ethnic studies is the interdisciplinary study of race, ethnicity, and Indigeneity, 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.

Proponents of ethnic studies believe that 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.

Why ethnic studies?

California is committed to providing excellent educational opportunities to all students. Research shows that culturally meaningful and relevant curriculum can have a positive impact on students. Students that become more engaged in school through courses like ethnic studies are more likely to graduate and feel more personally empowered. A number of California school districts have already adopted local ethnic studies programs, and some have implemented a local graduation requirement in ethnic studies. 

Why did California adopt an ethnic studies model curriculum?

In 2016, Gov. 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 approved California’s ethnic studies model curriculum in March 2021 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.

What is a model curriculum?

A model curriculum is a guidance document that provides support to teachers and administrators in developing courses and/or instructional content in a specific topic area. It is not a complete classroom curriculum or instructional materials; it is intended as a resource. A model curriculum is similar to a curriculum framework, but with a specific focus. The César E. Chávez model curriculum is an example of a model curriculum that was previously adopted by the State Board of Education.

Is ethnic studies now required?

The short answer is no. Under the leadership of locally elected school boards and superintendents, several Riverside County school districts have developed their own ethnic studies courses or are considering proposals. In most districts where ethnic studies courses have been developed, they are elective courses, meaning they are not required. This is the case for Desert Sands at this time.  

However, state legislation proposing to make ethnic studies a graduation requirement in California is under consideration. The bill known as AB 101 recently passed out of the Assembly Education Committee but has yet to receive a full vote in the state Assembly or the Senate. If passed by the legislature and signed by the governor, the bill would require districts to develop and offer an ethnic studies course by 2025-26 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, but the term 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.)  Desert Sands is not including Critical Race Theory in the Introduction to Ethnic Studies course being offered in the fall of 2021/2022. 

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 should be the outcome of an ethnic studies course?

The goal of ethnic studies is for students to better appreciate the contributions of people of many different ethnicities to American democracy, to better understand the work and struggle of so many people 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."

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