By Albert Lin
A school district in Greater Los Angeles has adopted a measure that will require students to pass an ethnic-studies course in order to graduate.
El Rancho Unified School District officials believe that such coursework will help bridge differences between students and teach them more about their heritage and the heritage of others.
“When students learn about themselves, their history, it gives them self-worth and self-esteem and they do better in school,” Jose Lara, Vice President of the El Rancho Board of Education, told the Los Angeles Times.
The new curriculum will “expose our students to global perspectives and inclusion of diversity,” Lara told the Whittier Daily News. “We feel that this resolution follows in the footsteps many universities that also require similar courses for graduation and better prepares our children for success after high school.”
The requirement will be in place for the 2015–2016 school year. The district will spend the upcoming school year creating a curriculum and deciding on the best way to implement the courses. The district, which is located in Pico Rivera, 12 miles southeast of Los Angeles, is almost entirely Latino—98 percent of its 9,400 students—but courses will touch on other cultures as well. For example, Lara suggested an art class on Mexican art or an English class focused on African-American literature.
“If we do this right, we will put a [curriculum] together where students will be presented with an array of cultures and how each one interacts with one another,” Superintendent Martin Galindo said. “They will learn about the interrelationships between different cultures. They don’t exist by themselves.”
El Rancho puts itself ahead of the curve, as a bill has been passed by the California State Assembly that would require the state Department of Education to form a task force to study how to implement an ethnic-studies curriculum in all high schools statewide. That bill is now before the State Senate.
Requirements such as these are not without controversy.
Tucson, Ariz., was forced to end its Mexican-American studies program in 2011 when classes that promote the overthrow of the United States government; that promote resentment toward a race; and that promote ethnic solidarity rather than individuality, were banned by the state. An effort was made to revive the program last summer, but it’s unclear if it was successful. One report said that the program was being held at a local college rather than in public high schools.
A brief write-up on the El Rancho resolution for National Review Online, the website of the conservative magazine, is headlined “Calif. School District Decides Learning About Diversity Is More Important Than Learning Geography.” This references the district’s decision to remove a geography requirement in order to accommodate the ethnic-studies requirement.