California’s Ethnic Studies Curriculum Under Scrutiny: ‘It’s Discriminatory’

January 11, 2021 Updated: January 12, 2021

A new ethnic studies curriculum is being established in California for K–12 students, and its critics urge Californians to comment on it while they can.

The public comment period ends Jan. 21, and the State Board of Education will make a final decision on the curriculum by March 31.

The stated goal of the curriculum is to elevate “the stories and voices of historically marginalized populations who have contributed to our state and nation’s history.”

But some say its foundation is critical race theory, which focuses on a perspective of systemic racism and dividing people into oppressors and oppressed based on race.

“Critical race theory is based on the Marxist doctrine of putting people into two categories to describe any system of struggle. And those two categories are oppressor and victim,” Lia Rensin, an Alliance for Constructive Ethnic Studies board member, told The Epoch Times.

“There’s a way to lift up all of these ethnic groups and show their strength, show their leadership,” she said. “And to do it in a way … that builds empathy and builds community with kids.”

Lori Meyers, co-founder of Educators for Excellence in Ethnic Studies, told The Epoch Times: “Teachers are told to use critical race theory as a pedagogy, which means this is how they’re going to approach the students in their class.

“It’s divisive, by definition, if you’re dividing people into groups. It’s discriminatory by definition, because you’re grouping people by their race, and then assigning attributes to that group simply because of the color of a student’s skin.

“In my opinion, if I were teaching this, it would be educational malpractice.”

She said she imagines herself explaining the curriculum to parents. “This year we’re going to be learning ethnic studies. The methodology I’m going to use to teach it is critical race theory. What critical race theory means is that I’m going to be dividing the students in the class by race. One group of students is the oppressor, the other group of students is the oppressed. The white students are oppressors, the students who are not white have been oppressed and are victims.”

“I can’t imagine saying this to my parents and having them not march up to the principal the next day and say, ‘What is going on in that class?’” Meyers said.

Epoch Times Photo
Lia Rensin discusses her views on critical race theory in an interview with NTD in San Jose, Calif., on Dec. 22, 2020. (David Lam/The Epoch Times)
Epoch Times Photo
Lori Meyers discusses her views on critical race theory in an interview with NTD in San Jose, Calif., on Dec. 22, 2020. (David Lam/The Epoch Times)

In chapter three of the third draft on Instructional Guidance for K–12 Education, the curriculum includes facilitating “discussions on xenophobia and anti-immigrant sentiment,” critiquing “empire-building in history and its relationship to white supremacy, racism and other forms of power and oppression,” and promoting the concept of intersectionality, an idea that people fall under many identities (race, class, religion, and gender).

School districts in Sacramento, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Santa Barbara, San Diego, and others are part of a coalition to support ethnic studies in their schools.

On Sept. 4, 2020, the Trump administration criticized the approach of critical race theory in schools, and any “propaganda effort that teaches or suggests either (1) that the United States is an inherently racist or evil country or (2) that any race or ethnicity is inherently racist or evil.”

In a joint statement on Sept. 11, 2020, the deans of the University of California Law Schools responded to the administration’s remarks, defending critical race theory. They said Trump’s summary of the theory “reduces a sophisticated, dynamic field, interdisciplinary and global in scope, to two simplistic absurdities.”

They describe the theory as inviting us “to confront with unflinching honesty how race has operated in our history and our present, and to recognize the deep and ongoing operation of ‘structural racism’ through which racial inequality is reproduced within our economic, political, and educational systems even without individual racist intent.”

They said their law schools teach how “race and racial oppression shape law and society.”

Assembly Bill 331 was introduced in 2019, and would have made ethnic studies a requirement for graduating high school. Gov. Gavin Newsom vetoed the bill on Sept. 30, 2020, saying it was “insufficiently balanced and inclusive and needed to be substantially amended.”

He did, however, approve a bill making ethnic studies a requirement for state college graduation, Assembly Bill 1460, on Aug. 17, 2020.