School Districts in California are responding to the new Ethnic Studies Model Curriculum and the passage of AB 101 (October 2021) requiring a semester of Ethnic Studies for graduation beginning with the Class of 2030.
While there is agreement on the focus of diversity, equity and inclusion, there are fears about how this can unfold in our classrooms. One of the fears is the inclusion of “Critical Race Theory.” Some believe CRT is a way to understand that bias and exclusion were fundamental in shaping our American laws, public policy and individuals’ beliefs. Others are convinced it dishonors our nation’s history, blaming White people unjustly, and thereby creating even more racial strife.
The Asian Pacific Islander School Board Members Association (APISBMA) seeks to be a resource for school board members as districts are facing decisions about Ethnic Studies. This informational brief suggests how to support our students, and particularly, the impact on AAPI students. The intersection of Ethnic Studies and Critical Race Theory emerges differently across California, depending upon each local educational district, school and even classrooms.
Below is a list of FAQ and links to additional resources that will continue to be updated. We hope this page will provide information for all board members.
1. What is Ethnic Studies?
The History Social–Science Framework for California Public Schools: Kindergarten through Grade Twelve defines ethnic studies in the following passages:
“Ethnic studies is an interdisciplinary field of study that encompasses many subject areas including history, literature, economics, sociology, anthropology, and political science. It emerged to both address content considered missing from traditional curriculum and to encourage critical engagement.”
“As a field, ethnic studies seeks to empower all students to engage socially and politically and to think critically about the world around them. It is important for ethnic studies courses to document the experiences of people of color in order for students to construct counter-narratives and develop a more complex understanding of the human experience. Through these studies, students should develop respect for cultural diversity and see the advantages of inclusion.”
“Because of the interdisciplinary nature of this field, ethnic studies courses may take several forms. However, central to any ethnic studies course is the historic struggle of communities of color, taking into account the intersectionality of identity (gender, class, sexuality, among others), to challenge racism, discrimination, and oppression and interrogate the systems that continue to perpetuate inequality.”
2. Why is Ethnic Studies important?
From the California Dept of Education Ethnic Studies Model Curriculum website:
School curricula must not only provide content knowledge, but must also equip students with the tools to promote understanding as community members in a changing democratic society.
When schools help students acquire a social consciousness, i.e., a conscious awareness of being part of an interrelated community of others, they are better equipped to contribute to the public good and help strengthen democratic institutions.
The role of our public schools to promote understanding and appreciation of its diverse population must be an essential part of the curriculum offered to every student.
Ethnic studies instruction should be a fundamental component of California public education in the twenty-first century. The Ethnic Studies Model Curriculum helps build the capacity for every young Californian to develop a social consciousness and knowledge that will contribute to the public good and, as a result, strengthen democracy.
APISBMA is and has been an advocate for an Ethnic Studies curriculum in California. We believe all students will benefit from learning AAPI history as well as other ethnic groups’ contributions and struggles in the U.S., especially as the number of AAPI students is growing in K-12 public schools in California. As a result of our advocacy work, the ESMC includes 20 sample lessons on AAPI history Chapter 4: Sample Lessons and Topics (DOCX) beginning on page 123.
3. What is Critical Race Theory?
Critical Race Theory is an academic concept positing that racism is embedded in our laws, and that our legal systems codify and perpetuate racism, more than individual people. It began with Harvard law professors in the late 1980s and was explored in legal academia. CRT examines racial inequities through the lens of court decisions and laws that have negatively affected people of color in our schools, healthcare, housing, employment, criminal justice and other informal and social structures.
“Critical race theory is an effort really to move beyond the focus on finding fault by impugning racist motives, racist bias, racist prejudice, racist animus and hatred to individuals, and looking at the ways in which racial inequality is embedded in structures in ways of which we are very often unaware,” said Kendall Thomas, co-editor of “Critical Race Theory: The Key Writings That Formed the Movement.”
4. Why are people concerned about Critical Race Theory in schools?Challengers of CRT say that it cannot be the framework for how U.S. students should learn history and civics. They see CRT as dishonoring the motives of our earliest colonists, settlers and leaders, our national honor itself. They hold that schools cannot use CRT to teach students to question the motives of our earliest leaders and lawmakers, and that CRT unfairly labels white leaders and founders as racist and that this is not what we should be presenting to students.
Critics say teachers are trying to ‘rewrite history’ and should not consider race when interacting with students. Proponents counter that discussing race creates more inclusive schools and helps students overcome systemic barriers restricting their achievement…. (Washington Post, Marisa Iati, May 2021)
Dr. Linda Darling Hammond, President of the California State Board of Education and the Charles E. Ducommun Professor of Education Emeritus at Stanford University states:
“Critical race theory is a legal theory. It was something that was developed by legal scholars to look at laws and regulations…Many people misunderstand what that is, what the term means, but, in fact, it’s not something that people typically teach in school, except in the context of history and social studies classes, where you might look at law and policy as they have unfolded over many years.” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uuOOlBG3F4o
Crucial to explain to all, is that the teaching of Ethnic Studies includes the stories of people of different ethnicities and how they have fared in the history of our country; CRT is an academic conceptual framework taught in higher education. No common CRT curriculum or framework actually exists in K12 schools.
5. What are schools teaching, then?
Schools are still using the California State Frameworks for English Language Arts and History-Social Science and the Common Core Standards as the curriculum. School districts are using the Model Ethnic Studies Curriculum to inform local curricular choices for diversity, equity and inclusion. Teachers use current events, students’ own stories and histories, and real-time data to help students understand the world they are living in. As Americans, we are all being challenged to navigate the inequities for people of color, given the most recent anti-Asian hate pushback and the Black Lives Matter movement. Schools teach inquiry, source-research, analyses and problem solving, and more schools are using student-centered project-based learning to study content. The March 2021 passage of California’s Model Ethnic Studies Curriculum is a principled effort to recognize the documented and under-studied histories of Indigenous, Black, Latino and Asian Pacific Islander people who have helped build our nation. Traditional California and United States History curricula are being expanded using a much broader lens. There is no place in curricula that labels founders or Americans as racist. Many districts are implementing anti-bias training for teachers to discover and mitigate implicit bias, and some require that curriculum include the experiences of marginalized groups or Ethnic Studies as a graduation requirement. Governor Newsom signed AB 101 into law in October 2021, authorizing a graduation requirement of one semester of Ethnic Studies for the Class of 2030 and beyond. The Ethnic Studies Model Curriculum will be the guide for the courses that local educational agencies can create. Schools must begin to offer Ethnic Studies by 2025-26.
6. How might LEAs and schools respond to claims that they are teaching CRT and/or calls to stop anti-racist teaching?
Teachers, administrators, and district staff can speak honestly to the equity work they are engaged in. They can point out that while no one individual is responsible for racism, we live in a world – IN SYSTEMS - that have created the glaring and unequal outcomes we see. Why, despite Herculean efforts over many decades, are so many of our students of color not thriving in our schools? Too many traditional outcomes disproportionately harm POC (persons of color) students in their childhood and youth, and can have repercussions in their adult lives. Until and unless we address the ways our systems have historically neglected to include our Black, Indigenous, Latino/a and Asian Pacific Islander children, we fail in our moral imperative as governance trustees to interrupt the systems that perpetuate out-dated outcomes.
7.What should we teach?
The role of our public schools to promote understanding and appreciation of its diverse population must be an essential part of the curriculum offered to every student. The Ethnic Studies Curriculum offers educators a resource and a frame to provide such curriculum in their schools. It is a starting point for local work. School curricula must not only provide content knowledge, but must also equip students with the tools to promote understanding as community members in a changing democratic society. The study of all of the people who make up our country will help with this. When schools help students acquire a social consciousness, i.e., a conscious awareness of being part of an interrelated community of others, they are better equipped to contribute to the public good and help strengthen democratic institutions.
Research Professor of Education at New York University and historian of education Diann Ravitch says it best: Critical race theory is not taught in schools but debated in law schools.
… a nation can’t escape the sins of its past without confronting them directly. Grade school children should learn about the heroes of all races and ethnicities who helped to build our democratic institutions. High school students should learn about the crimes committed against Black people, the treatment of them as less than human, the lynchings, the massacres. This is not harmful to students… It is a necessary reckoning with our nation’s past. Democracy and unity must be built on honesty, not lies and ignorance. Diane Ravitch: Time for Honesty About “Critical Race Theory”
The goal is to equip all of our students to be global citizens by providing curricula of inclusion, of varying perspectives, and of inquiry where they are gauging and communicating what they are discovering.
The histories and stories of Asian Pacific Islanders in the United States have been reduced to mere sections in history chapters of railroad workers and Incarceration Camps during WWII. All students will benefit from learning that AAPI people have contributed mightily to the economic engine and social structure of this country while being “othered” as perpetual foreigners. All students will benefit from realizing that they are allies of all other marginalized people of color who have been harmed by historical exclusionary practices. Ethnic Studies increases inclusiveness and empathy.This can be done through knowing more about all immigrants’ histories and how they have contributed and sacrificed to create our union. The California Department of Education’s recently passed Model Ethnic Studies Curriculum can be a resource for all our schools.
8. What can we do?
Inform yourselves. Know where your district is on these issues. Know if/how your teachers are learning and being trained in diversity, equity and inclusion. Know what is being taught in your classrooms. Ask how your teachers and administrators are being trained in anti-bias education and how that plays out in their teaching.
The California School Board Association (CSBA) says: The state’s [Ethnic Studies] model curriculum is intended to provide guidance to school districts and county offices of education.
It does not require specific concepts — such as critical race theory — to be incorporated:
...should an LEA decide to offer an ethnic studies course. In fact, the only references to CRT in the model curriculum are outlined below: In Chapter 3, “Instructional Guidance for K-12 Education,” under “Useful Theory, Pedagogy, and Research” in the Approaches to Ethnic Studies section, the model curriculum recommends that teachers and administrators should “familiarize themselves with current scholarly research around ethnic studies instruction, such as critically and culturally/community relevant and responsible pedagogies, critical race theory, and intersectionality, which are key theoretical frameworks and pedagogies that can be used in ethnic studies research and instruction.” [emphasis added] CRT also appears in a footnote in this section along with the definition of the phrase: “’Critical race theory (CRT) is a practice of interrogating race and racism in society. CRT recognizes that race is not biologically real but is socially constructed and socially significant. It acknowledges that racism is embedded within systems and institutions that replicate racial inequality — codified in law, embedded in structures, and woven into public policy.’ Janel George (2021). “A Lesson on Critical Race Theory.” American Bar Association.” In Chapter 6, “UC-Approved Course Outlines,” the model curriculum includes examples of outlines of courses offered by LEAs. Of the nearly 30 outlines included in the model curriculum, only one includes references to Critical Race Theory. The Chapter 6 Overview notes: “The course outlines provided with this model curriculum are intended to offer guidance to teachers and administrators interested in developing courses/units in ethnic studies. Every course is unique, and LEAs are encouraged to tailor their particular courses to the needs and interests of their student population.
CSBA’s Equity Statement (September 2019) is a good place to start.
CSBA recognizes that educational excellence requires a commitment to equity. California students bring a wide range of assets, abilities, backgrounds and needs to their educational experience. Schools have an obligation to provide all students with the access and opportunities necessary for college, career and life success. This requires school leaders to address practices, policies and barriers that perpetuate inequities which lead to opportunity and achievement gaps. Effective school boards are equity-driven, making intentional governance decisions that combat institutional discrimination and bias (both explicit and implicit) and eliminate disparities in educational outcomes based on socioeconomic status, gender, gender identity, gender expression, race, religion, national origin, ethnicity, sexual orientation, disability or family background.
CSBA’s Critical Race Theory and Ethnic Studies FAQ, July, 2021:
The League of CA Cities, API Caucus, is supporting a $210M proposal in the Legislature (CA API LEG Caucus) to make historic investments to address the inequities and surge of violence impacting our API communities in CA and promote the safety and wellness of our API Communities. You may write to the Gov Leg Affairs Secretary, Angie Wei, overseeing this measure. firstname.lastname@example.org
LA Times editorial, August 8, 2021
How School Boards can support AAPI students and staff