The State Board of Education is required to adopt an ethnic studies model curriculum. The draft curriculum was recently posted for public comment, but was promptly pulled when it drew a firestorm of criticism.
The model was supposed to help students develop a “deep appreciation for cultural diversity and inclusion,” and aid “in the eradication of bigotry, hate and racism,” but was basically an attack on the “dominant” white culture. The model rejected “traditional wording” associated with “the dominant culture.” For example, “history” was changed to “hxstory” and “hxrstory.” The model declared that students of color are “owed” payment of a debt “after centuries of educational trauma, dehumanization, and enforced… constraints via the education system.” Ethnic studies would help “pay this education debt.” Ominously for the pursuit of excellence, the model demanded that “the education system reconsider what constitutes the parameters of academic success.”
The model addressed African American, Asian American, “Chicana/o/x/ and Latina/o/x”, and Native American studies, leaving out Americans who are Jewish, Italian, Greek, Armenian, Asian Indian, Irish, and more. The model would “critique empire and its relationship to white supremacy, racism, patriarchy, cisheteropatriarchy, capitalism, ableism, anthropocentrism, and other forms of power and oppression … of our society;” and was supposed to help “those with privilege at different intersections recognize their societal advantages in these areas, and build solidarity with oppressed groups.”
The sheer number of races and ethnicities in the great American mosaic renders impractical divisive ethnic studies focused on specific groups. This great diversity has and can continue to create an American ethnicity. The challenge for Americans today is how to keep racial and ethnic divisions from being fatal to our democracy, but the model inflamed division and ignored the nation’s founding principle of “out of many one.”
To be sure, a frank discussion of slavery and discrimination is needed, but American history, not ethnic studies, is the place for it. We can face and try to understand abhorrent features of the nation’s history. The letter of the Declaration of Independence was hostile to slavery and, despite its 3/5 clause and recognition of slavery, the spirit of the Constitution was hostile to slavery, so much so that Patrick Henry urged Virginians not to ratify the Constitution, stating “They’ll free your n….s.” As Jefferson said, in slavery the nation held a wolf by the ear, but the nation had to hold together against European monarchies fearful of our revolution and wanting our land. Consider also the infamous 1896 Supreme Court “separate but equal” decision in Plessy v. Ferguson that allowed Louisiana to require blacks to ride in separate rail cars from whites. The violence against the 1961 Freedoms Riders pales compared to what the violence could have been in 1896 if the court had ordered forced integration.
The overriding goal should be to honor the beauty and uniqueness of our separate cultures without undermining a common national culture. The nation’s founding ideals are and were universally good for all races and ethnicities. They are what brought and brings so many diverse races and cultures here. They cover everyone. Americans share a common pursuit.
A frank history of how Americans encountered and addressed discrimination can begin in elementary school. Age-suited lesson plans can be created using large portraits of and selections from Margaret Corbin (the first female to receive a veteran’s pension following her heroism in the Revolutionary War), Washington, Adams, Jefferson, Henry Clay, Daniel Webster, Harriett Tubman, Frederick Douglass, Lincoln, Chief Joseph, Homer Plessy, Macario Garcia (WWII Medal of Honor winner), Thurgood Marshall, Bob Dylan, Martin Luther King, General Vang Pao, Barack Obama, and others.
Later, high schoolers could read condensed biographies of these great Americans who graced the walls of their elementary classes, starting with James Thomas Flexner’s condensed single volume, “Washington: the Indispensable Man.” All along having frank discussions of the challenges these people faced.
That we are all Americans participating in the revolutionary experiment that was and is this country must never be lost.
To participate in a discussion of how race and ethnicity can be frankly addressed in our schools and society, attend the free Constitution Day Race Dialog/Constitution Quiz program between 3 and 5 pm on Sept. 17 at the Fresno State Satellite Student Union.
Daniel O. Jamison is an attorney with Dowling Aaron Incorporated in Fresno. He can be reached at email@example.com