In the middle of widespread protests last year, a demand was expressed loud and clear: schools should include an ethnic studies course in the curriculum.
California became the first state to respond. On October 8, 2021, Governor Gavin Newsom promulgated the law Assembly Bill (AB) 101, which added completion of a one-semester course in Ethnic Studies as a condition for graduating from public high school to begin in the 2025-2026 school year.
“Ethnic studies classes allow students to learn their own stories and those of their classmates,” Newsom said in his signature message. “A number of studies have shown that these courses improve long-term student success, especially among students of color.”
According to a Stanford Study conducted in 2016, researchers found that students of all academic abilities and races who took an ethnic studies course gained in grades, attendance, and graduation rates.
In addition to the gains in academic achievement, Karen Ramroth, a social science teacher, identified a more conceptual benefit to taking an ethnic studies course.
“My favorite thing about ethnic studies is that they just take ‘traditional’ history and add complexity to it by including more perspectives, more stories, and more opportunities for students to learn from. see in the program, âRamroth said. âEthnic studies is like adding more ‘pixels’ to history; you get more focus, more complexity, more colors, and a clearer idea of ââwhat you’re looking at.
Ramroth is actively involved in integrating the voices of as many different cultures, races and origins as possible into her classes and the curriculum. She was also on the committee that proposed ethnic studies as a condition of graduation to the Carlmont School Board last year.
âThe students want it,â Ramroth said. âThe push for a district-wide graduation requirement was replicated and supported across the peninsula by other local student groups such as Coalition Z, Carlmont for Change, Reform Revolution Project and the locals of Diversify Our Narrative. “
Currently, Carlmont’s department of social studies is piloting a new ethnic studies course which replaced the original world studies class of freshmen. World studies had focused on studying other parts of the world and on history, especially the effects of imperialism, rather than current events. From now on, World Studies content would be combined with Grade 10 Modern European History.
Ethnic studies tell our many stories – histories, cultural experiences and conflicts – to work together to build a future of understanding and empathy, free from racism and hatred.
– Karen Ramroth
In contrast, ethnic studies examine the identity, history of different racial and ethnic groups, how institutions affect citizens living in a society, and how people have worked to change and improve their communities. Students would also study some of the topics from the perspective of gender, sexual orientation, religion, ability or socio-economic status.
âStudents who take the course have a deeper understanding of inequality and injustice, as well as a deeper appreciation for the accomplishments and excellence of different people and groups in history,â Ramroth said. . “Ethnic studies tell our many stories – histories, cultural experiences and conflicts – to work together to build a future of understanding and empathy, free from racism and hatred.”
In secondary school, students move into adulthood and generally acquire more autonomy, becoming more aware of the realities of society. This change makes it the perfect time to expose them to various cultures and ethnic groups.
âIt’s important for young people to understand this so that they can interact with people and the world around them in an informed, sensitive and understanding way,â said Elaine Jiang, a first year student.
Nonetheless, there has been controversy surrounding AB 101. Early drafts of a model ethnic studies program have been rejected, criticized for promoting critical race theory.
In California, we do not tolerate our diversity. We celebrate it. This should be reflected in our high school curriculum.
– Gavin Newsom
“I expressed my concern that the original draft of the Model Program was not sufficiently balanced and inclusive and needed to be substantially changed,” Newsom said in its veto message. âIn California, we don’t tolerate our diversity. We celebrate it. This should be reflected in our high school curriculum.
The care taken in designing a respectful and comprehensive ethnic studies program is based on reasonable grounds; matters involving the racial history of the country can be sensitive for some students. However, that did not prevent the eventual success of the bill.
âIt is not real progress towards the destruction of racist institutions in our society if these conversations are not uncomfortable,â Jiang said. “I think we shouldn’t avoid these conversations to put people at ease, because it destroys the whole point of the program, which is to educate people so that they can work to make progress in society. . “
Although there is a tense history between ethnic groups, citizens should not ignore the knowledge and recognition of these oppressed communities.
âAmerica is shaped by our common history, much of it painful and marked by dire injustice,â Newsom said. “Students deserve to see themselves in their studies, and they must understand the whole history of our country if we are to expect them to ever build a more just society.”