Earlier this month, Governor Gavin Newsom signed Law 101 of the Assembly. This makes California the first state in the nation to add ethnic studies to its list of required high school courses. Despite the unanimous support of the California Jewish Caucus legislature, the bill rocked some Jewish community groups who feared it would open the door to one-sided criticism of Israel in the classroom.
The Jewish faction shared these concerns, and apparently Newsom too.
The governor – who vetoed a similar bill last year – signed a statement pointed out a number of “guard rails” inserted at various stages of the amendment procedure, which he said “ensure that” [ethnic studies] The courses will be free of bias or bigotry and suitable for all students. ”
The changes were important in cementing (or at least mitigating) the support of the Jewish community for the law. Both the SF-based Jewish Community Relations Council and members of the California Legislative Jewish Caucus cited them as keys to their endorsement. The Jewish Public Affairs Committee of California, whose board of directors includes representatives from many of the state’s largest Jewish nonprofits, including the Jewish Federations in San Francisco and Los Angeles, celebrated the guard rails in a long statement.
But what are they? How do they work?
The guard rails change the Ethnic Studies Act, which itself changes the extensive law governing the operation of public schools and state universities in California known as the California Education Code. Local school authorities are responsible for compliance with the code. If they don’t, they could be at risk for lawsuits.
The first three guard rails have been proposed last year by members of the caucus including Senator Ben Allen of Santa Monica, then chairman, and West San Fernando Valley MP Jesse Gabriel, then vice chairman (Gabriel is now chairman). They weren’t made of whole stuff; they have been adapted from existing provisions of the Ed. Code.
Rep. Jesse Gabriel, chairman of the state’s Jewish caucus, reads a book that the caucus distributed to other lawmakers on Holocaust Remembrance Day, April 8, 2021. (Photo / courtesy California Jewish Caucus)
They indicate that each degree in ethnic studies in order to meet the new requirement:
1) Be “suitable for use” with students “of all races, religions, nationalities, genders, sexual orientations, and diverse ethnic and cultural backgrounds”;
2) within a protected group “do not reflect or promote, directly or indirectly, bias, bigotry or discrimination against any person or group of persons”; and
3) “Do not teach or promote religious teaching.”
According to Gabriel, the second clause is the most momentous for concerns raised by Jewish groups.
The reason Jewish organizations were primarily outraged by ethnic studies was one first draft of a state-ordered model curriculum Ethnic Studies criticism of Israel included not dealing meaningfully with anti-Semitism and not mentioning Jews. She presented the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement in a positive light, calling it a protest movement aimed at liberating Palestinians living under “apartheid” conditions, comparing it to the climate justice movement and #MeToo. It also referred to the creation of Israel as “Nakba”.
Although the curriculum has been revised, schools don’t have to apply it and there are still some activists – including those who wrote the first draft of the ESMC – apply their own vision for ethnic studies directly in school Districts.
The “direct or indirect” clause was added there to defend not only against openly biased material in folklore classes, but also material that could be viewed as biased, such as teaching uncritically BDS, Gabriel said.
“There is a strong argument that BDS, at least indirectly, promotes prejudice against Israelis,” he said, or “indirectly promotes prejudice against Jews.”
“We didn’t want there to be any questions,” he said.
The fourth guard rail directly names the controversial first draft of the Ethnic Studies Model curriculum. It was introduced that year with the assistance of Chairman Anthony Portantino on the Senate Advisory Committee.
The guardrail states: “It is the legislature’s intention” that school districts “do not use those parts of the draft curriculum that were not approved by the Teaching Quality Commission due to concerns about bias, bigotry and discrimination”.
The clause does not specify which parts were cut off due to bias. In March, the Department of Education released data showing that of the approximately 80,000 public comments it has received since 2019 on the Model Curriculum for Ethnic Studies, more than 38,000 were categorized as “Comments on Jewish Americans and / or Anti-Semitism.” The second most common was “Comments about Armenian Americans,” which were received over 9,000 times.
The fifth guard rail requires transparency from school districts that adopt their own curricula for ethnic studies. It states that if a school district chooses to do this it must first hold at least two public meetings and allow members of the public to interfere.
The guardrail states that any locally developed ethnic course “must first be presented at a public school district board meeting” and not be approved until the public has “had an opportunity to express their views on the proposed course.” . ”
This particular change will not affect school districts that already teach ethnic studies, including San Francisco, Oakland, San Mateo, and many others. However, the other four guard rails apply to all courses in ethnic studies, including those developed prior to the draft mandate.
Some AB 101 opponents have criticized the guard rails as weak or inadequate to block biased content in California’s more than 1,300 public high schools.
Tammi Rossman-Benjamin, a sharp opponent of the ethnic studies that directs the Santa Cruz-based Amcha Initiative, called the guard rails “pure optics,” which “have no weight when it comes to preventing school districts from doing so,” anti-Israeli Teaching content.
Others, like Elina Kaplan of the Alliance for Constructive Ethnic Studies, which is also against AB 101, called them “tools”. The guardrails, she said, “are only as good as the guards.”
For Gabriel, the guardrails are not intended to promote lawsuits, they are intended to avoid them.
“We wanted to be crystal clear and not leave any ambiguity about the fact that the legislature is here. That’s what the law says, ”he said. “My hope is that the guard rails will be so clear that any school board or teacher will look at them and say, ‘We don’t want to approach this problematic curriculum.'”
Comments are closed.