The model is meant to teach students about the struggles and contributions of historically marginalized groups in the U.S. The voluntary curriculum focuses on African Americans, Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders, Latino Americans, and Native Americans.Lesson plans include the experiences of Jews, Arab Americans, Sikh Americans and Armenian Americans.
At Fresno Unified, ethnic studies are currently offered as an elective, but the district plans to make it a graduation requirement by 2026.
“We want to make sure that as children are learning the curriculum, they’re seeing themselves as part of the school,” said Carlos Castillo, the instructional superintendent at Fresno Unified School District. “When they see pictures depicting people who look like them, making major contributions to American society, or American science, or American engineering, that’s just better for our kids. They shouldn’t just see one demographic, or one side of the story.”
Castillo recalls being a student and not seeing representation in his school textbooks.
“And if I did, it was usually around like a Cinco de Mayo type time and you know my family was, you know, making independencies in September, nobody would ever say anything about that in September at the time because most people thought that Cinco de Mayo for example was Mexican dependency, but it’s not,” he said.
Some critics worry these courses will re-write the history they’ve known, but supporters and community organizers argue it’s necessary to teach students about different groups — especially following the violence against people of color.
“Education is definitely the foundation for most of our society. The better we can educate our students, I think society will be better off because of that.”
Fresno Unified is partnering with professors and a teacher development program to provide training on implementing these courses.
While the ethnic studies model is aimed at high schools, the district says it hopes to expand it to middle and elementary schools in the future.
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