Bay Area Jewish communal organizations are understandably upset by the Castro Valley school board’s recent unanimous decision to approve a high-priced contract with the Liberated Ethnic Studies Model Curriculum Coalition (LESMC), the educational consulting group that promotes an overtly anti-Jewish and anti-Zionist “critical” ethnic studies curriculum and consulting services.
As the first school district to formalize a relationship with LESMC after Governor Newsom signed the bill mandating an ethnic studies graduation requirement, the Castro Valley school board’s decision was particularly sobering for the Jewish community. It suggested that the new law’s “guardrails”—language added to the bill to encourage local school districts to avoid adopting a curriculum like the Liberated one—may not provide the protection against antisemitism that many had hoped.
Even more sobering than the board’s decision, however, was how that decision was justified by Castro Valley Assistant Superintendent Jason Reiman. Calling the Liberated group “one of the most well-reputed providers for professional development and training,” Reiman revealed that “LESMC has been working with the Alameda County Office of Education for some time … [and] most districts have been working with them in some capacity in our region.”
Indeed, LESMC leaders, faculty and affiliated educators have a foothold in many if not most of the school districts up and down the coast, occupying key leadership roles that provide them the opportunity to promote the implementation of the Liberated curriculum in their districts. These include San Diego, Los Angeles, Santa Barbara and San Francisco Unified School Districts, as well as several smaller districts throughout the Golden State.
Add to the significant number of LESMC-affiliated boots on the ground the strong support that the Liberated group has from the state’s largest teachers’ unions and higher education ethnic studies establishment, and it’s not hard to see that what happened in Castro Valley last month will likely repeat itself in a large majority of school districts in the state.
Alarmingly, these dire odds are about to get considerably worse if a proposed new admissions requirement is approved and implemented by the University of California (UC).
UC’s adoption of this proposal will force every high school in the state to teach a Liberated ethnic studies course, and nearly every student in the state will be compelled to take it.
Currently, all ten UC campuses require incoming freshmen to have taken a designated number of high school courses in seven subject areas, such as History, English, Mathematics and Science. The new proposal (revision to Regulation 424.A.3) from the UC Board of Admissions and Relations with Schools, currently being reviewed by the system-wide Academic Senate, adds an eighth subject area, Ethnic Studies, to the A-G line-up. In order to fulfill the proposed admissions requirement, students must take a one-semester high school ethnic studies course. But, according to the new proposal, it’s not sufficient for students to take any ethnic studies course offered by their high school; they must take a course whose content meets the criteria determined by “a UC faculty ethnic studies working group.”
And here’s where the truly insidious nature of this proposal becomes apparent.
A perusal of the proposed ethnic studies course criteria would leave any experienced K-12 educator aghast. In contrast to the concise descriptions of the pedagogically sound knowledge base and analytical skills that students must acquire to be considered adequately prepared for UC admission in each of the current seven subject areas, the proposed Ethnic Studies criteria are concerning: they contain ideologically-laden jargon, demand rigid adherence to a set of highly controversial and politicized tenets and moral valuations, and force students to engage in behavior that promotes partisan, political goals.
While not overtly antisemitic, the ethnic studies course criteria are firmly rooted in ideologies that are deeply anti-Jewish and anti-Zionist, and, when incorporated into an “approved” classroom will inevitably lead to the portrayal of Jews as “white, privileged oppressors” and Zionism as a “racist, colonialist system of oppression.” In UC-approved ethnic studies classrooms, where students will be required to “dismantle systems of oppression,” Jewish and Zionist students will undoubtedly have a large target on their backs.
Significantly, these ethnic studies criteria strongly resemble the language in the LESMC’s Guiding Principles & Values. This is hardly surprising, considering the make-up of the six-member “UC Faculty Ethnic Studies Working Group” responsible for writing the course criteria:
- Working Group Chair Christine Hong, who directs the UC Santa Cruz Critical Race and Ethnic Studies Department, features LESMC on the CRES homepage, and the CRES-affiliated UC Santa Cruz Center for Racial Justice prominently features LESMC on its “Political Education” webpage.
- Andrew Jolivette, Chair of the UC San Diego Ethnic Studies Department, includes LESMC as one of four “Affiliated Programs”—and the only non-UCSD supported program—on his department’s website. Jolivette has also participated in several webinars with LESMC leaders that promote the Liberated group’s efforts.
- Consistent with LESMC’s explicitly anti-Zionist positioning, both Hong and Jolivette have endorsed an academic boycott of Israel, and last May Hong’s CRES department issued a virulently anti-Israel statement that falsely accused Israel of “settler colonialism” and “ethnic cleansing” and endorsed an open letter calling for an academic boycott of Israel.
- Tricia Gallagher-Guersten is an LESMC Leader.
- All but one of the Working Group committee members have publicly voiced their support for the discredited, overtly antisemitic first draft of the state mandated Ethnic Studies Model Curriculum, whose drafters founded LESMC and used the first draft as the blue-print for their Liberated curriculum.
It’s important to point out that the goal of this new proposal is not to ensure that students take an ethnic studies course before coming to UC; almost all of them will have done that anyway, thanks to the new mandate. Rather, the goal of this proposal is to force every school district in the state to adopt the Liberated curriculum, or risk their students not being accepted for admission to UC schools.
The goal of this proposal is to force every school district in the state to adopt the Liberated curriculum, or risk their students not being accepted for admission to UC schools.
And although California’s new ethnic studies high school requirement does not apply to California private schools, if UC adopts this proposal and adds an ethnic studies admissions requirement, all private schools, including Jewish day schools, will also be forced to offer a Liberated ethnic studies course for their UC-bound students.
In other words, UC’s adoption of this proposal will force every high school in the state to teach a Liberated ethnic studies course, and nearly every student in the state will be compelled to take it.
While all parents should be outraged that such a politically motivated and directed course could be required for UC admission, Jewish parents should be particularly outraged, and enormously alarmed, at the antisemitic bigotry that will be unleashed by this proposal.
This is surely not what state legislators intended when they overwhelmingly voted for the requirement last summer. But having passed a bill that was easily exploited by a small but highly influential group of ideologically-driven activist-educators intent on hijacking the state’s schools for their own political ends, California state legislators must act now to stop this catastrophic proposal.
Tammi Rossman-Benjamin is the director of AMCHA Initiative, a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization dedicated to combating antisemitism at colleges and universities in the United States. She was a faculty member at the University of California for 20 years.