Call to Action: Ethnic Studies Model Curriculum

In August 2019, California Department of Education released the first draft of an Ethnic Studies Model Curriculum, which was roundly condemned by Jewish organizations. Californians submitted thousands of public comments, and a new draft was put in the works. On August 3, 2020, the CDE released that draft. Numerous changes were made, but there are lingering concerns. We need YOUR help in submitting public comment to ensure these concerns are addressed properly. 

From our partners, JIMENA:

  1. Please keep the tone positive as the California Department of Education is working extremely hard to create a high-quality curriculum.
  2. Select as many talking points below and copy and paste them into an email. Email ethnicstudies@cde.ca.gov and info@jimena.org with the subject line – Include Antisemitism and the Middle Eastern-American Experience.

Talking Points Related to Antisemitism

  • 2018 California Hate Crime Statistics noted that Anti-Jewish events increased by over twenty percent while Anti-Muslim bias events decreased by more than forty percent. As a Jewish person who has experienced/witnessed religiously motivated hate, I believe our students deserve to learn about both Islamophobia and Antisemitism in an ethnic studies framework.
  • When the primary reference of Jews in the revised Ethnic Studies curriculum is in the context of our communities being the beneficiaries of white privilege – my Middle Eastern Jewish community, which is comprised of multiple immigrants and people of color, is completely erased. I fear this unit will contribute to the dangerous antisemitic trope that, “Jews Have Too Much Power.” Furthermore, this reference ignores the experiences of European Jews who continue to be personally impacted by violent white-supremacy, genocide, and acts of antisemitism.
  • At a time when there is great need to provide our students with high-quality educational content related to bigotry, it is essential to incorporate adequate instructional material on antisemitism – not just simplistic references to it.

Direct Asks

  • All references to Middle Eastern people in the curriculum should include, specifically name, and teach on the diverse groups of Mizrahi Jews, Coptic Christians, Kurds, Iranians, Assyrians, and other minority groups from the region who together represent 60% of California’s Middle Eastern population and have asked for inclusion. In order for the curriculum to avoid an essentialist understanding of Arabs and the Middle East, and in order to be well balanced, each group should be equally and equitably represented in the Ethnic Studies Curriculum. All units and lesson plans referencing any Middle Eastern group should be titled either “Middle Eastern-Americans” or “Southwest Asians and North African – Americans.”
  • I would like to see the next draft of the curriculum include the lesson plan, “Antisemitism and Middle Eastern-American Jews” produced by the organization, JIMENA: Jews Indigenous to the Middle East and North Africa, as it will provide students with high-quality instruction on contemporary issues of antisemitism, bigotry, and the Middle Eastern-American Jewish experience.
  • The ESMC should make clear that under the “broadly defined umbrella of Asian Studies” are Mizrahi Jews and other Middle Eastern and North African (MENA) groups which represent ~60% of CA’s MENA population. California Department of Education’s Chapter 3 agrees: appropriate topics in the Asian section of Ethnic Studies courses are “the unique experiences of Arabs and other Middle Easterners.”   

PZC’s suggested talking points:

  • I encourage you to incorporate more robust instructional material on antisemitism. Some standout suggestions are Eric K. WardYad Vashem: The World Holocaust Remembrance Alliance, JIMENA, and the ADL are all credible resources to address these shortcomings in any revisions.
  • By primarily referring to Arabs in the MENA countries, it mirrors the problems that minority communities face in the region, which was once one of the most diverse in the world, but is quickly becoming more homogeneous–a phenomenon that ethnic studies frameworks generally seek to explain, not hasten. And California Department of Education’s Chapter 3 agrees: appropriate topics in the Asian section of Ethnic Studies courses are “the unique experiences of Arabs and other Middle Easterners.”   
  • I have concerns about how Jewish Americans are portrayed. The second draft includes language that compares Jewish assimilation to Irish assimilation in America in a way that implies antisemitism can be solved through the acquisition of whiteness, erasing the existence of California’s sizable Sephardic and Mizrahi Jewish populations. 
  • I have concerns about how Jewish Americans are portrayed in the second draft. The failure to understand Jewish history and culture in an intersectional framework has resulted in a draft that erases the existence of Jews of Color, ignores the history of Mizrahi and Sephardi Jews, and emphasizes Jewish acquisition of white privilege instead of substantively addressing modern Jew-hatred.