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Advocates demand the inclusion of Arab, Palestinian studies in K-12 curriculum

Advocates demand the inclusion of Arab, Palestinian studies in K-12 curriculum

After revisions to the Ethnic Studies Model Curriculum (ESMC) for K-12 Californian students omitted the inclusion of Arab-American Studies, Ethnic Studies educators and advocates are demanding that the proposed curriculum be restored to its original form.  

AB-2016—a law that was signed by then Gov. Jerry Brown—developed a model curriculum for Ethnic Studies for K-12 school districts that chose to adopt a lesson plan. To ensure an authentic Ethnic Studies education, the ESMC advisory committee created and developed the first version of the ESMC, submitted to the California Department Education Instructional Quality Commission (IQC) for revision. 

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The IQC however, made several revisions that the ESMC advisory committee felt were inauthentic to the proposed model curriculum. Specifically, these revisions omitted the inclusion of Arab-American Studies under the Asian-American Studies subject, and included terminology changes and contradictory language, according to Theresa Montaño, who was on the ESMC advisory committee that created the first draft of the curriculum. 

“I am outraged that in this process to develop a curriculum that really should have been about our voices at the center, a curriculum that really should have been about completely abolishing white supremacy, a curriculum that should have been about our liberation, has now become watered-down,” said Allyson Tintiangco-Cubales, co-chair of the ESMC advisory board and long-time educator at SF State. 

To highlight the problems with these revisions, the advisory committee launched the Save Arab American Studies Coalition to protest the third edited version of the ESMC, as it does not accurately reflect the values, pedagogies, and principles of Ethnic Studies, especially concerning Arab-American Studies. 

On Feb. 2, the Coalition hosted a webinar on “The Fight for Ethnic Studies in California,” including keynote speaker Angela Davis. Highlighting the importance of preserving an authentic Ethnic Studies education and its impact on Black, Indigenous, and people of color (BIPOC), the webinar featured Ethnic Studies educators Nadine Naber, Andrew Jolivette, Jeff Duncan-Andrade, Russell Jeung, Theresa Montaño, Allyson Tintiangco-Cubales and Jason Ferreira. 

All of the speakers on the panel denounced the change to the curriculum, especially the exclusion of Palestinian Studies. This exclusion is based on some public comments made against the ratification of Ethnic Studies curriculum with Arab-American Studies and Palestinian studies included. 

Those who oppose the inclusion of Palestinian Studies in the ESMC have labeled any inclusion of Palestine as anti-Semitic because of Israel’s and Palestine’s conflicting claims to land and nationhood. Due to these conflicting claims, some feel that the inclusion of Palestine would erase Jewish histories, legacies and struggles, reenforcing anti-Semitism. 

Palestinian community members protest in front of the Israeli Consulate in San Francisco on July 7, 2014. Photo: El Tecolote Archives/Ramsey El-Qare

However, a statement put out by the Jews for the Inclusion of Arab-American Studies in Ethnic Studies said that they “strongly oppose attempts by those in the Jewish community, including Jewish legislators, to falsely charge antisemitism and anti-Jewish bias in order to block the inclusion of Arab-American studies including information on Palestine. Our understanding of the importance of including Arab-American studies is strengthened by our own experiences with antisemitism….” 

Other Jewish organizations, such as the Jewish Voice for Peace, have also expressed their solidarity with Ethnic Studies educators.  

By providing a culturally relevant education that connects to student’s experiences, Ethnic Studies spotlight BIPOC histories and communal accomplishments, histories, struggles. And advocates say that the cuts made to the latest version of the Ethnic Studies Curriculum, specifically to Arab Studies, threatens the very basis of Ethnic Studies, omitting the histories, diaspora and present realities of Arab peoples.

“I am outraged that in this process to develop a curriculum that really should have been about our voices at the center, a curriculum that really should have been about completely abolishing white supremacy, a curriculum that should have been about our liberation, has now become watered-down.”

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Allyson Tintiangco-Cubales

“Today’s fight to maintain the integrity of California’s Ethnic Studies Model Curriculum is the next phase of the fight to defend Ethnic Studies, particularly against objections to the inclusion of content about Palestinian-Americans in the Arab-American studies portion of the curriculum,” said acclaimed academic and educator Angela Davis. “The field of Ethnic Studies is not complete without the inclusion of content related to Palestine, Palestinians, and Palestinian-Americans.”

All speakers pointed to the importance of culturally relevant and inclusive education as it is central to Ethnic Studies. Ethnic Studies teaches students with marginalized identities that their communities’ transnational histories are beautiful, resilient and important part of their everyday lives.

“There’s nothing in the work of Ethnic Studies that is about the exclusion of others,” Duncan-Andrade said during the webinar. “It is a choice to prioritize those that have been deprioritized, because if you don’t, you won’t… If we don’t intentionally say that we are going to prioritize those that we have pushed to the margins from the very onset of this nation-state, then we won’t…Ethnic Studies makes it a priority, because when the most vulnerable are well, we can all be well.” 

Through education on different social movements and fights for liberation throughout time, students learn from the radical and powerful histories of BIPOC fostering a curriculum that serves all students equally. Ethnic Studies and its transforming legacy must be represented authentically rather than changed against Ethnic Studies educators advisory. 

The fourth draft of the ESMC by the California Department of Education stands to be submitted by March, and the Save Arab American Studies Coalition in partner with the original ESMC advisory boards have sent a letter rejecting this changed curriculum, demanding for an authentic Ethnic Studies education. 

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