California Inches Closer to Ethnic Studies Mayhem

David Acevedo

CounterCurrent: Week of 2/28

Lately, we at the National Association of Scholars have been reminded of this simple truth: what starts in academia doesn’t stay there. As the old adage goes, “culture is downstream of campus.” If it did stay there, we could leave the ivory tower in a self-contained quarantine while ignoring most of what they say and supporting true scholarship and teaching within American higher education. Unfortunately, it doesn’t work that way. Professors and university administrators hold increasingly greater sway in the culture at large, partly due to our obsession with credentialism and “listening to the experts.” If you’ve got the right amount of letters after your name or books under your belt, you have a seat at the table. If not, tough luck.

This trend has had disastrous consequences on our nation, particularly on our children. Radical, poorly researched, and undebated ideas flow downstream from the academy into our K-12 schools, largely through the training teachers receive in the progressive seminaries known as schools of education. K-12 administrators, many of whom hold Ed.D. degrees, are often just as eager to fill their school curricula and extracurricular programs with the academy’s finest ideas, including critical race theory and cultural Marxism. It’s not stopping there, nor should we expect it to, unless and until sweeping, ground-up change comes to K-12 education.

One of the more recent movements within K-12 education is known as “ethnic studies,” which has been defined (on the college level) as “the interdisciplinary study of race and ethnicity, as understood through the perspectives of major underrepresented racial groups in the United States.” While the study of race and ethnicity in America is a perfectly valid academic pursuit, ethnic studies in practice tends to take the form of a critical-theoretical word-slurry with a side of neo-Marxist activism. But it's a dangerous slurry, especially for children, who have barely had a taste of how the world actually works and will be left hard-pressed to crawl out before this theoretical concrete solidifies.

In this week’s featured article, Wenyuan Wu of Californians for Equal Rights breaks down the latest developments in the California ethnic studies movement, including the nearly finalized Ethnic Studies Model Curriculum (ESMC). She remarks that, growing up in China, the CCP minimized all ethnic differences in order to foster a sense of national unity (albeit through suppressing the truth and coercing compliance). Meanwhile, in America, she perceives the government and school boards maximizing ethnic differences in order to create division. Indeed, she writes that the ESMC:

stokes racial divisions and animosity by subjugating our society to a binary, race-based lens and by perverting our nation’s complex history with a narrow framework of identity politics. Racial balkanization, the toxic practice of separating individuals into hostile racial boxes, has fueled this paradigm. Marxism is also referenced here, not to inspire collectivization of all ethnicities to serve “proletariat” governance, but to exaggerate disparities for a clear-cut, race-based “oppressor-victim” dichotomy.

Wu does believe in some form of ethnic studies, one that “encourages individual empowerment, mutual respect, and historical nuances rather than the zero-sum racial tribalism being evangelized as the new social norm of public education.” So far, the California Department of Education hasn’t advocated for, or adopted, this common-sense roadmap.

The ESMC is expected to be finalized and published by March 31, 2021. The NAS opposes the ESMC and has done so for some time—our children deserve a substantive, unbiased education, not one full of CRT half-truths. If you agree, we encourage you to submit a public comment here: [email protected].

CounterCurrent is the National Association of Scholars’ weekly newsletter, written by Communications & Research Associate David Acevedo. To subscribe, update your email preferences here.

Image: Max Fischer, Public Domain

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