By Andre Jones
The California State Assembly recently passed a bill that would create a working Ethnic Studies curriculum that California school districts would have the option of adopting.
The original bill, first introduced in January earlier this year by California Assemblyman Luis Alejo (D), originally required mandatory, not elective, participation in all public California and Nevada high schools.
The bill, entitled AB 1750, would have required high schools in all districts to establish courses “which must include instruction concerning the culture, history and contributions of African-Americans, Hispanic Americans, Native Americans, Asian Americans, European Americans, Basque Americans and any other ethnic Americans deemed appropriate, with emphasis on human relations and sensitivity toward all races.”
According to Huffington Post, Alejo’s motivation for proposing this new bill came as a result of Tucson, Arizona’s suspension of its Mexican-American Studies program through the hotly contested HB 2281 bill, which banned ethnic studies in those districts. “This was in direct response to what was happening in Tucson,” Alejo explained to Huffington Post, “We’re not talking about banning courses … Ethnic studies are important and should be available at earlier grades.”
The bill has encountered opposition from various politicians and educators and was voted against by every Republican in the lower houses. Assemblyman Rocky Chavez said, “I think this is a well-intentioned bill, but it has the potential to hurt children,” He explained further, “The only way to make sure our children are successful in a world economy is to stress math and science.”
Alejo doesn’t agree, “If we are really serious about preparing our students for jobs in the 21st century and to be successful in college, we have to have a high school curriculum that reflects the diversity of all our populations,” he told Huffington Post.
In July of 2014, El Rancho Unified School District, just outside of Los Angeles, became the first California school district to require that students complete an ethnic studies course in order to graduate. The Los Angeles Unified School District followed suit in December.
Even though the San Francisco Unified School District passed a resolution that same month requiring local high schools offer ethnic studies classes the following year, they had already been offering ethnic studies courses in five high schools over the last six years as a pilot program. Officials say that the program has reduced truancy and has improved grades.
Though supported by educators and activists in Nevada, California, and Texas, Alejo said that passing legislation would be challenging, having to prove that the program is worth the cost of development and implementation. “I knew it was going to be a heavy lift,” Alejo told Huffington Post. “But for me it’s not a question of if we’re going to have ethnic studies, but when.”