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Profound foolishness

A closer look at California’s ethnic studies curriculum

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The Ethnic Studies Model Curriculum, recently adopted by the California Department of Education (CDE) for use in public high schools, argues that students of all backgrounds need to find solidarity with their own people in the past in order to feel relevant in the present.

But it’s not enough to teach children about their cultural heritage. “[Ethnic studies] does not mean glossing over differences, avoiding difficult issues or resorting to clichés about how we are all basically alike,” reads the overview of the Model Curriculum on the CDE website. “By asking students to examine and reflect on the history, struggles, and contributions of diverse groups within the context of racism and bigotry [emphasis added], ethnic studies can foster the importance of equity and justice.” It’s also supposed to “bring students and communities together”—by dividing them up into four major groups and a variety of subgroups and focusing on mutual oppression by another “group” that has no ethnic status.

Appendix A of the document, “Sample Lessons and Topics,” makes that distinction clear. In 500-plus pages, “white supremacy” is named 16 times, “oppression” 34 times, “colonialism” 14, “power” 80, and “racism” 80. “White” is not a color or a culture, but a malevolent power. Students who have (presumably) been force-fed Anglo-European concepts like rule of law, parliamentary government, and individualism will now be free to learn how their own cultures were quashed by the same.

Substituting leftist ideology for balanced history has already created hostility.

“Critical thinking” about European oppression has been the cutting edge of educational policy since the 1970s. California’s ethnic studies proposal just codifies and extends to public schools what began in the university system 60 years ago, particularly at UC-Berkeley and San Francisco State. That’s when the Third World Liberation Front, a coalition of black, Asian, and Latino student groups went on strike to demand ethnic studies teachers and departments. Not long after, students at Stanford were chanting, “Hey-hey, ho-ho, Western culture’s got to go.”

The Ethnic Studies Model Curriculum considers itself a direct descendant of this movement and heir to its mission.

“Mission” is an apt word for the bizarre, quasi-religious fervor popping up all over the document. The goal is not good citizens, but soldiers for social change. Lesson plans include class chants aimed at nothing less than spiritual solidarity. The “In Lak Ech Affirmation” is based on ancient Aztec cosmology, updated as the “four movements” of reflection, action, reconciliation, and transformation. The chant calls on Aztec deities to “allow us to become more realized human beings” in search of “healing epistemologies” and “makin’ things happen.”

To unwoke ears, it just sounds silly. Opponents point out that Quetzalcoatl and Huitzilopochtli, and the bloody rites associated with them, were not models of liberation. Also, that dragging pagan religion into the classroom by its heels might violate the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment. Not that anyone actually imagines the Aztec gods are listening. Or do they?

R. Tolteka Cuauhtin, a Los Angeles teacher who co-chaired an earlier draft of the Model Curriculum, has argued that white Americans were guilty of “theocide” by replacing indigenous religions with Christianity. His book, Rethinking Ethnic Studies, proposes a “regeneration of indigenous epistemic and cultural futurity.” In other words, Western culture, and the Christian faith that built it, have got to go—to be replaced by the indigenous epistemic of sun worship and human sacrifice.

Just kidding, of course—but perhaps not by much, given the spiritual zeal of abortion advocates and radical environmentalists. Fortunately, the Model Curriculum does have its enemies. Lori Meyers, co-founder of Educators for Quality and Equality (a California teachers’ organization), is concerned about a proposal that “pits groups against each other and is going to create hostility and tensions” rather than mutual understanding.

Substituting leftist ideology for balanced history has already created hostility and tensions. Idolatry always has, from the beginning of time. It’s more than silly; it’s foolish. Deifying social change, however well meant, is calling down the wrath of the gods.

Janie B. Cheaney

Janie is a senior writer who contributes commentary to WORLD and oversees WORLD’s annual Children’s Books of the Year awards. She also writes novels for young adults and authored the Wordsmith creative writing curriculum. Janie resides in rural Missouri.


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