To the Editor:
Gov. Jerry Brown of California failed that state’s students last month when he vetoed AB 101, a bill that would have developed a statewide curriculum in ethnic studies.
The social and academic value of ethnic-studies curricula is well documented. Unfortunately, Brown’s decision reinforces a growing “STEM or nothing” mentality that disparages the current need for building cross-racial understanding.
I teach in the newly formed Long Beach Ethnic Studies Program, a collaboration between the Long Beach Unified School District and the California State University, Long Beach.
Recently, I asked some of my students whether they believed that focusing on STEM subjects—science, technology, engineering, and math—was the only way to ensure their future success. Some agreed. Others said that math alone is not enough. To succeed in business, they would also need to learn how to navigate California’s diverse workforce, they said.
I want my students to succeed. But I do not believe in the techno-utopian vision promoted by Silicon Valley “robber barons”—to borrow a Newsweek magazine phrase from 2012. Nor do I believe that we can save the world with just technology, as some argue is possible.
The idea that technology can somehow make racism a thing of the past diminishes the reality of racism for people of color today.
Ethnic studies creates empathy through understanding. It benefits students of color and white students alike. In its origin, ethnic studies insisted on cross-racial solidarity. In California, this is even more important today in light of conflict between Latinos and African-Americans, debates over affirmative action in university applications, and other inter-ethnic conflicts still to come.
The field of ethnic studies matters. Students in select districts such as Long Beach will reap the benefits of ethnic-studies courses. Others will have to live with the governor’s decision to veto a bill that would have developed an ethnic-studies curriculum for all public school students.
Long Beach Ethnic Studies Program
Long Beach Unified School District/
California State University, Long Beach
Long Beach, Calif.
A version of this article appeared in the November 11, 2015 edition of Education Week as Gov. Brown’s Veto of Ethnic-Studies Bill Derails ‘Cross-Racial Understanding’