THE IS­SUE OF ETH­NIC STUD­IES

The Fresno Bee (Sunday) - - Front Page - BY DAN SCHNUR Spe­cial to The Sacramento Bee

Should schools teach eth­nic stud­ies? If so, how should they ap­proach such a sen­si­tive topic with the most di­verse stu­dent pop­u­la­tion in hu­man his­tory?

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Should Cal­i­for­nia pub­lic schools teach eth­nic stud­ies? If so, how should they ap­proach such a sen­si­tive topic with the most di­verse stu­dent pop­u­la­tion in hu­man his­tory?

“One of the es­sen­tial pur­poses of school­ing is to craft a ‘Story of Us’ that is in­clu­sive… and to arm our stu­dents with the crit­i­cal think­ing skills and the op­por­tu­nity to see their personal story and strug­gle re­flected in our collective con­scious,” said Cal­i­for­nia Char­ter Schools As­so­ci­a­tion President Myrna Cas­tre­jon. “A key un­der­stand­ing of how iden­ti­ties are formed, con­tested and re-imag­ined, and how a personal nar­ra­tive is formed against this so­cial back­drop is much more im­por­tant than merely check­list­ing a ‘he­roes and hol­i­days’ ap­proach.”

A draft cur­ricu­lum re­cently pro­posed by a State Board of Ed­u­ca­tion ad­vi­sory com­mit­tee has been widely crit­i­cized for ex­clud­ing a large num­ber of eth­nic com­mu­ni­ties.

“As the only Asian Amer­i­can fe­male in the Cal­i­for­nia Leg­is­la­ture, I cer­tainly un­der­stand the pos­i­tive im­pact eth­nic stud­ies can have on our stu­dents,” state Se­na­tor Ling Ling Chang (R-Di­a­mond Bar) said. “(But) the last thing we need is a deeply flawed cur­ricu­lum that in­cludes any form of anti-Semitism… or ex­cludes com­mu­ni­ties that have en­riched our state.”

Chil­dren Now President Ted Lem­pert cau­tioned that a sin­gle class could not ad­e­quately address such a com­plex topic.

“Learn­ing about these chal­lenges in only one course dur­ing high school will con­tinue the marginal­iza­tion,” Lem­pert said. “It’s not only es­sen­tial that stu­dents study it; we also need to sup­port kids within all of our var­i­ous eth­nic com­mu­ni­ties with cul­tur­ally-trained, car­ing adults.”

State Se­nate Ed­u­ca­tion Com­mit­tee Chair Con­nie Leyva (D-Chino) agreed, call­ing for a greater em­pha­sis on di­ver­sity among ed­u­ca­tors.

“Our di­verse stu­dent body should be taught by, and ex­posed to, a di­verse teacher work­force that gives voice — and a face — to is­sues faced by Cal­i­for­nia com­mu­ni­ties,” Leyva said. “We should also look at how we are train­ing teach­ers while they are still en­rolled in teacher prepa­ra­tion pro­grams, and en­sur­ing that they are re­ceiv­ing an ap­pro­pri­ate ed­u­ca­tion them­selves in how they teach these chal­lenges.”

Deborah Kong, pro­gram of­fi­cer at the David and Lu­cile Packard Foun­da­tion, stressed that these is­sues should be ad­dressed as early as pos­si­ble with younger chil­dren.

“As state pol­i­cy­mak­ers con­sid­ered mak­ing eth­nic stud­ies a grad­u­a­tion re­quire­ment, much at­ten­tion has fo­cused on high schools and uni­ver­si­ties – but dis­cus­sions of di­versi

ty and eq­uity are also crit­i­cal in the early years,” Kong said. “Re­search shows that chil­dren no­tice racial dif­fer­ences from a very young age, and if care­givers do not openly talk about race with chil­dren, kids will draw their own, of­ten er­ro­neous, mean­ings from what they see.”

Sev­eral in­flu­encers em­pha­sized the need for such in­struc­tion con­tin­u­ing be­yond high school.

“We ed­u­cate the most eth­ni­cally di­verse univer­sity stu­dent body in the na­tion,” Cal­i­for­nia State Univer­sity Chan­cel­lor Timothy P. White said. “We need to cre­ate wel­com­ing and in­clu­sive learn­ing en­vi­ron­ments with pro­grams and classes that are sen­si­tive and re­spon­sive to cul­tural and in­di­vid­ual dif­fer­ences, and with ed­u­ca­tors and aca­demic leadership who re­flect the di­ver­sity of their stu­dents.”

Univer­sity of Cal­i­for­nia President Janet Napoli­tano dis­cussed the ben­e­fits of car­ry­ing these lessons be­yond the class­room.

“Di­ver­sity in all its forms… is in­trin­sic to Cal­i­for­nia, defin­ing the state as a world­wide leader in em­brac­ing unique dif­fer­ences and en­cour­ag­ing a ro­bust ex­change of ideas and per­spec­tives,” Napoli­tano said. “Stu­dents, aptly armed with knowl­edge of where we came from, will be bet­ter equipped to shape where we go — and ap­ply the dy­nam­ics of the past to cur­rent na­tional and po­lit­i­cal land­scapes, in ad­di­tion to their personal mo­ti­va­tions and con­vic­tions.”

Ros­alind Hud­nell, former president of the In­tel Foun­da­tion, warned of the eco­nomic con­se­quences of fail­ing to address these is­sues be­fore stu­dents en­ter the work­force.

“Cor­po­ra­tions have been spend­ing mil­lions for decades to close this gap of un­der­stand­ing and knowl­edge,” Hud­nell said. “As some­one who led one of these ef­forts I be­lieve peo­ple who don’t lead di­verse lives, can’t de­velop and lead di­verse teams well.”

But per­haps the most valu­able per­spec­tive was of­fered by Cas­tre­jon‘s son, ninth-grader Kenji Xavier Fu­ji­moto, who ad­vo­cated for eth­nic stud­ies as a coun­ter­weight to the cur­rent balka­nized po­lit­i­cal land­scape.

“Our cur­rent pol­i­tics have made peo­ple go to their cor­ners. We need bet­ter tools to talk to and un­der­stand each other bet­ter, not just a recita­tion of who con­trib­uted what,” he said. “This kind of class shouldn’t be just ‘for eth­nic mi­nori­ties’ or done in a way that al­lows peo­ple to opt out be­cause it doesn’t con­cern them — it’s about all of us and the role we play in cre­at­ing and imag­in­ing a Cal­i­for­nia for all.”

SEV­ERAL IN­FLU­ENCERS EM­PHA­SIZED THE NEED FOR SUCH IN­STRUC­TION CON­TIN­U­ING BE­YOND HIGH SCHOOL.

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