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'Herstory' is out as California revamps K-12 ethnic studies course guide

Nina Agrawal and Howard Blume, Los Angeles Times on

Published in News & Features

The model curriculum is meant to serve as a guideline rather than a mandate for schools that choose to offer ethnic studies classes. In California, as nationwide, these courses are increasing in number, with grade-school enrollment nearly doubling from 8,678 in 2013-14 to 17,354 in 2016-17, according to the state Department of Education.

There appears to be broad legislative support for making ethnic studies a high school graduation requirement. Some school systems already have taken that step.

Supporters of the original curriculum include 25,000 people who have signed a "Defend Ethnic Studies" petition, ethnic studies faculty from the California State University and University of California, and many Jewish groups.

R. Tolteka Cuauhtin, a Los Angeles teacher and co-chair of the advisory committee that created the original draft curriculum, said ethnic studies courses can be responsive to all students in a class and integrate other ethnic groups "without de-centering communities of color."

Cuauhtin said ethnic studies terminology should remain in the curriculum. "Students of color need to also be respected as young intellectuals and given access to academic concepts and disciplinary language," he said. "Every academic field has its own language, and yes, so does ethnic studies -- let's uplift that and ensure it's accessible, not erase it."

"Herstory," for example, is a term used to describe history written from a feminist or women's perspective. The term is also deployed when referring to counter-narratives within history.

Assemblyman Jose Medina, the author of the bill that would mandate ethnic studies, is optimistic about how the final product will turn out.


"The model curriculum is still a draft and in the early stages of the input process," said Medina (D-Riverside). "I trust this process and believe we will end up with a strong ethnic studies framework that will provide a solid structure for educators to build off as they bring ethnic studies to life in their classrooms."

In a related development, last month the Cal State Board of Trustees revised its general education curriculum for the first time in 40 years to create an ethnic studies and social justice requirement of all undergraduate students.

Ethnic studies faculty and some trustees criticized the requirement as being too broad and diluting the mission of ethnic studies, advocating instead for a narrower requirement proposed in a bill that is currently making its way to Gov. Gavin Newsom's desk.

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