California becomes first state to adopt statewide ethnic studies curriculum for high school districts

March 30, 2021 /

The State Board of Education approved last week to adopt a statewide ethnic studies curriculum for high schools, making California the first state to make such a move.

The unanimous 11-0 vote comes after years of crafting the curriculum and debate. It came after four years, four drafts, and 100,000 public comments later.

“Ethnic studies should be taught to students of all backgrounds so that they can understand their communities and develop this knowledge during their adolescent years,” said Bakersfield College History Professor, Omar Gonzalez, who teaches Early Chicano and Latin American history courses.

The State’s model curriculum will serve as a guide for high school districts that want the option to offer ethnic studies. Certainly, its content will become a source of debate as another bill passes through legislature about making a high school ethnic studies course a graduation requirement. This could mirror AB 1460 law that passed last year, requiring California State University students to take a class in ethnic studies course to graduate.

The curriculum is designed to teach students about the struggles and contributions of historically marginalized groups in the U.S. The voluntary curriculum focuses on African Americans, Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders, Latino Americans, and Native Americans. Due to reasonable and critical comments of other groups, it also will include lesson plans on Jews, Arab Americans, Sikh Americans, and Armenian Americans.

Gonzalez said he believes that the implementation of an ethnic studies course is fundamental for the high school curriculum in California because of the rich labor and social history here that includes Mexican American, Latino, Asian American, African American, and other ethnic communities.

“ I think this would have a positive impact on young Chicanx or Latinx students to learn about their roots and so that they can feel empowered and knowledgeable about their people,” said Gonzales. “Young students would be more confident about their potential roles in society by learning more about their history.”

Gonzalez advises teachers instructing these classes to be themselves and be open about their own personal experiences.

“I tell my students about my struggles as a young Chicano student who struggled but improved every semester,” he said. “My experience working several summers in the grape fields during my summer vacations is a conversation that students resonate with as many students come from field working families.”

Some Central Valley school districts have already begun making changes. The Bakersfield City, Fresno Unified, Lamont Elementary, Lindsay Unified and Parlier Unified School Districts, representing a total of over 113,000, students have adopted board resolutions to teach about the life of civil rights leader and activist Dolores Huerta and celebrate, California state recognized, Dolores Huerta Day on or around April 10, according to a news release.

However, there is still work to be done, educators say. Ethnic Studies is not a major offered at Bakersfield College , but recently there has been a mobilization of a coalition of students and other supporters who want to initiate an Ethnic Studies program since the majority of students at BC are people of color and in light of this new progress in education.