Funk: Why offering ethnic studies in public schools is critical to our future
A view of San Jose from the East/Evergreen side of the city. Photo by Kyle Martin.

California public schools serve approximately 1.7 million students of whom more than 70% are students of color and speak 90 languages. In East Side Union High School District (ESUHSD), 93% of our student population are students of color and speak 40 plus languages. California is expected to become even more diverse in the coming years.

When you review history textbooks available in California and across this nation, the large textbook vendors continue to produce textbooks with a Eurocentric point of view. Our students of color are represented as slaves, oppressed, uneducated, illiterate and taking jobs away from American citizens.

Today’s rhetoric from the White House includes telling four congresswomen who are United States citizens and three who were born in the United States to “go back where they came from.” Immigrants across the United States and, specifically, here in Santa Clara County are fearful of ICE raids, attending school and certainly registering to vote. Instead of being a melting pot of diversity, this president is seeking to have the United States regress back to the 50’s where white homogeneity was the dominant culture.

We must protect our students of color and provide a plethora of opportunities for them to see themselves in a positive light within our curriculum. Ethnic studies is a specific strategy to target positive examples of activities and highlight role models of current and past contributions to our society whom happen to be persons of color.

In 2016, Gov. Jerry Brown signed Assembly Bill 2016, which is set to create the first statewide model curriculum on ethnic studies and make California the first state in the nation to standardize this type of course.

Assemblyman Jose Medina has introduced AB 2772, which would require public high schools and charter schools to offer a course in ethnic studies beginning in the 2021-22 school year. It would also add a course in ethnic studies to high school graduation requirements in social studies commencing with the 2023-24 school year.

At our end of year board meeting in June, the ESUHSD Board of Trustees passed Resolution #2018/2019-27 In Support of AB331 Ethnic Studies. For over ten years, ESUHSD has offered students an A-G approved ethnic studies course. This school year, we will be considering the inclusion of ethnic studies as an ESUHSD graduation requirement, regardless of the outcome to AB 2772 because it is the right thing to do.

Incorporating ethnic studies courses into standard high school curriculum is a means to accomplish providing positive attributes and role models for students of color. Ethnic studies promotes respect and understanding among races, supports student success and teaches critical thinking skills.

In 2010, the National Education Association (NEA) published “The Academic and Social Value of Ethnic Studies,” which reported a positive impact in students of color. Results showed that ethnic studies benefited students in observable ways: students became more academically engaged, did better on achievement tests, in some cases graduated at higher rates and developed a sense of self-efficacy and personal empowerment.

East Side Union High School District is committed to providing excellent educational opportunities to all of our students, without regard to race, gender, ethnicity, national origin, income, sexual orientation or disability, and is guided by the core values of equity, inclusiveness and universally high expectations.

As a high school district, we have led the state in the creation and implementation of an ethnic studies class. We recognize the need and importance for culturally relevant training and ongoing professional development of ethnic studies to educators, administrators, teachers and staff.

We believe that providing extensive types of ethnic studies courses that students can take throughout their high school career will help close the achievement gap by reducing student truancy and dropout rates, increasing student enrollment and better preparing our youth to be college prepared and career ready.

If we cannot depend on the Federal Department of Education under the leadership of Betsy DeVos nor on the leadership of the president of the United States to provide support that recognizes our diversity as a strength which built this amazing country, then we need to provide that leadership and provide the opportunity to have our students see themselves as valued members of our community, our state and our country.

San José Spotlight columnist Chris Funk is the superintendent of the East Side Union High School District. His columns appear every third Monday of the month. Contact Chris at funkc@esuhsd.org or follow @chrisfunksupt on Twitter.

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