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Opinion

Letters to the Editor: Critics pounce on the state’s draft ethnic studies curriculum

Ethnic studies
Anti-racism signs are seen around a classroom as students work on assignments during an ethnic studies class at John O’Connell High School in San Francisco in January 2018.
(Josh Edelson / For The Times )

To the editor: A course in ethnic studies has come a long way since I took one at Fairfax High School in the late 1970s. At that time, the teacher asked those who were Jewish to bring bagels, those who were Hispanic to bring tortillas, and so on.

As a history teacher, I find the need to consider the different voices and cultures of those who make up the rich history of the United States vital. However, the proposed curriculum, with its blatant one-sidedness on the topic of the Middle East, is dangerous and robs students of the opportunity to understand history and to consider a variety of sources to reach their own conclusions.

The willingness of the architects of this curriculum to push their own agenda is irresponsible and fosters the environment of hatred and intolerance that is all too prevalent in today’s America.

Rachelle E. Friedman, Ph.D., Los Angeles

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To the editor: We could teach ethnic studies without using a concocted and biased vocabulary.

William Pierotti, San Luis Obispo

To the editor: Regarding the proposed state mandate for ethnic studies, Linda Darling-Hammond, president of the State Board of Education, writes, “We will not accept a curriculum that fails to address difficult issues in a way that promotes open-mindedness and independent thought.” How can these happen when the proposed program simply exchanges one viewpoint with another?

The Palestinians’ plight and Arab contribution need exposure, but not including Jewish contributions and victimization is hardly open-minded. Will Native American poverty exclude discussion of white poverty? Does discussion of victimized professional black women replace talk of bias against white male applicants at universities?

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The program’s jargon also does not do much for independent thought. Where’s terminology for groups that are both victims and victimizers? Is the past only “herstory” or “history,” never a narrative shaped more by patriotism than gender? The program defines capitalism as a “commodifier” but is it not also a stimulus for invention? The ethnic studies program appears to have evolved from specific groups’ self-interests, not out of a sincere desire to promote tolerance and critical thinking.

Gary Hoffman, Huntington Beach

To the editor: The most powerful fact reported in your article was its third sentence, on an immigrant from El Salvador: “When he reached the American side, he fell to his knees and gave thanks.”

Perhaps a course which included criticism of economic and political systems should examine why that was so. Perhaps he should teach it.

Peter Jones, Dana Point

To the editor: While I fully endorse the importance of including ethnic studies in educational settings, I am very concerned about two particular aspects of this curriculum: the ideology of victimization and the invisibility of the Jewish experience in America.

While the issues of power and inequality should be explored, this document leans more toward an ideological rather than educational point of view and does not fulfill what I consider some of the most important aspects of education: providing information for debate, exploration of agreement and differences, and rigorous conversation.

It is stunning that anti-Semitism is not noted anywhere in the glossary or curriculum. I am part of a Muslim-Jewish dialogue group. Discussing what each member has learned, several Muslim members commented that they always thought of Jews as a majority culture and hadn’t realized how much we had in common as minorities. They didn’t know about the restrictive housing covenants, exclusion from universities, hotels, private clubs and harassment that were prevalent in this country. It gave them increased understanding of antisemitism. How is it possible that this is not a part of the curriculum?

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This is a draft curriculum but I hope there will be serious discussion and revision. I want my children and grandchildren be trained to not only understand the challenging issues of ethnic identity but to learn the tools for civil discourse in ethnically, racially and religiously diverse settings rather than being compelled to sit through a course pushing ideology as a replacement for serious learning.

Sally Weber, Encino

To the editor: The draft curriculum seeks to teach critical thinking. Facts about different ethnic groups and women will enrich students’ knowledge and correct lapses of previous educational standards. But I am concerned that some information is presented in an ideological rather than objective manner.

For example, the draft states that “scholars are often very critical of the system of capitalism as research has shown that Native people and people of color are disproportionately exploited within the system.” Growing up a Jewish woman in the Soviet Union I can attest that minorities did not fare better under socialism. A one-sided criticism of any political system will not foster independent, critical analysis.

Ideologically mandated interpretations skew facts and produce unthinking and disengaged citizens. Students deserve to be taught to interpret facts from different viewpoints in a vocabulary free of ideology so they can learn to think for themselves and separate facts from propaganda. In the Soviet Union propaganda replaced public comment. I appreciate the difference.

Elena Muravina, Los Angeles


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