Save Ethnic Studies in California!

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Petition by GENup (www.generationup.net), Diversify Our Narrative (www.diversifyournarrative.com), and March for Our Lives California (www.marchforourlivescalifornia.org/)

We, the students of California, are asking the Senate appropriations committee to move AB-331 to the Senate floor so that an Ethnic Studies course becomes a graduation requirement at all California public and charter schools.

Current events are evidence that we, California students, exist in the midst of complex systems of privilege, inequality, and injustice. Our education system owes it to us to equip us with the tools to adequately navigate these systems, yet our history courses largely focus on the highlights of European and American history, disregarding the negative impacts of the European experience and misinforming us on how the U.S. government harmed and discriminated against marginalized groups. The rich BIPOC history is often minimized and not wholly discussed or taught. Not only do our textbooks have an inaccurate historical lean, but many of our History and Humanities teachers also enable and facilitate biased ideas and discussions. And as we are taught a largely biased curriculum, students take this information as fact, which allows and enables their own biased opinions that cause great harm to our BIPOC students.

Our schools are facing a two-pronged issue regarding education: first, our history classes teach biased information; and second, we are not taught the importance of reevaluating our biases. It is pertinent to note that simply infusing representation of racially and ethnically diverse people into curriculum only marginally affects students’ attitudes because racial attitudes are acquired actively rather than passively. Ethnic Studies curricula that embeds the issues of racism within it will have a stronger positive impact than curricula that portray diverse groups but ignore racism. 

AB-331 seeks to remedy this issue by requiring at least one semester of Ethnic Studies, based on a model curriculum in ethnic studies, as a graduation requirement at all California high schools--including charter schools--beginning in the 2024-2025 school year. A student may satisfy the ethnic studies course requirement by completing either (A) an ethnic studies course, or (B) an ethnic studies course taught as a course in another subject.

 A Stanford study attributes the Ethnic Studies curriculum to increased attendance, improved GPA, and the completion of graduation credits. Academic engagement, academic achievement, and personal empowerment are all found to be a result of Ethnic Studies. Conversely, research finds that the overwhelming dominance of Euro-centric perspectives causes many such students to disengage from academic learning. Moreover, Ethnic Studies allow students of color to find representation in their education and reflect on their experiences, increasing their self-esteem and comfort levels in their school and community. These students are at a time in their lives where they are exploring their own cultural identities, and the expectation of them to have these firm understandings of who they are as they graduate is not plausible without a school curriculum that reflects a diverse study of race and ethnicity.

Ethnic Studies does more than provide students hindsight on U.S. History and society. These courses empower students to actively seek information and learn about the current issues of our society; through instilling in our students a nuanced understanding of the complexities inherent in U.S. society, Ethnic Studies provides a critical lens to examine and contextualize what is happening right now—and why it is happening. As we have seen time and time again, the need for education in these matters is paramount to progression into a more just and equal society.

The responsibility to educate should not be on our students, it should be on our educators. Schools are an instrumental tool in this long journey towards dismantling systemic racism in this country. To be silent on these issues is to dismiss the potential of this powerful institution to actively combat racism. At this critical moment, California students need our leaders to join us in solidarity to support and protect the integrity of the students. California legislators must provide students with the adequate tools to navigate a world impoverished by injustice.