After a years-long battle reignited in recent months over controversies about misunderstandings of critical race theory, California students will soon be required to take ethnic studies to graduate high school.
Gov. Newsom signed AB 101 into law on Friday afternoon, requiring California high school students to take ethnic studies to graduate, starting with the class of 2030. Educators and recent studies attest to the benefits of students learning the histories and cultures of marginalized communities, but a few parents still worry the requirement could create more tensions between students.
“The inclusion of ethnic studies in the high school curriculum is long overdue,” said Assemblymember Jose Medina, a Democrat from Riverside who authored AB 101. “Students cannot have a full understanding of the history of our state and nation without the inclusion of the contributions and struggles of Native Americans, African Americans, Latinos and Asian Americans.”
Last year, Newsom vetoed a similar bill, also authored by Medina, citing the need for revision in the model curriculum.
The previous versions of the curriculum were widely criticized for being anti-Semitic, too politically correct and filled with jargon. They used terms like “cisheteropatriarchy” and “hxrstory,” while describing capitalism as a system that exploits native people and other communities of color.
But the newest version of the model curriculum, approved by the State Board of Education in March, has garnered support from some of those who opposed the initial drafts. Democratic Sen. Scott Wiener of San Francisco, the vice-chair of the Legislative Jewish Caucus, was one of the legislators won over by the changes.
“The curriculum would not be teaching anti-Semitism or any form of hate,” he said, before the Senate’s floor vote on Sept. 9. “The final adopted version was a dramatic improvement and something that we have all rallied around and defended.”
The latest version of the curriculum contains more neutral descriptions of capitalism and addressed various concerns from the Jewish Caucus.
Thirty-three sample lessons are organized into broader subsections of “General Ethnic Studies,” “African American Studies,” “Chicana/o/x and Latina/o/x Studies,” “Asian American and Pacific Islander Studies” and “Native American Studies.” Lessons on antisemitism, Jewish-American identity, Arab-American Studies and Armenian migration are included in a separate section titled “Seeking Models of Interethnic Bridge-Building.”
Specific lessons include “Migration Stories and Oral History,” “#BlackLivesMatter and Social Change,” “Afrofuturism: Reimagining Black Futures and Science Fiction,” “US Undocumented Immigrants from Mexico and Beyond,” “The Immigration Experience of Lao Americans” and “This is Indian Land: The Purpose, Politics, and Practice of Land Acknowledgment.”
So far, San Francisco, Fresno and San Diego Unified school districts already require their students to take ethnic studies to graduate. Fresno Unified began offering the class six years ago and will make it a graduation requirement for the graduating class of 2026.
“I think a lot of what we’re getting is they really love being able to have a class like this for the first time in their school careers, where their class content is matching their own upbringing,” said Carlos Castillo, who oversees curriculum and instruction at the district. “It’s nice to hear that, but it’s also heartbreaking to hear that from students in 11th grade.”
Castillo said he hasn’t heard much criticism about the district teaching ethnic studies, but he’s sure the critics are out there. He said he’s confident that in the long term, the course will help students build empathy toward their peers while understanding how those in power have marginalized other groups.
“I think there will be more understanding,” he said. “Those in power have always had an advantage over those who don’t have power. That’s the bottom line.”