California’s ‘Ethnic Studies’ Gold Rush

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High-school students in California could soon be required to take at least one semester of something called “ethnic studies” to graduate. The California Senate Education Committee holds hearings this week on Assembly Bill 101, which passed the lower house 58-9 in May. If A.B. 101 becomes law, it will line the pockets of a waiting diversity industry with hundreds of millions of dollars of taxpayer funds, as well as federal coronavirus relief money.

In response to the Covid-19 pandemic, Congress passed the Cares Act in March 2020. The legislation provided $2.2 trillion of financial assistance to individuals, businesses and state institutions. Of that $2.2 trillion, $16.2 billion was set aside for primary and secondary education. The California Education Department received $2 billion.

These funds were intended to cover a variety of difficulties caused by pandemic-related budget shortfalls. The U.S. Department of Education recommended that the money be used to prevent teacher layoffs, preserve mental-health programs, and improve school ventilation. But the feds also urged state education departments to use the money to “advance equity” given the “disproportionate impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on communities of color.” This opened the door for California to spend its federal windfall in a way that most Americans would likely find reprehensible.

Sacramento lawmakers passed a bill in 2016 requiring the state Board of Education to create a model curriculum in ethnic studies and recommend that each district make the curriculum required learning for grades 9-12 beginning in the 2021-22 school year. The first draft of the ethnic studies model curriculum, or ESMC, provoked a public outcry when it was published in August 2019. While the bill stipulated that the model curriculum should prepare students to appreciate the contributions of all cultures, it contained significant anti-Semitic sentiment, such as a poem insinuating that Jews control the media. The proposed curriculum even went so far as to endorse the boycott, divestment, and sanctions movement, an anti-Israel lobby.

The state Board of Education produced a new version of the model curriculum. It removed the outright anti-Semitism, but added explicit references to critical race theory and neo-Marxism. The introduction of the new curriculum states that ethnic studies is “housed in the conceptual model of the ‘double helix’ which interweaves holistic humanization and critical consciousness.” In a footnote, the idea of “holistic humanization” is tied to the work of

Tara J. Yosso,

a widely cited critical race theorist. “Critical consciousness” refers to

Paulo Freire’s

theory that people must become aware and critical of oppressors (mainly white males) to bring about a Marxist revolution.

The 11-member state Board of Education voted unanimously in March to adopt the model curriculum. In June the Hayward Unified School District became the first in the state to adopt the curriculum officially, promising in a press release that it “will be informed by and include Critical Race Theory.” San Diego Unified School District is expected to approve a similar plan later this summer.

The new ethnic studies curriculum requires significant amounts of money to implement. Hayward is a relatively small district, but its plan for implementing ethnic studies next year will require $40 million to cover recruiting, training and materials. Further, several of the authors of the original, anti-Semitic ESMC created a for-profit consulting firm called the Liberated Ethnic Studies Model Curriculum Institute, or LESMC. The Salinas Union High School District recently hired the LESMC-affiliated consultant

R. Tolteka Cuauhtin

to provide professional development (at the rate of $1,500 an hour) for teachers to help implement ethnic studies as a graduation requirement. The California Teachers Association, the largest teachers union in the state, has praised the “positive benefits” of ethnic studies and urges educators to teach the curriculum with “a strength-based mindset.”

Gov. Gavin Newsom’s

“California Roars Back” plan is a $100 billion initiative to “reimagine public schools.” It includes $3 billion for community schools, which join with outside groups to offer additional services; $4 billion for behavioral health, which will naturally include problems accruing from systemic racism; and $2.6 billion for “research-tested interventions,” such as “high-dose tutoring,” presumably from board-approved organizations like the LESMC Institute.

All these initiatives provide openings for race activists to be hired as consultants. The LESMC Institute has already established itself as the foremost ethnic studies consulting firm in the state. Because the Cares Act guidance included the ability to use funds to “advance equity,” paying such consultants (who are truly activists) falls squarely within the bounds of acceptable use.

President Biden’s American Rescue Plan set aside an additional $122 billion to be distributed to state education departments this year. If California receives funding in line with what it got from the Cares Act, state education bureaucrats should expect more than $15 billion toward implementing the new programs. The federal “equity” stipulations virtually assure much of it will be used for the new ethnic studies programs. And because of the profound influence of the LESMC Institute, taxpayer money will be paid to Marxist activists intent on making white students (as young as kindergartners) confront their “white supremacy.”

Adding to the concern is the lack of transparency in California school budgets. For years, education advocacy groups have been petitioning the California Legislature to develop an online portal to observe educational fund usage. Yet even with strong public support and nearly $500,000 set aside in the 2020-21 state budget to create such a portal, progress on the project has stalled.

This lack of transparency plagued the state Education Department throughout the pandemic school year. As California received billions in relief funds, constituents were left with few options for easily observing state education activities. According to a coalition of student advocacy organizations, the “2020-21 school year has become synonymous with lack of fiscal transparency and accountability.” With billions more on the way, that lack of transparency becomes all the more concerning.

Taxpayer dollars shouldn’t be used to fund courses that are fundamentally racist and anti-American. California’s parents deserve to know what is happening in their districts, and Americans deserve to know how their money is being spent.

Mr. Xu is author of “An Inconvenient Minority: The Attack on Asian American Excellence and the Fight for Meritocracy” and president of Color Us United.

Main Street: America’s top public high school, Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology, shows us what discrimination looks like today. Images: Coalition for TJ Composite: Mark Kelly

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