CA Department of Education Fails Arab American Community

At a press conference last Friday, November 6th, the CA State Department of Education announced that Arab American studies has been moved to the appendix of the CA Model Ethnic Studies Curriculum (ESMC). This is a complete reversal from their commitment—at the August 2020 meeting of the Instructional Quality Commission—to include Arab American studies as part of Asian American studies curriculum. 

The next meeting of the Instructional Quality Commission (IQC), where they will go over the current curriculum revisions, is November 18 and 19. The revised curriculum with Arab American studies relegated to the appendix, was also posted on Friday. 

Recently, many celebrated the victory of defeating Donald Trump in the polls. This marks a shift and desire to move toward a more progressive agenda within this country. If we as Californians value our progressive principles, then now more than ever is the time to push them. Ethnic Studies beyond representation, allows our students to learn about the structures of power that impact all our communities directly. Whether it is structures of racism, colonialism, or warfare, ethnic studies has proven to empower students and build solidarity across different communities.

If the biggest education system in the United States decides Arab-American Studies and ethnic studies are a “problem”—or even worse, succumb to a campaign that would brand any mention of Palestine in public schools as de facto anti-Semitic — we’re going to face a dire precedent.

If there was ever a time that we should be protecting anti-racist education, and ensuring students learn about struggles of indigenous and racialized communities at school and not on TV or random YouTube autoplay sessions, it’s now. Join us for the IQC meeting on November 18th & 19th.

The IQC is accepting public comment until Friday, November 13. Please send a public comment and let them know what you think.

Save Arab American Studies Demands and Talking Points

Best practices:

  • If you are a teacher, parent, and/or student, please mention as part of your statement.
  • Write out your statement ahead of time. Make sure it is clear and focused. Don’t try to talk about everything.
  • Speak from your heart. The talking points are suggestions, but your own experience is the best!
  • Practice your statement and time it. The IQC will cut you off after one minute.

Our demands and a few talking points to get you started:

  • Include the Arab American lesson plan submitted to the California Department of Education by members of the original Ethnic Studies Model Curriculum (ESMC) advisory committee.
  • The lesson plan developed by members of the ESMC advisory committee uplifts Arab voices and is based on the principles and pedagogy of ethnic studies.

 

  • The lesson in the appendix of the current version of the curriculum limits Arab American experience to stereotypes. 
    • That can be triggering for youth who have experienced anti-Arab and Islamophobic attacks.
    • There is no mention of the contributions and struggles of Arab Americans to racial and social justice movements/
    • All mention of Palestine and Palestinians has been erased. Ethnic studies scholars agree that it’s impossible to understand Arab American issues without understanding Palestine.
  • For too long, Arab youth have learned little about their history besides offensive and racist images and stereotypes. Strong Arab-American studies curriculum, developed by ethnic studies educators, provides a critical intervention to these stereotypes in K-12 education.

  • Re-insert Arab American studies in its rightful place—within Asian American studies.

 

  • Ethnic scholars across the country and the original ESMC advisory committee agree that Arab American studies belongs in Asian American studies. 
    • The Association for Asian American Studies states: “Arab American studies has been part of the broader field of Asian American studies for nearly two decades and ethnic studies since its inception 50 years ago.”
    • Leading scholars, including Dr. Angela Davis and Dr. Robin Kelley, have signed onto an open letter from the Arab American Studies Association supporting the inclusion of Arab American Studies in Asian American Studies, and calling on CDE to include Arab American Studies in the ESMC.
    • Veterans of the 1968 student strike that led to the creation of Ethnic Studies have submitted a statement to the IQC and CDE insisting that the histories and solidarities among Indigenous, Black and Brown people, including Arabs and Muslims, form the heartbeat of Ethnic Studies. 

  • Align all lesson plans to the guiding principles of ethnic studies, which are anti-racist, decolonial and liberatory.

 

  • The revised lessons no longer highlight contributions and struggles against structural racism and social, political, and economic marginalization.
  • Ethnic studies is not an ‘all lives matter’ discipline. Nor is it about placing significant racialized communities in the appendix. As we know from the demands for racial justice sweeping this county, this is offensive to people of color. These revisions are tone-deaf to the political moment we are living in.

  • Reject debunked definitions of antisemitism that equate criticism of Israel with antisemitism.

 

Here’s the text of the proposed definition (line 10 of Attachment C): “Antisemitism is hatred, discrimination, fear, and prejudice against Jews based on stereotypes and myths that target their ethnicity, culture, religion, traditions, right to self-determination, or connection to the State of Israel.”

  • The proposed definition of antisemitism will have a chilling impact on Palestinian, other Arab and Muslim children, and on teachers across the state.
  • If teachers can’t talk about Palestine in their classrooms, where does that leave Palestinian children? Are we telling them that their identity is a problem?
  • Criticism of Israel is not antisemitic. This definition dangerously downplays the main source of antisemitism in the US—white supremacy. 

 

Send your public comment to:

  • The Instructional Quality Commission: ethnicstudies@cde.ca.gov 
  • California Superintendent for Public Instruction Tony Thurmond: 
  • Chair, California Board of Education Linda Darling-Hammond: 
  • Cc: info@aroc.org