Ethnic Studies Proposal for High Schoolers Called Leftist, Anti-Semitic

Several groups take aim at version of history that de-emphasizes white, Christian, straight men

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Inaccurate. Misleading. Anti-Jewish.

That's what the California Legislative Jewish Caucus thinks of a an ethnic studies curriculum plan that was drafted for high school students in California and is under consideration in Sacramento.

The public can still weigh in on the proposed curriculum (deadline is Thursday, Aug. 15), but the initial version has drawn so much backlash that it's already being sent back for further review.

The Jewish Caucus, in a July 29 letter to the California Department of Education, said the ethnic studies curriculum they reviewed "effectively erases the American Jewish experience" and needs "significant revisions."

The State Board of Education appears to have agreed, and said this week that the current draft "falls short and needs to be substantially redesigned."

"A model curriculum should be accurate, free of bias, appropriate for all learners in our diverse state, and align with Governor Newsom's vision of a California for all," wrote board President Linda Darling-Hammond, Vice President Ilene Straus and board member Feliza Ortiz-Licon, in a joint statement released Monday.

Tony Thurmond, the state's schools chief, plans to address issues raised by the Jewish Caucus during a media briefing Wednesday morning.

Meanwhile, state legislators are considering Assembly Bill 331, which would make a semester of ethnic studies a high school graduation requirement beginning in the 2024-25 school year.

The draft of the ethnic studies curriculum, which will be used as a guide for educators to develop their own school programs, is the result of a 2016 law seeking to offer ethnic courses that districts can adapt to better reflect the demographics in their communities. History and cultural studies education in the United States has been criticized for emphasizing a version of history that stresses the accomplishments of white, straight, capitalist men over all others.

But the proposed draft came came under fire from some groups who argue it is a left-wing tool meant to indoctrinate teens.

The description of capitalism as a form of "power and oppression at the intersections of our society" has drawn criticism. Others have expressed frustration over the use of terms such as "herstory" and "hxstory" (which describe history "from a more gender inclusive perspective") and "androcentric" (which denotes the "emphasis of male or masculine interests, narratives, traits or points of view, often in spaces where power is wielded") that have only recently become common in the field of ethnic studies.

The draft model addresses discrimination against various groups but leaves out anti-Semitism. And when Israel is mentioned, it's in a negative light, Jewish leaders said.

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In an Aug. 7 letter, 83 organizations wrote a letter to the California Department of Education criticizing the "anti-Jewish, anti-Israel bias" in the proposed curriculum and asked that safeguards be put in place so that future instructional materials are not used for what they view as political indoctrination.

Canning the current draft is not enough, said Tammi Rossman-Benjamin, director of the AMCHA Initiative, a Santa Cruz-based organization that monitors anti-Semitism on college campuses across the country.

"The problem is that it's politicizing the curriculum. It's a form of political indoctrination, which is not educational and should never be allowed in California schools," Rossman-Benjamin said.

In the letter from the Jewish Caucus, legislators wrote that the curriculum under consideration "fails to discuss anti-Semitism, reinforces negative stereotypes about Jews, singles out Israel for criticism, and would institutionalize the teaching of anti-Semitic stereotypes in our public schools."

Assembly member Jose Medina, D-Riverside, is a member of the caucus that criticized the draft version—and a supporter of the idea of teaching ethnic studies. As chair of the Higher Education Committee in the Assembly, Medina introduced the bill that would make ethnic studies a requirement for graduation.

"As an ethnic and Chicano studies teacher I saw the power of curriculum when students see themselves reflected," Medina said in June. "If (students) see themselves in the history taught, and valued by educational institutions, they prosper," he added. "Education becomes empowering, and they become masters of their own destiny."

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