Why Is Ethnic Studies Important to California: Persuasive Essay

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Ethnic studies is the inclusive study of variation in race, ethnicity, nationality, sexuality, and gender. Ethnic studies aim to confront existing curricula and concentrate on the past various minority ethnicities in the United States; it is formulated to modify the stories, conflicts, and achievements of colored people taught in existing classes. Ethnic studies departments were originally organized on college campuses around the country and developed to involve African-American studies, Asian American studies, Raza studies, Chicano studies, Mexican-American studies, and Native American studies, as well as Jewish-American studies and Italian-American studies. Institutions that do not offer diverse courses or programs where students can learn about their countries or cultures of origin should find ways to build these opportunities into the curriculum. As diversity increases throughout the country, higher education will play a key role in building the diverse democracy of the twenty-first century. Colleges and universities should encourage students to engage intelligently with ethnic identity so they can best contribute to our shared world. California should brace its students to thrive in diverse university situations and employment in a global economy, therefore, it must present its students with the wisdom of diverse groups of people in America.

Making ethnic studies an integral part of high school makes sense in California as our state is home to the nation's largest and most diverse student population. Given California’s growing diversity, it is especially important that students learn about the various racial and ethnic groups in our state and their shared American identity. In doing so, students gain a better understanding of other cultures while learning respect and tolerance. Additionally, ethnic studies courses allow students to learn about their respective cultures in the context of California’s rich history, while also helping them understand that they can change their communities in positive ways.

Having access to ethnic studies could increase student engagement in their schools and therefore improve their academic outcomes. The National Education Association found that there is considerable research evidence that well-designed and well-taught ethnic studies curricula have positive academic and social outcomes for students. A 2016 study by researchers at Stanford University showed that ethnic studies courses helped high school students increase their educational outcomes, attendance, and credits earned. Researchers found that students’ GPAs improved by 1.4 grade points, attendance rose by 21 percentage points, and class credits earned increased by 23.

In the past decade, the growth has accelerated in K-12 schools, partly in response to an Arizona law that banned the curriculum. Republican lawmakers in Arizona were specifically targeting a Mexican-American studies program at Tucson High School, where minority enrollment is 87 percent. The Republicans who wrote the legislation, Tom Horne and John Huppenthal, claimed the classes were stoking racial tensions and 'radicalizing students'. But the teachers of Mexican-American studies classes at Tucson High, Huppenthal says, were 'indoctrinating students'. In 2010, Horne and Huppenthal passed HB 2281, prohibiting classes and materials that promote the overthrow of the U.S. government and resentment toward a race, class, people, or ethnic solidarity. As Huppenthal says, they were doing a very simplistic application of Karl Marx's dictum: “All of history is the struggle between the 'oppressor' and the 'oppressed'”. And they were going to identify whites as the oppressors and Hispanics as the oppressed.

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House Bill 2845, sponsored by Rep. Diego Hernandez and signed by Gov. Kate Brown, directs the Oregon Department of Education to convene advisory groups to develop ethnic studies standards into existing statewide social studies standards. The bill would require the department to select 14 individuals, each from a diverse background, who will advise the state on where it fails to recognize the histories, contributions, and perspectives of ethnic minorities and social minorities by June 15, 2018. Ethnic studies standards will be adopted by 2020, with implementation in schools set for 2021. The bill would focus on racial and ethnic minorities, as well as Jewish and LGBTQ communities, different genders, and people with disabilities. The new law makes Oregon the only U.S. state to have ethnic studies for K-12, although a few other states have laws in the works.

Washington has a bill to create and update ethnic studies curriculum for 7th-12th grade students, and the NAACP is urging Seattle to add ethnic studies curriculum to public schools.

In 2014, Cal State L.A. faculty voted to require two diversity-related courses, including at least one that focuses on race and ethnicity. In 2016, California passed a law that would create opportunities for all high school students to have ethnic studies curriculum by 2019. By the 2017-18 school year, every L.A. Unified high school must offer at least one semester of ethnic studies. The graduation requirement takes effect in the 2018-19 school year. The effort was largely driven by students who wrote letters, led petition drives that gathered thousands of signatures, and met with educators and elected officials to build support.

About 19 L.A. Unified schools offer 27 ethnic studies courses, but students have little incentive to enroll because fewer than half are approved for credit toward enrollment in the University of California. In L.A. Unified, 74% of students are Latino and nearly 10% are African American.

If California is serious about preparing its students to succeed in diverse university and workforce environments and for jobs in a global economy, it must provide its students with the knowledge of the diverse people who make up our great state and the rest of our world. Ethnic studies play a crucial role, and all students need it to unlearn watered-down versions of historical events and learn America’s inconvenient and necessary truths. “The way that we teach our history and culture… the way that we exclude and minimize certain groups and their experiences while privileging others, feeds prejudice and negative stereotypes”, said Charles. She insists that ethnic studies classes, as well as rethinking traditional courses to be more accurate and inclusive, are the path to countering centuries of misinformation — what W.E.B. DuBois critiqued.

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