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Jewish Advocacy Groups Express Concern Over Californian Critical Theory Ethnic Studies Curriculum

Based in Sacramento, California, West Campus High School will be one of the many public high schools to implement the new Californian ethnic studies model curriculum voted on by the Californian State Board of Education. Screenshot taken from YouTube.

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Becoming the first statewide ethnic studies curriculum for high schools in the nation, the fourth draft of the “Ethnic Studies Model Curriculum” (ESMC) passed in a unanimous 11-0 vote by the Californian State Board of Education on Thursday after three years of contentious discussion.

The development received mixed reactions from multiple Jewish organizations. Some welcomed the changes while others continue to express deep concerns regarding political motivations behind the content.

Satisfied with improvements regarding anti-Semitic material found in prior drafts, the American Jewish Committee stated, “Revisions of curriculum were a salve but ultimately not curative of the fundamental flaws at the heart of the original curriculum, much of which represented a rigid ideological (but sharply contested) world view.”

Labeled as the “#1 concern of the ESMC” in written letters from the public to the California Department of Education, Critical Race Theory is reflected throughout the model curriculum, a concern seemingly disregarded by the department.

“Critical Ethnic Studies, one approach to teaching the subject, is political indoctrination that has traditionally been limited to higher education. Based on Marxist and Critical Race Theories, CES views history and society through a racial lens, connecting educational institutions to the revolutionary overthrow of systems. As such, it highlights militant movements and violent role models to encourage students to “radically transform” or “destroy” neo-colonial systems of oppression,” writes The Orange County Register.

With the public advocating for a constructive ethnic studies approach to the model curriculum, the CDE worked to actively ignore all opposition to critical theory. “Tellingly, the primary example of a constructive ethnic studies curriculum, that of the Los Angeles Unified School District, has been specifically removed from the chapter that lists recommendations. By contrast, the remaining courses focus on ‘mastery of the concepts/constructs of colonization, hegemony, forms of oppression…,'” The Orange County Register continued.

Following the 2016 state law mandating the implementation of such a curriculum, preceding drafts were decried by Jewish organizations for antisemitic and anti-Israel material with references to the boycott campaign against The Jewish state and a lack of material on Jewish communities and antisemitism.

Although concerned about the finer details, the Simon Wiesenthal Center and the Jews Indigenous to the Middle East and North Africa (JIMENA) are largely satisfied with changes made which eliminate antisemitic and anti-Israeli content.

“While we remain concerned regarding some of the finer details of the curriculum, the consensus in the Jewish community is that the curriculum addresses the most critical concerns raised by our community,” the Simon Wiesenthal Center wrote.

Including a lesson plan developed by JIMENA into the model curriculum, the organization’s executive director Sarah Levin, labeled the move “the first-ever lesson on Sephardic Jewish Americans to be adopted in a US public high school system,” The Algemeiner writes.

“In California, JIMENA will continue to work with the Jewish community and our Middle Eastern partners to address the flaws in the model curriculum that was adopted and to ensure that voices of all minority groups — including Middle Eastern and North African Jews — are equally represented in Ethnic Studies frameworks,” Levin stated.

However the Jewish-American campus and watchdog group, the AMCHA Initiative pushed back against the decision and labeled the upcoming debate over a requirement of the curriculum in high schools a “crucial” one.

“While on the surface, the curriculum approved by the state appears improved over the rejected first draft, it remains firmly rooted in the principles of Critical Ethnic Studies, which unlike the broader field of ethnic studies, has a politically- and activist-driven mission that will incite hate and division and is dangerous for all high school students,” said Rossman-Benjamin in a statement. “At a time when anti-Jewish sentiment, hostility and violence has reached truly alarming levels, indoctrinating students to view Jews as ‘white’ and ‘racially privileged’ is tantamount to putting an even larger target on the back of every Jewish student.”

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