CA Dept. of Education Reverses Course and Includes Arab American Studies in Ethnic Studies Model Curriculum

In a last-minute reversal, the California Department of Education (CDE) affirmed Arab American studies as a field of ethnic studies and committed to its inclusion in the California Ethnic Studies Model Curriculum (ESMC). “There is an acknowledgment that Arab American studies is part of ethnic studies,” Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Thurmond announced on Thursday, August 13, at the meeting of the Instructional Quality Commission (IQC) devoted to discussion of the ESMC.

To recap: The original ESMC was created last year by an advisory committee of ethnic studies scholars and K-12 teachers. Ethnic studies principles and values were built into every model lesson. There were four excellent model lessons on Arab American history and culture. Then, in the face of pro-Israel and other rightwing backlash, the CDE drastically revised the curriculum and stripped out core elements, including all Arab American and Pacific Islander content. It watered the content and pedagogy down to a vague multiculturalism, an “all lives matter” version of ethnic studies.

The inclusion of Arab American and Pacific Islander studies in the revised curriculum is the result of our hard work. Together, we built a strong multigenerational, multiracial coalition with a significant impact: thousands of public comments in support of including Arab American studies sent to the IQC, tens of thousands of signatures on numerous petitions, meetings with legislators, months of organizing among teachers, academics, and community members across the state and the country. When public comment was cut off at the IQC meeting after three hours, many of our supporters were still waiting to speak. A huge thank you to all the organizations and individuals who have been part of this effort.

But we still have a long way to go. At stake is whether teachers will have access to an ethnic studies curriculum that is anti-colonial, centers the stories of struggle and resistance of Native peoples and people of color, and supports students to think critically about white supremacy, racism, patriarchy, and heteropatriarchy. In other words, content and teaching that are liberatory for all students.

Also at stake, despite our recent victory, is the Arab American content in the upcoming draft of the ESMC. We are concerned that, rather than re-inserting the original Arab American model lessons, the IQC is holding those lessons for “additional review.” At specific risk is the inclusion of Palestine. As teachers across California have learned from their students from Palestine and throughout the Arab world, it’s impossible to understand Arab American experience without including the history and current reality of Palestine.

The inclusion of Arab American studies within Asian American studies creates a framework to include West Asian curriculum, and to make connections between US imperial strategy abroad and the targeting and criminalization of those communities within US borders. We look forward to continuing our work with West Asian educators and community members to strengthen those aspects of the curriculum.

Finally, how will ESMC be implemented? Will it be led by experienced ethnic studies practitioners or implemented bureaucratically from above, with little regard for whether future ethnic studies teachers have the grounding in content and pedagogy necessary to be successful? How will districts be held accountable for ensuring that their ethnic studies programs are anti-racist and transformative for their students?

With all these factors in mind, our coalition continues to demand the following:

  1. Ensure that all students in California are provided with ethnic studies curriculum developed by ethnic studies educators.
  2. Maintain the integrity of ethnic studies as decolonial, anti-racist, and liberatory education that maintains the Palestinian struggle for justice within its central framework.
  3. Commit to Arab American studies and consult with Arab community leaders, ethnic studies practitioners and students on the development of the section on Arab American studies.

One of the most exciting aspects of this long fight for the ESMC is the connections that have been built—between community organizations and educators, between K-12 teachers and university scholars, between scholars in different disciplines, and between educators across the country. Those connections will serve us well in the months ahead, as the struggle continues for a strong ESMC. They also ensure that the struggle for ethnic studies is not limited by the final ESMC or how it gets rolled out. Teachers have always figured out how to share liberatory curricula with their students, and our growing solidarity means that, one way or another, we will continue to fight for what our students need.