High school students in California will need to take ethnic studies classes to graduate.
Gavin Newsom, the state’s governor, signed into law a bill October 8 that calls for the completion of a one-semester course on the subject. The law, which goes into effect January 1, and affects pupils graduating in the 2029-2030 school year and beyond.
Critics contend the controversial bill, A.B. 101, opens the door to teaching critical race theory in the classroom. Critical race theory addresses the role of racial factors influencing the U.S. judicial system. The Sikh community has wholeheartedly welcomed the new law. The Hindu American Foundation, while supportive, had issues with a few aspects of the curriculum.
The law authorizes all local educational agencies, including charter schools, to require a full-year course in ethnic studies at their discretion.
“No, it’s not like an elective. Rather, it’s required for graduation,” said Jonathan Mendick, the California Department of Education information officer, told indica News. He said that under the new law, money will be apportioned on a per-pupil basis to school districts, county offices of education, charters, and the state special schools serving grades 9-12. Neither his department nor any other agency, need to manage the program.
He said the course would not reflect or promote any bias, or discrimination against anyone. Mendick was clear it would “not teach or promote religious doctrine.”
The version of the Ethnic Studies Model Curriculum approved this spring includes an exploration of anti-Semitism, and offers lessons on the Arab, Armenian, Jewish, and Sikh American communities that were absent in earlier versions.
Samir Kalra, managing director of the Hindu American Foundation told indica News that HAF supports an ethnic studies curriculum that shares the many contributions made by Hindu Americans along with other communities. It would also include South Asian Americans in the United States and Indian Americans, how they have created a community and established an identity in California.
“HAF participated in the Department of Education’s public review process of the Ethnic Studies curriculum,” he said. “While we do not agree with every aspect of the curriculum, we are happy to see the contributions made by Hindu Americans included. “Overall, the curriculum could have been broader and more inclusive of all the diverse ethnic groups in California, in order to better foster respect for cultural diversity in our pluralistic society.”
In a statement, the Sikh Coalition said, “Thanks to the sangat’s advocacy in March of 2021, California approved an ethnic studies model curriculum, which included Sikh stories and the positive contributions of California’s Sikh-American community through a lesson plan submitted by the Sikh Coalition and the Jakara Movement.”
In addition to making ethnic studies a graduation requirement and allowing for the use of the ESMC, AB101 will provide millions in funding for implementation and educator professional development.
Calmatters, an independent news site on California politics and policy, said the Los Angeles Times editorial board “opposed the bill because it provides too much flexibility for local districts to design their own curricula that could deviate from the state’s own model curriculum.”
However, Pritpal Kaur, the Sikh Coalition’s education director, said in a press statement, “The ethnic studies course requirement will provide an even greater opportunity for the Sikh community’s stories and important contributions to be taught across California.”
She said the group would “keep pushing to make sure that ethnic studies courses that include Sikh stories appear in California classrooms.”
In a signed statement, Gov. Newsom said, “Ethnic studies courses enable students to learn their own stories — and those of their classmates.” According to a news release from his office, ethnic studies will “help expand educational opportunities in schools, teach students about the diverse communities that comprise California and boost academic engagement and attainment for students.”
The passing of the law was lauded by Assemblyman Jose Medina (D-Riverside), who authored the bill. Medina called the new requirement “long overdue” and “one step in the long struggle for equal education for all students.”
While the matter may be settled at the state level, schools and school districts could soon weigh in. Some districts may hold public hearings on the courses they plan to offer.
This law depended a lot on the support of the California sangat. In March 2020, the Sikh Coalition and the Jakara Movement submitted comprehensive recommendations to improve the curriculum, including a draft lesson plan. It worked with 52 gurdwaras and was endorsed by more than 1,200 petitioners.
[Photo courtesy: Jakara.org]