New K-12 Ethnic Studies Opens the Door to Classroom Politicization
Fresh on the heels of his student vaccination mandate, Governor Gavin Newsom has signed into law a requirement that all California high school students take a course in ethnic studies. Despite window-dressing language meant to reassure the public that these courses do not promote bias or bigotry, the reality is that the law opens the floodgates to the political indoctrination of children.
The new law, AB 101, requires high schools to offer ethnic studies courses from the 2025-26. School districts can satisfy this requirement through various avenues, including “a locally developed ethnic studies course approved by the governing board of the school district or the governing board of the charter school.”
The law includes a provision saying that local school boards should refrain from using an earlier draft model ethnic studies curriculum that was not adopted by the state’s Instructional Quality Commission “due to concerns related to bias, bigotry, and discrimination” (anti-Semitism was rife in the draft). Yet, such advisory language will not stop local school officials from adopting curricula based on that draft.
Former University of California faculty member Tammi Rossman-Benjamin, who heads a non-profit that fights anti-Semitism in higher education, has noted, “Twenty school districts in the state signed the petition in support of the rejected first draft of the [ethnic studies model curriculum].” Several of them have committed to using a curriculum modeled largely on the first draft.
The Salinas Unified High School District has implemented just such an ethnic studies curriculum. As opposed to AB 101’s admonitions against bias, Salinas’ curriculum is the definition of politicized bias.
In its document entitled “ETHNIC STUDIES Grade Levels 9th & 10th,” the Salinas district includes essential texts and sources, such as Howard Zinn’s notoriously left-wing People’s History of the United States, plus content standards such as “We interrogate ideological, institutional, interpersonal, and internalized levels of privilege and oppression.”
Highly politically charged buzz phrases include:
“Students will build complex and nuanced understandings of power, privilege, oppression, and resistance.” ; : “Students will work toward justice and equity”; “Students will critique oppression”; “Students will combine a deepened sense of critical consciousness and agency as they move towards a culminating community action research project.”
The Salinas curriculum has “Big Ideas/Enduring Understanding,” which “we want students to walk away with.”
One big idea is for students to “Transformationally Resist for a more just world,” with the exhortation: “We can decolonize our minds, regenerate our roots, critique oppression, and take action for social justice in education, community and world, daily.”
Another big idea: “Systemic racism and oppression are ‘normal’ and often ‘invisible.’ The masses wear our chains willingly, our consent is manufactured by a continuation of dominant colonial systems.”
For those who believe in Dr. Martin Luther King’s advice to judge a person by the content of their character, not the color of their skin, the Salinas curriculum critiques “color-blindness” and “meritocracy” plus “claims of neutrality and complete objectivity.”
The curriculum also poses key civics/political questions such as “How has the notion of citizenship been used to normalize concepts of privilege, power, and participation in our country’s political system?”
Parents in Salinas, which is in liberal Monterey County, have complained about the district’s ethnic studies curriculum at school board meetings.
According to the California Globe, one parent asked, “Since when did public education become a political activist organization?” Another parent is quoted as asking: “What happened to teaching Civics facts, like our shared American common values?”
Opposition to such curricula is widespread in California. A recent Manhattan Institute survey found that 52 percent of those surveyed in Los Angeles and 51 percent of those surveyed in San Francisco supported removing “lessons based on critical race theory about concepts such as white privilege and systemic racism from public school curriculum.”
Yet, despite such opposition, Rossman-Benjamin says that given the support for the more extreme ethnic studies model curriculum by the teachers’ unions and colleges, most of the state’s school districts will adopt this extreme curriculum “undeterred by the bill’s ‘guardrails.’” Even the liberal Los Angeles Times editorial board opposed AB 101 because it allowed “too much leeway for unapproved curriculum to be taught.”
AB 101 is an educational Trojan Horse that will let loose the Left’s classroom foot soldiers to indoctrinate children in racial Marxism. While parents can try to fight this classroom invasion, the only real answer is for them to exit the public schools.
Lance Izumi is senior director of the Center for Education at the Pacific Research Institute. He is the author of The Corrupt Classroom: Bias, Indoctrination, Violence, and Social Engineering Show Why America Needs School Choice.