CA Department of Education Ignores Tens of Thousands of Public Comments and Decimates Ethnic Studies Curriculum


Once again, the California Department of Education (CDE) has ignored Ethnic Studies educators across the country and the tens of thousands of public comments demanding authentic Ethnic Studies and the return of Arab American Studies as an integral part of the Model Ethnic Studies Curriculum (ESMC).

Following the November 18/19, 2020, meeting of the CDE’s Instructional Quality Commission (IQC), the IQC released the third draft of the ESMC. According to Theresa Montaño, professor of Chicano and Chicana Studies at Cal State-Northridge and a member of the advisory committee for the first draft of the ESMC, this draft is the weakest yet.

“The original ESMC was anti-racist, decolonial and liberatory,” says Montaño. “Following decades of academic practice, Arab American Studies was a part of Asian American Studies. Since then, the CDE has bowed to pressure from rightwing politicians and lobbyists. They have taken Arab American Studies from its rightful place and relegated it to an ‘interethnic bridge-building appendix.’ They have buried the values, principles and pedagogy of Ethnic Studies in an avalanche of vague and contradictory language. Essential Ethnic Studies terminology has been eliminated or moved to footnotes. For example, there are now several definitions of race, including one giving credence to race as based on biology rather than social construction. Sexism and patriarchy are conflated. In short, the ESMC is no longer Ethnic Studies.”

It’s clear that this version of the ESMC has been edited by people without expertise in the field. One of the strongest voices at the November IQC meeting was brand-new IQC member Anita Friedman, who is not an educator and has no expertise in the discipline of Ethnic Studies. Friedman is on the national board of AIPAC (the American Israel Public Affairs Committee), the most powerful Israel lobbying group in the United States. Her lack of understanding of even the most basic terms of the discipline were obvious throughout the hearing. “What does neocolonial mean?” she asked at one point.

The CDE is currently creating a fourth draft of the ESMC, which will be discussed at its March 2021 meeting before final approval by the California State Board of Education. We have until January 21, 2021 to submit public comment. 

The Save Arab American Studies Coalition calls on educators, students, community members, and all progressive organizations to demand that the CDE:

  • Re-empower experts in the field of Ethnic Studies to decide on revisions to the ESMC that align with the principles, values, and pedagogy of Ethnic Studies.
  • Put Arab American Studies—including Palestine—back where it belongs, within the Asian American Studies section of the ESMC.
  • Approve an ESMC that is anti-racist, decolonial and liberatory—that centers the voices and experiences of communities of color and their movements for justice. 

Send a public comment by using this one-click petition today