Over the last four years, one of the nation’s most progressive states has embarked on a journey to institute a radical and divisive paradigm of ethnic studies through both legislative and administrative means. On March 18, 2021, the California Department of Education adopted a model curriculum for ethnic studies, intended to guide local school districts and also serve as a national blueprint. On October 10, Governor Newsom signed AB101 into law, making ethnic studies a high school graduation requirement starting with the class of 2030 and mandating ethnic studies to follow the very controversial model curriculum.
The approved Ethnic Studies Model Curriculum (ESMC) is rooted in the divisive ideology of critical race theory (CRT), a contested and explicitly political theory that examines all social relations, economic governance and policy outcomes through the lenses of race and systemic racism. For example, the curriculum lists “critique empire-building in history and its relationship to white supremacy, racism and other forms of power and oppression” as one of its guiding values.
The curriculum also contains CRT buzzwords such as “the four I’s of oppression,” “transformative resistance,” “racial healing and critical hope” and “counter v. dominant narrative.” These pleasant-sounding, yet ambiguous, terms have become code names for CRT, by emphasizing a bifurcated and race-centric structure of oppressor v. oppressed and an activist orientation toward social justice as a collective answer to perceived systemic racism.
To make matters worse, many school districts in California are now promoting a more radical version of ethnic studies, coined as “Liberated Ethnic Studies Model Curriculum,” which is the reincarnation of the state-rejected first draft of ESMC. Together, California’s ethnic studies movement is CRT’s most celebrated vehicle in the Golden State.
Recognizing the fundamental influence of CRT in California’s ethnic studies, my group Californians for Equal Rights Foundation (CFER) has closely followed the administrative and legislative developments pertinent to ethnic studies since December last year. We have worked with our partner groups to educate the public on this topic through public seminars, research-informed advocacy and alliance building.
Quickly, our initiative against critical ethnic studies has galvanized support from 28 co-signing organizations that represent a diverse range of constituents from all stripes. To name a few, we are joined by the Latino American Political Association, the National Association of Scholars, Free Black Thought, the AMCHA Initiative, Parents Defending Education, and Moms for Liberty. The list also encompasses many California-based grassroots groups such as Educators for Quality and Equality, Alliance to Protect Children, Protect Our Kids, and Concerned Parents of California.
Our open letter against AB101 presents a bipartisan and broad-based alliance against critical and liberated ethnic studies and specifically asks legislators to vote “no” on this legislation.
Many of our partner groups also signed on to a CFER-led joint statement against CRT, which states: “As a broad-based coalition, we wholeheartedly support teaching cultures and history including slavery, racism and discrimination in a balanced, unabridged, nuanced and constructive fashion. We welcome meaningful efforts to build understanding and appreciation for different cultures and ethnicities in our diverse country. But we strongly oppose attempts to use race as a wedge to divide Americans and denigrate our great country.”
Coming from vastly different racial, ethnic and political backgrounds, our growing coalition is united by our common values and shared identity as Americans. We are also committed to promoting values of equal rights, equal citizenship, individual merit and liberty, against the divisive invasion of CRT.
In general, the success of these aforementioned initiatives demonstrates that an overwhelming majority of Americans oppose the teaching and propagation of CRT, a fact validated by public opinion polls conducted by agencies across the political spectrum from the Economist, to the Heritage Foundation, to CSG Poll to the grassroots organization Parents Defending Education.
On July 27, 2021, I had the honor to attend a special public meeting hosted by the Orange County Board of Education (OCBE) to discuss ethnic studies and CRT, as an expert witness. Consisting of legal scholars, social scientists and educational specialists, the panel had a bipartisan line-up: Two Democrats, two Independents and one Republican. The experts’ unilateral cautions against CRT and its far-reaching ramifications were echoed by the audience.
Coming from diverse racial and ethnic backgrounds, over a dozen public commenters spoke passionately about the divisive nature of CRT and its influence on California’s ethnic studies curricula. The overwhelmingly positive public reception greatly complemented the panel, creating an inspiring gathering in which public interests, government service and interdisciplinary expertise aligned perfectly.
The propagation of CRT, an essentially illiberal doctrine, has inspired the public to unite against divisions.
Dr. Wenyuan Wu is Executive Director of Californians for Equal Rights Foundation, a non-partisan and nonprofit organization dedicated to educating the public about the causes of equal rights and merit.