Kick Off Hispanic Heritage Month with Education Twitter Chat:
ETHNIC STUDIES in Our Schools
by Melanie Mendez-Gonzales
In some school districts across the country, a debate on ethnic studies in high school is happening.
What is ethnic studies? It is the critical and interdisciplinary study of race, ethnicity, and indigeneity with a focus on the experiences and perspectives of people of color within and beyond the United States.
Advocates for ethnic studies believe that it will support academic success and bring an understanding between races. Opponents argue that ethnic studies are anti-American and teach divisiveness.
According to the National Education Agency, research finds that the overwhelming dominance of Euro-American perspectives leads many students to disengage from academic learning. In fact, a recent Stanford study shows the opposite effect that an ethnic studies course had on, particularly Hispanic male, students. Students in the study who took ethnic studies classes in a pilot program in San Francisco high schools increased attendance rates, improved their grades and even increased the number of earned course credits for graduation.
These courses allow students to connect to their own culture and see their home life inside their classrooms. That has a powerful impact. Some argue that ethnic studies could have a powerful impact on white students, too.
“Similar to students of color, white students have been miseducated about the roles of both whites and people of color throughout history,” Siobhan King Brooks, an assistant professor of African American studies at Cal State Fullerton said, and culturally relevant lessons allow white children to “not only learn about people of color, but also white people’s roles as oppressors and activists fighting for racial change. This is very important because often whites feel there is nothing [they] can do to change racism.” ()
Ethnic studies were born out of both educators’ and students’ desires to counterbalance inaccuracies and predominance of the Euro-American perspective found in U.S. schools’ curricula. However, the most recent rise of ethnic studies came out of the 2010 ban of a Mexican-American studies course in the Tucson United School District and the Arizona H.B. 2281. Mexican American studies has spread to high schools at a rate no one could have imagined before Arizona banned the class in 2010.*
Five California school districts, for example, has since made an ethnic-studies class a requirement, and 11 others offer it as an elective. Currently, California AB-2016, which would require the Instructional Quality Commission to develop, and for the state board to adopt, a model curriculum in ethnic studies for all districts to offer a course of study in ethnic studies, is sitting on Gov. Jerry Brown’s desk.
Albuquerque Public Schools will launch a new ethnic studies program for all 13 of its high schools beginning August 2017.
In Texas, there’s a different debate.
“The ban of Mexican American studies in Arizona opened our eyes to the discrimination,” Tony Diaz, El Librotraficante, says, “and how important it is to embrace our history and culture. We realized there was nothing to ban in Texas, so we needed to start one.”
Diaz and others began to demand that the Texas State Board of Education make Mexican-American studies a requirement in Texas schools. The result was an agreement from the SBOE to call for textbook proposals for the Mexican-American curricula that would be put in place in 2017 and until then, allow schools who wished to teach MexicanAmerican studies, to do so but without direction from the SBOE. Some Texas teachers have begun to implement Mexican-American studies in their classrooms.
The one textbook “Mexican American Heritage’ that was submitted for review has come under fire for what some have called ‘deeply flawed and a deeply offensive textbook’ that is filled with stereotypes. Protestors, including Diaz, will be in Austin, Texas to testify against the textbook at the SBOE hearing on Tuesday, September 13. A final vote on adoption is scheduled for November.
These are just some of the discussions happening today about ethnic studies courses in our schools.
Join our Twitter chat as we discuss more about ethnic studies in K – 12 education this Thursday, September 15. It is the beginning of Hispanic Heritage Month. Let’s have a real chat about what are Latino students are learning about their own heritage in schools.
LATISM Education Twitter Chat with Special Guest Tony Diaz
9 p.m. EST – 10 p.m. EST
Hashtags to follow: #LATISM #LATISMedu
Special Guest: @Librotraficante
Tony Diaz, El Librotraficante, founded Nuestra Palabra: Latino Writers Having Their Say in 1998.He is the leader of the Librotraficantes-champions of Freedom of Speech, Intellectual Freedom, and Performance Protest. He holds a Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing, a black belt in Tae Kwon Do, and wrote the award winning novel THE AZTEC LOVE GOD. He also hosts the Nuestra Palabra Radio Program on 90.1 FM KPFT Houston, Texas.
He was recently named the Director of Intercultural Initiatives at Lone Star College-NH and will be starting their Mexican American Studies Program. Learn more about Tony Diaz at
NEA, The Academic and Social Value of Ethnic Studies: A Research Review