Photo Credit: Håkan Dahlström

More than 100 scholars on Thursday pushed back on a new round of false claims by activists trying to ram through California’s Ethnic Studies Model Curriculum (ESMC) at all costs. The final draft of the model curriculum is expected to be released to the public shortly, and the State Board of Education is expected to vote on it by mid-March.

“We are 114 university scholars and academics with decades of research experience, who are deeply concerned that empirically unsubstantiated claims of the educational benefits of ethnic studies curricula are being used to advance the political goals of some activist-educators rather than what is best for California students,” wrote the scholars. “With so much at stake for California students and taxpayers, the standards for determining what research should constitute evidence of the educational benefits of ethnic studies should be even more stringent, not less, as the petitioners argue.”

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The petition in question was organized by Christine Sleeter, the author of the Ethnic Studies Model Curriculum’s (ESMC) central claim that ethnic studies courses result in “positive academic and social outcomes for students.” The petition aims to defend her research, which serves as the rationale behind the development of ESMC and has recently come under serious scrutiny. A January analysis by 35 academics found grave flaws and shortcomings in Sleeter’s research, and the handful of other studies used to support Sleeter’s bold claims, and concluded none of the studies provide sufficient evidence to substantiate these claims.

“What is true, however, is that there is considerable evidence that the petitioners are driven by an ideological agenda to promote Critical Ethnic Studies,” wrote the scholars, pointing out that Sleeter’s own petition provides even further evidence “that the ESMC’s bold claims are not at all substantiated by empirical research and should be omitted from the curriculum.” “[A]s you deliberate over whether or not to approve the third draft of the model curriculum, we urge you to resist political pressure from educator-activists who continue to tout wholly unsubstantiated claims about the benefits of ethnic studies, but appear to be more concerned with promoting their ideological agendas than educating our students.”

The scholars also note that Sleeter’s debunked and ideologically-driven research serves as “an important rationale for almost every piece of public policy related to the teaching of ethnic studies in California schools, including the bill (AB 2016) mandating the development of the ESMC; the bill (AB 1460) making ethnic studies a graduation requirement for all [California State University] CSU students; and the bill (AB 331) that would have made ethnic studies class a graduation requirement for all public and charter high school students in the state.” Although AB 331 was vetoed by California Governor Gavin Newsom last fall, it was recently revived by its author and is now making its way through the California legislature, raising the stakes over the question of claims about the educational benefits of ethnic studies classes.

“This entire process goes to the heart of what is wrong with Critical Ethnic Studies,” stated Tammi Rossman-Benjamin, AMCHA Initiative’s director. “The signers of this petition and those tirelessly advocating for this curriculum are willing to abandon academic standards and academic integrity to push through their activist agenda at all costs, even compromising their own training, ethics, and reputations.”

The ESMC is based on a Critical Ethnic Studies framework, a narrow and highly controversial conceptualization of ethnic studies that is firmly rooted in ideologies that divide society into oppressed and oppressor groups based primarily on race. As part of its disciplinary mission, Critical Ethnic Studies coerces students into engaging in political activism to challenge systems of “hierarchy and oppression” as defined by the discipline’s practitioners.

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