December 10, 2019

AJC Coalition Lobbies Against Ethnic Studies Curriculum

SACRAMENTO, CA - MARCH 24: Protesters gather at the California State Capitol during a March for Our Lives demonstration on March 24, 2018 in Sacramento, California. More than 800 March for Our Lives events, organized by survivors of the Parkland, Florida school shooting on February 14 that left 17 dead, are taking place around the world to call for legislative action to address school safety and gun violence. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

The American Jewish Committee (AJC) spearheaded a coalition of California community leaders in a Nov. 4 letter urging the California Department of Education against adopting the proposed Ethnic Studies Model Curriculum (ESMC).

Several Jewish groups have accused the proposed ESMC of having an anti-Israel bias, arguing that the draft portrayed the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement in a positive light and didn’t adequately address the issue of anti-Semitism, among other criticisms. The State Board of Education (SBE) announced in August that the current proposal was going to be revised.

Those who signed the letter to State Superintendent of Public Education Tony Thurmond and SBE President Dr. Linda Darling-Hammond: AJC Los Angeles Regional Director Richard S. Hirschhaut, AJC Northern California Regional Director Rabbi Serena Eisenberg, Armenian National Committee of America Western Region Chair Nora Hovsepian, Armenian Assembly of America Western Region Director Mihran Toumajan, American Hellenic Council President Dr. James F. Dimitriou, Faith and Community Empowerment President and CEO Hyepin Im, Hindu American Foundation Managing Director Samir Kalra, Assyrian American Association of Southern California President Ramond Takhsh and Korean American Coalition Executive Director Eunice Hur Song.

The letter argues that the ESMC overlooked myriad minority communities, which would be a violation of AB 2016, a law stating that the ESMC should “allow school districts to adapt their courses to reflect the pupil demographics in their communities.”

“The historically ignored and overlooked multigenerational experiences of the minority communities, including those of Armenians, Assyrians, Hellenes, Hindus, Koreans, and Mizrahi, Sephardic, and Ashkenazi Jews, and others, should also be taught. Inclusiveness should be a paramount principle,” the community leaders wrote. “Specifically, the curriculum should incorporate the experiences of demographically significant communities across California whose cultural, economic, and civic contributions to the benefit of the state has been historically overlooked.”

They also argued that the authors of the ESMC “should not be allowed to cherry-pick communities without public scrutiny.” They called for the ESMC to provide more sample course models.

“Moving forward, we hope to see more transparency and less political bias in both the development of the curriculum and the appointment of individuals to the relevant bodies involved in the process,” the letter concluded.

Thurmond criticized the ESMC in its current form in August, saying in a press conference, “There should be no reference to the creation of anyone’s homeland as being catastrophic. There’s no place for that in public education.” Darling-Hammond wrote in a September op-ed for EdSource that the deadline for the ESMC to be approved should be delayed a year. California Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) also said in August that the proposed ESMC “will never see the light of day.”