Litmus Tests, Ethnic Studies, and the Battle for Public Education

John D. Sailer

Resolute is the Civics Alliance’s newsletter, informing you about the most urgent issues in civics education. Above all, Resolute will provide information about federal and state legislation that seeks to impose action civics, or to preserve traditional civics.

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What happens in Vegas might stay in Vegas. What happens in California usually becomes mainstream American policy in a matter of years. Today’s issue of Resolute focuses on three developments in California—which are important in their own right, but also give a sign of what might come to pass nationwide. 

California Community Colleges

California Community Colleges is the largest system of higher education in the country, consisting of 116 community colleges and serving almost 2 million students. Recently, the Chancellor’s Office of the system proposed making “DEI competencies” a requirement for promotion, tenure, and evaluation. Given the political connotations of words such as “equity” and “inclusion,”  requiring a “demonstrated commitment” to DEI violates academic freedom. It amounts to a political litmus test. The California policy indulges in no subtleties and leaves no room for doubt.

As I explain for NAS, the policy itself mandates that community college districts must “include DEIA [Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Accessibility] competencies and criteria as a minimum standard for evaluating the performance of all employees” and “place significant emphasis on DEIA competencies in employee evaluation and tenure review processes to support employee growth, development, and career advancement.” It also requires the Chancellor’s Office to develop DEI competencies as guidelines. A draft version includes the following: 

Demonstrates an ongoing awareness and recognition of racial, social, and cultural identities with fluency regarding their relevance in creating structures of oppression and marginalization

Engages in self-assessment of one’s own commitment to DEI and internal biases, and seeks opportunities for growth to acknowledge and address the harm caused by internal biases and behavior

Demonstrates a commitment to continuous improvement as it relates to one's DEI and anti-racism knowledge, skills, and behaviors to mitigate any harm caused (whether intentional or not) to minoritized communities

Promotes and incorporates DEI and anti-racist pedagogy

Requiring such competencies would not only violate academic freedom. It would devastate education for millions of students—many of whom look to community colleges as beacons of opportunity. 

University of California’s Proposed Ethnic Studies Requirement

California already requires its high school students to take an “Ethnic Studies” course, but now, the University of California intends to bolster that requirement. 

A proposal before the University of California Academic Council would add a new requirement for admission: a one-semester course on “Ethnic Studies.” If the measure is adopted, any student who wishes to attend one of California’s flagship universities would have to take an “Ethnic Studies” course, even if that student did not attend a California public school. 

From the NAS Statement on the Proposed Requirement

Progressives have attempted to impose “Ethnic Studies” on California school children for nearly a decade. Ethnic Studies may sound like a survey course in anthropology, but in fact it is a version of ethnic separatism. It emphasizes the historical, social, psychological, and political divisions among groups and accentuates group grievances and resentments. The course serves the purpose of political factions that try to garner support by promoting the idea that American society has victimized ethnic minorities for the benefit of the established white majority. Supporters of the Ethnic Studies agenda attempt to lure ethnic groups with the promise of special attention to their particular “stories.” What goes missing is the story of common values and the shared struggle to build a better nation.

California’s Public Education at a Crossroads

As the above examples show, California remains a battlefield for education policy. This applies to K-12 education just as much as higher education. Already, over 400 bills have been introduced this year in the California Legislature to amend the State Education Code. 

The Californians for Equal Rights Foundation (CFER) has released a report summarizing the most important and consequential of these bills. The report focuses on 16 bills, which cover parental rights, college preparedness, teacher credentialing, and more. Read the report here: Public Education at a Crossroads.

Open Letter: Congress Must Oppose the Civics Secures Democracy Act

The Civics Alliance has released an open letter opposing the Civics Secures Democracy Act. The letter lays out the case against this bill—a case that’s no doubt familiar to readers of Resolute

Over the last year, voters and their representatives in state after state have delivered a resounding rebuke of Critical Race Theory in education. Their message remains clear: schools must be free of indoctrination and activism. Yet, the Civics Secures Democracy Act would supercharge politicized education around the country, at precisely the moment when the public has rejected it.

Read the whole letter, and consider signing it, at the Civics Alliance website.

Civics Alliance State Affiliates

The Civics Alliance would like to build up a network of state affiliates—groups dedicated to removing action civics in their state, whom we would list on our forthcoming website. If you would like to form such an organization, or suggest an existing organization, please get in touch with David Randall ([email protected]).

Continuing Priorities: Federal Legislation

At the federal level, the Civics Secures Democracy Act threatens to impose action civics nationwide.

The Civics Bill Tracker

Civics Alliance members may now use the Civics Bill Tracker to track all proposed federal and state legislation related to civics.

Public Action

We encourage Civics Alliance members to inform the public and policymakers about the stakes and consequences of action civics bills.


John Sailer is a Research Associate at the National Association of Scholars and serves as Keeping the Republic Project Lead.

Image: Bob Collowan, Wikimedia Commons, Public Domain

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