Several educators, community organizers, and students spoke in support of making Ethnic Studies a part of the high school curriculum during the San Bernardino City Unified School District board meeting on October 20.
Ethnic Studies is the interdisciplinary course of study that covers subject material pertinent to Asian-American, African-American, and Chicano/Latino issues to name a few. Supporters say the educational initiative will help spur not only cultural awareness, but also help students organize in their community around the issues of race and gender.
“We are not being taught at our schools about what it means to be an American,” said League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC) of the Inland Empire president George Aguilar. “We need to teach our children about all the different ethnic groups that have made this nation great.”
The board last Tuesday approved an agreement with Cal State Los Angeles History and Latin american studies professor Enrique C. Ochoa to develop curriculum for teachers, administrators and students for a class on “Race, Class, and Gender in the U.S.” at San Bernardino High School. Superintendent Dr. Dale Marsden informed the audience that the district has the intention of providing students with the opportunity to learn about local ethnic history.
“We have begun pilot efforts at Cajon High School in Ethnic Studies. We are grateful that we are moving in this direction,” Marsden said. “I encourage our guests to continue to reach out to us.”
Board member Barbara Flores proposed to the board that they place an item on the next meeting’s agenda as a resolution to help them implement Ethnic Studies curriculum district wide.
“I propose we look at the resolutions from Montebello and El Rancho, analyze it, and do the right thing and pass it,” said Flores.
The meeting took place just eleven days after Gov. Jerry Brown vetoed state legislation that would have developed a model ethnic studies curriculum for optional use across the state.
Assemblywoman Melissa Melendez (R-Lake Elsinore) and senators Mike Morrell (R-Rancho Cucamonga) and Jeff Stone (R-Temecula) were among the lawmakers who voted against it.
“I’m a strong advocate of local control and don’t believe Sacramento should be dictating what school districts teach,” Morrell said in a statement on September 11. “Ethnic studies classes are already offered at schools throughout the state. It’s a decision best left in their hands.”
The Coalition for Ethnic Studies in the Inland Empire–comprised of community organizers from the Colton-based Chicano Indigenous Community for Culturally Conscious Advocacy and Action (Ch.I.C.C.C.A.A.), LULAC members, and local college professors–first began to meet in August at the urging of El Rancho Unified School District board member Jose Lara. Lara expressed to IECN in July that the biggest challenge the Inland Empire could face during its Ethnic Studies campaign is the conservative political base that exists in the region.
“The most successful areas where Ethnic Studies has been accepted are democratic and diverse,” explained Lara. “The arguments that conservatives make about Ethnic Studies being reverse racism, being teachings of hate, of radicalism, and separatism will be difficult to overcome in San Bernardino and Riverside.”
Lara expressed his belief that the success of the campaign would come down to the dedication of board members, lawmakers, teacher’s unions, and instructors.
San Bernardino Valley College student and Ch.I.C.C.C.A.A. organizer Jason Martinez said Ethnic Studies courses have provided with the insight about indigenous culture and believes the curriculum can help students stay out of trouble.
“I as a student, as well as students from San Bernardino want to learn about their own culture,” he said. “How can we stop ourselves from getting into gang violence or in trouble? Ethnic Studies isn’t just an educational. I see it as a school to prison pipeline issue. We don’t want kids to end up in prison; we want them in our community helping the elderly and our city boards.”