Education issues: Ethnic studies bill in a standstill


As I See It


While the country is experiencing some setbacks and issues on immigration reforms, there is likewise an issue on education in California!

The issue centers on a proposed bill that would require all California high school students take an ethnic studies course. The draft generated some controversy from among the ranks of diverse groups whose members claim they were misrepresented or excluded, so it’s being held in abeyance this year for further scrutiny/revision!

California is known for its diversity in all aspects which catapulted the state in its present progressive state of development. When Assemblymember Rob Bonta, the first Filipino-American elected to Congress sponsored his first bill AB123, there was no resistance.

Congress passed it, and said bill was duly signed into law by then California Governor Jerry Brown in 2013. The new law mandated that the contributions of the Filipino American farm workers to the California labor movement be incorporated in the curriculum of all public schools in California.

It required the State Board of Education to include the role of Filipino Americans in the farm worker movement as part of the state’s curriculum.

“By signing AB 123, Governor Brown has made an unprecedented move to give students a more complete account of California’s farm labor movement and ensure that these important leaders, such as Philip Vera Cruz and Larry Itliong, are remembered by future generations of Californians,” Bonta said in 2013.

Under the legislation, middle and high school students from grades 7 to 12, will learn about the roles of Filipino Americans and other immigrants in the farm worker movement.

As to the ethnic studies bill, resistance from some groups were noted and registered. In an article written by Howard Blums, Los Angeles Times, it quoted saying that “… leaders of pro-Israel organizations challenged the lack of teaching about anti-Semitism, and organizations representing Armenians, Greeks, Hindus, and Koreans, whose member want lessons about their people to be taught.”

The author said, “Meanwhile, a broad coalition of student groups and educators, mainly people of color rallied in support of the current draft. In the midst of the critiques, state educators announced that the first draft of curriculum fell short and would be substantially revised which Congress has to face.”

The author of the bill Assemblymember Jose Medina (D-Riverside), said he remains committed to making ethnic studies a graduation requirement, but problems and disagreements with the draft curriculum need “ample time” to be worked out.

The deferment of the bill stemmed from some definition of terms for example: Why Islamophobia is defined in the curriculum’s glossary but not anti-Semitism. Pro-Israel groups, in particular, complained that the curriculum’s brief presentation of the Israel-Palestinian conflict is one-sided.

Otters said the draft curriculum is filled with too much jargon, including the glossary, which includes such as “herstory” and “hstory”, instead of “history” and “cisheteropatriarchy”.

The ethnic studies proposal came mainly from four groups: Latinos, African Americans, Asian Americans, and indigenous peoples – those present in the Americas before the period of European colonization.

Other ethnic groups, however, said that they want their curriculums to be included as well.

So state officials pledged that there will be substantial changes to the curriculum to make it more inclusive before its final approval. In view of the so many groups wanting to put their stake in the bill, said bill may have to take time and even the author of the bill recognized it really needs “ample time” to work it out.

I hope there will be no political undertones as the issue of Israel and Palestine is heating up again. The Israeli–Palestinian conflict is the ongoing struggle between Israelis and Palestinians that began in the mid-20th century. The origins to the conflict can be traced back to Jewish immigration and sectarian conflict in Mandatory Palestine
Going back to the ethnic studies bill, author Elaine Chen wrote, “Assemblyman Jose Medina, D-Riverside, the author of the bill, announced that he will turn the legislation into a “two-year bill,” a method lawmakers typically use to gain time to revise a bill without killing it all together.

“It is not a question of whether the subject of ethnic studies itself is necessary but rather, how do we ensure the curriculum is comprehensive, rigorous, and inclusive enough,” Medina said in a statement. “This underscores the importance of taking the time necessary to ensure we get the curriculum right.”

Civic groups representing other communities — including Armenian, Hellenic, Hindu and Korean ones — have also voiced concerns that the curriculum omits their communities’ struggles when immigrating to the U.S.

The draft curriculum was modeled off the traditional four areas of ethnic studies taught in higher education: Black/African American studies, Chicano/a studies, Native American studies and Asian American studies. Many groups challenging the draft are asking the state to develop a curriculum that would diverge from this model.

“If you study what the historic framework has been for ethnic’s studies that has typically focused on four distinct groups” Thurmond said addressing the Jewish caucus’ concerns.

“There’s no intentional omission of the experiences of Jewish Americans, but, in fact, we think that there should be mention of the contributions of Jewish Americans,” he added.

The chair of the Asian American Studies Department at UC Davis Robyn Rodriguez, said “it appears that many groups criticizing the draft curriculum, such as Jewish, Hellenic, and Amernian groups, misunderstand the academic field by thinking of ethnic studies as being about ethnicity. Ethnic studies as a name is kind of a misnomer. What we’re really contending with is race. Ethnic studies at its core is about “the various kinds of inequality and exploitation for non-white people of color.”

While the bill may have to take time, surely it’s trying to address the ethnicity those groups have been clamoring for!

I believe…it’s just a matter of time!

(Elpidio R. Estioko was a veteran journalist in the Philippines and an award-winning journalist here in the US. For feedbacks, comments… please email author at