The ethnic studies curriculum now entering a public comment period before its scheduled adoption by the state Board of Education next spring is improved from last year’s rejected abomination, but remains a far cry from what it should be.
In short, closer but still no cigar.
The major improvement is that the new proposed curriculum this time recommends teaching about more forms of historic prejudice than the prior version, sent back to the drawing board almost exactly a year ago because it omitted so much.
For example, the world’s oldest form of bigotry, anti-Semitism, didn’t get a mention in the previous version. Now it’s on the list of just over a dozen forms of historic discrimination and persecution.
Wow! What good news for the 6 million Jews killed in the Holocaust before and during World War II. They are at least recognized, but how many classrooms will see anything about this actually taught?
Yes, a few classes are visited each year by Holocaust survivors telling their stories, but since most are in their late 80s and 90s, it’s questionable how long that can go on.
Here are just a couple of the major weaknesses of the curriculum plan, which would form the background for making ethnic studies a graduation requirement for California public schools, as it recently became a requirement for any California State University diploma.
The plan instructs teachers to deal mostly with the history of whatever ethnic group makes up the majority of their class. Since most public school students for the foreseeable future will be Latino, that mandates a lot of teaching about Hispanic history.
Perhaps students will learn how smallpox brought to the New World by Spanish adventurers allowed Hernan Cortez to conquer the powerful Aztec and Maya civilizations in Mexico with a force that began with barely 200 men. Perhaps they will be taught how some indigenous Mexicans turned against the Aztecs because of their brutality to those they had previously conquered.
Maybe they’ll be taught about the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, in which Mexico ceded 55 percent of its prior territory to the United States after the Mexican-American War, including most of present-day Arizona, California, New Mexico, Texas, Colorado, Nevada and Utah. Maybe they’ll learn that some Mexican-American activists since the 1970s have pushed the concept of Aztlan, a mythical nation that would take former Mexican territory from America, and never mind who has lived there since the mid-1800s.
It’s OK to teach about this, if done deftly and not as propaganda making students feel victimized. But it would not educate students about the other ethnic groups they will surely encounter while living in the world’s most diverse society. This state, after all, features native speakers of more than 80 languages.
Another weakness: The curriculum still divides Californians into four basic groups, as demanded by the Critical Ethnic Studies Association, an academic group focusing on “colonialism and conquest, racial chattel slavery and white supremacist (doctrines).”
These folks also dominated the design of last year’s rejected ethnic studies plan. It failed because rather than work toward racial harmony, it focused on falsehoods, divisive issues and longstanding grudges.
There was little concentration on achievements of any ethnic group, especially leaving out all positives about European colonists and other white immigrants who designed the country that became the most successful on Earth, both economically and, often, in living up to its democratic ideals.
Ignore that history, and students will get a warped education on what it means to be American, how the nation was shaped and how to get along with others who look different from them. Or as Williamson Evers, a visiting scholar at Stanford University’s Hoover Institution, said, “They’re leaving out all kinds of ethnic groups … who had to work their way into success, and how they did it. There may be important lessons there.”
It’s possible the new plan will get more revisions to make it fairer and more accurate, while accomplishing state Schools Supt. Tony Thurmond’s stated goal of promoting a “fairer, more just society.”
But the plan doesn’t get near that yet, so it should be sent back for a second rewrite unless it’s improved considerably before next spring.
Email Thomas Elias at firstname.lastname@example.org. His book, “The Burzynski Breakthrough, The Most Promising Cancer Treatment and the Government’s Campaign to Squelch It” is now available in a soft cover fourth edition. For more of Mr. Elias’ columns, visit www.californiafocus.net.