San Francisco — The education departments in California and several other states have introduced ethnic studies in the curriculum to teach students about the history, experiences and culture of Black, Native, Hispanic and Asian Americans. The intent of the policy, which has been mandated by legislation, is to correct what education decision-makers say is a historic failure to include studies about these minority groups. The curriculum does not strive to include every American’s experience.
California is the first state to require a semester of ethnic studies in high school. A San Francisco Unified School District study of the impact of ethnic studies on students found that courses increase student engagement in school, leading to a higher probability of graduating and likelihood of enrolling in college. In addition, proponents of ethnic studies say as the U.S. continues to become more diverse, learning how culture informs people's lived experiences will become increasingly important.
One Washington High School freshman can see the benefit of the course but thinks that the ethnic representation should be expanded.
“It was interesting to learn about other cultures,” said Chole Hayes, who took the class last semester. “But I did not feel represented as a Jewish person.”
Ethnic Studies teacher Claire Lui* at San Francisco's University High School is in support of the class.
“Ethnic Studies allows students to learn about cultures they have never seen. This broadens their worldview, something many rising high students need,” she said.
Opponents of standardizing ethnic studies in schools say it distorts the American experience by focusing on select minorities and is far too often politically charged in its interpretation of history. Critics believe that a truly meaningful and relevant ethnic studies curriculum must extend to include other groups that have also suffered oppression, such as Armenian, Jewish and Sikh americans.
Some educators such as Arizona Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Horne said ethnic studies generate racial tension by framing historical events in racial terms to create a sense of solidarity that promotes groupthink and victimhood.
*Name has been changed
Leah Mordehai (she/her) is from San Francisco and is a local youth journalist.
Edited by Nykeya Woods