The teaching of Ethnic and Gender Studies in our schools is overdue. For too long, our society and its schools have ignored and devalued the knowledge, histories, and struggles of our diverse communities. Ethnic Studies emerged as an interdisciplinary area of study in the 1960s and 1970s as a result of the Civil Rights and Student Movements. Students and communities of color demanded a curriculum that centered the histories, cultures, languages, and literatures of people of color in the United States and globally. Feminist and LGBTQ movements have pushed and broadened Ethnic Studies.
On Thursday, February 19, 2015, Montebello Unified School District (MUSD) took a historic step. The Board of Education unanimously adopted a resolution to implement Ethnic Studies. The resolution calls for a high school requirement and the development of classes addressing race, class, gender and sexuality throughout the Pre K-12 curriculum within four years.
MUSD joins a growing list of California districts that have included Ethnic Studies classes as part of their curriculum. The current movement was fueled by the struggles to preserve the very successful Ethnic Studies Department in Tucson, Arizona. The Tucson struggle helped inspire grassroots movements instrumental in getting El Rancho, Los Angeles, and San Francisco Unified School Districts to establish Ethnic Studies graduation requirements. Several other districts are developing courses that reflect California's diversity and history. The movement is gaining ground and a recent bill (AB 101) introduced by Assemblyman Luis Alejo could require all public schools to offer Ethnic Studies courses as electives.
MUSD's resolution sets a comprehensive and inclusive framework for implementing Ethnic Studies. It creates an advisory committee comprised of all its stakeholders to develop and implement a vision of multiculturalism, multilingualism, and multiethnic instruction-curriculum for Pre K-12. It builds on the existing district projects such as the Dual Language Immersion Program, the California Seal of Biliteracy, existing Ethnic Studies-Diversity curriculum, and leadership programs. The new Ethnic Studies curriculum will draw from the strengths of the surrounding communities, parents, students, and teachers to help prepare students as lifelong learners who are well-rounded and involved in their communities. The resolution also calls for collaboration with local colleges and universities to provide opportunities for students to take courses such as African American Studies, Asian American Studies, Armenian Studies, Chicano/a-Latino/a Studies, and Women's and Gender Studies.
We cannot afford to wait until our youth attend college to learn about the rich and complex history and struggles of diverse communities. Research demonstrates that students thrive when engaged with Ethnic Studies. Education must remain relevant to students' lived experiences and for too long this has not been the case. As a result, students and society are deprived of the tools to understand how the persistence of racism, sexism, homophobia and inequality manifest themselves.
Schools are the backbone of our democracy. In order for our society to function for the benefit of all, we need to begin creating educational spaces to have these conversations. Montebello Unified is the most recent district to take on this challenge.
Who will be next?
Lani Cupchoy and Enrique C. Ochoa:
Lani Cupchoy serves as Clerk on the Montebello School Board of Education and teaches at California State University at Dominguez Hills. Enrique C. Ochoa is Professor of Latin American Studies and History at California State University, Los Angeles.