Friday, August 16, 2019

California's proposed ethnic studies curriculum decried as anti-Semitic, left-wing 'propaganda'

A proposed ethnic-studies curriculum developed for California public high schools has ignited outrage over its shabby treatment of Jewish Americans and Israel, leading to fears that students could soon receive a crash course in anti-Semitism.

The Ethnic Studies Model Curriculum contains sample course outlines on a broad array of minority groups, including Arab Americans — but not Jewish Americans — while promoting the anti-Israel Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement and its supporters, including Palestinian-American activist Linda Sarsour.

The California Board of Education is accepting comments on the draft curriculum until Aug. 15, and already the California Legislative Jewish Caucus has condemned the proposal’s “anti-Jewish bias,” saying it would “institutionalize the teaching of antisemitic stereotypes in our public schools.”

“There is something about every bigotry under the sun, like racism and sexism and ableism and Islamophobia, but nary a word about anti-Semitism,” said Tammi Rossman-Benjamin, director of the Amcha Initiative. “And this at a time when anti-Semitism makes up more than half of the hate crimes in America directed against religious groups.”

Her organization, which fights anti-Semitism, spearheaded an Aug. 7 letter from 83 groups to the board denouncing the “shocking omission of information about American Jews and anti-Semitism, its use of classic anti-Semitic stereotypes, and its blatant anti-Israel bias.”

The objections to the curriculum don’t end there. The 300-page “sample course models” feature jabs at President Trump, capitalism, “US imperialism,” police, “cis-heteropatriarchy,” and suggest studying such “significant figures” as convicted cop killers Assata Shakur and Mumia Abu-Jamal.

“Teaching high school students that capitalism is oppression, without examining the outcomes of some of history’s other paths, is not education. It is leftist propaganda,” said the Orange County Register in an Aug. 8 editorial urging the board to scrap the draft. “The entire curriculum is seething with propaganda.”

Assignments include writing a song about how “you have experienced hegemony in your own life,” which “allows students to explore how Hip-hop can be used to resist oppression and counter hegemonic beliefs perpetuated through the media.”

Said one commenter on CalMatters: “After reading this latest school curriculum twist to the left, it makes the decision much easier to go with charter schools and private education.”

The proposed curriculum was designed as a model for schools that opt to offer courses in ethnic studies, but such classes may soon become mandatory.

In the process of clearing the final legislative hurdles is Assembly Bill 331, introduced by Assemblymember Jose Medina, which would require students to take at least one course in ethnic studies before graduation.

“AB 331 is extremely dangerous at this point because it says not only is this the curriculum that should be used, but that every high school student would be required to take a course in ethnic studies based on this model curriculum,” said Ms. Rossman-Benjamin. “This is not voluntary.”

Ironically, Mr. Medina, a Democrat, is one of the 16 members of the Jewish Caucus who signed the June 29 letter condemning the model curriculum, leading to speculation that lawmakers were unaware of its political slant until recently.

“This is not some big push from California,” Assemblyman Jesse Gabriel told the Jewish News Syndicate. “This is about a small group of people who drafted this curriculum, and we’re going to get it fixed.”

A former ethnic-studies teacher, Mr. Medina also co-sponsored a 2018 bill to require the subject for high schoolers as part of a pilot program, but the measure was vetoed in October by then-Gov. Jerry Brown, who said he worried about imposing another requirement for graduation.

“Ethnic Studies provide students an opportunity to learn about histories outside of the Euro-centric teachings most prominent in our schools,” said Mr. Medina in a Jan. 31 statement. “At a time when the national climate drives divisiveness and fear of otherness, Ethnic Studies can play a critical role in increasing awareness and understanding.”

As far as Jewish advocates are concerned, however, this isn’t the way to do it.

The “Arab American Studies Course Outline” includes sample topics such as the BDS movement and “significant figures” who support BDS, including Ms. Sarsour and Democratic Reps. Ilhan Omar of Minnesota and Rashida Tlaib of Michigan.

The curriculum includes rap lyrics from Shadia Mansour that include, “Get out Yankees from Latin America/French, English and Dutch/I love you Free Palestine,” and, “For every free political prisoner, an Israeli colony is expanded/For each greeting, a thousand houses were demolished/They use the press so they can manufacture.”

The Legislative Jewish Caucus described the last lyric as “a classic antisemitic trope about Jewish control of the media.”

The curriculum was written by an 18-member panel appointed by the state board of college and secondary educators, about 25% of whom have “publicly expressed animus towards Israel and its supporters,” said the AMCHA letter.

The Washington Times has reached out to several members of the Model Curriculum Advisory Committee.

Foes have called for the draft to be shredded and re-written, but Jewish groups also said the board needs to implement safeguards to ensure that such state-sponsored drafts are never again used “as tools of political indoctrination that promote hatred.”

“Their approach is to divide the world between oppressed and oppressor, and to talk about the virtue of fighting the oppressor and all the ways we need to fight the oppressor,” Ms. Rossman-Benjamin said. “But who is the oppressor? It’s whoever the drafters decide that it is, right? And they’ve decided the oppressor is the Jew and Israel.”


Look South for Diversity on College Campuses

As our nation’s colleges and universities prepare to re-open and welcome their new students to campus in a few short weeks, it is important to remember that the first “educational” experience many of these new students will have as they set foot on their campuses will not be with their professors but with school administrators.

From settling in to their residence halls to visiting various student life and affinity centers to new student orientation programs, students will have to engage with student-facing administrators who are not only omnipresent on campus but also set the tone of discussions, frame debates, and condition the very way in which students engage with each other and the world. Thus, understanding the ideological background and nature of the programming organized by this powerful class on campus is critical.

Regrettably, the ideological position of these administrators is imbalanced; they are overwhelmingly liberal and progressive, and pushing social justice programming to the exclusion of other views is the dominant paradigm today.

While students, their families, and the American public should be concerned by the fact that there is intense progressive homogeneity among administrators, there are a few areas of the nation where there is more balance.

The South is one such region where students can find a reasonably sized population of conservative and moderate administrators and schools with administrators who are far less concerned with promoting a progressive, social justice-infused agenda.

Using the 11 states which comprise the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (of which North Carolina is part) and a new national survey of over 900 student-facing college administrators, what immediately becomes clear is that the ratio of liberals to conservatives is less extreme in the South. In the South, the ratio of liberal-to-conservative administrators is 7 to 1 while in the rest of the country, the figure jumps to 17 to 1—a nontrivial gap. Put differently, 41 percent of administrators in the South identify as moderate or conservative compared to just 27 percent of those in other parts of the country.

It is also valuable to note that college administrators in the South have social networks that are far more mixed and politically diverse than those elsewhere. My survey asks administrators, “Do most of the people you know have political beliefs that are similar, different, or mixed,” and the responses are telling: Two-thirds of Southern administrators respond that their networks are mixed compared to just half of those administrators in the rest of the country.

These findings regarding the networks and ideological breakdown of administrators should give stakeholders in higher education pause, as the implications are significant.

It is appreciably easier for students to find centrist or conservative administrators in the South and this imbalance matters for students in an era where identity politics are so crucial; for if students do not see intellectual and ideological diversity, they may end up being silenced and afraid to question or challenge the prevailing currents on campus.

Moreover, these network and political differences are critical because liberal administrators can quickly find themselves in political bubbles and echo chambers where their ideas are strongly reinforced, rarely challenged, and their ideas about programming and discourse on campus can be narrowly progressive, quite exclusionary, and disconcerting for those who hold alternative political views.

The survey data make this point about exclusionary echo chambers quite clear: When asked if one’s school is more tolerant of liberal or conservative ideas and beliefs, a third of administrators at Southern schools believe that their institutions are equally tolerant of both liberal and conservative ideas, compared to just over 20 percent of administrators in the rest of the country.

Additionally, two-thirds of those outside the South state that their institutions are more tolerant of liberal ideas and beliefs compared to just 40 percent of those in the South. So, despite it being possible to represent multiple views if one is liberal or conservative, it remains essential to have others present on college campuses with divergent views who can advance and defend them. Otherwise, conformity-inducing groupthink can quickly emerge, as this data suggests.

Finally, the data reveal the troubling fact that administrators outside the South have a particular social justice-infused ideological agenda to promote and this reinforces the need for real ideological diversity among this powerful group on campus.

Specifically, I asked about administrators’ interest and willingness to take on certain tasks or challenges as professionals. As an example, I inquired as to whether or not administrators would like to tackle projects that promote equal treatment of students by gender, gender identity, or sexual orientation. In the responses, there are no regional differences here whatsoever and large majorities—over 80 percent in both cases—are very willing and interested in engaging in action to promote equal treatment of various groups across the board.

Similar and uniform support emerges for the idea of equal access to a high-quality college experience by race, ethnicity, and nationality as well. Those are non-controversial goals regionally or politically—education is a good that all should be able to experience fairly and equally as it is a key facet of both upward mobility and social progress.

Turning to the question of issues of diversity and inclusion that are currently at the center of so much campus rancor, there is regional parity in the belief that there should be the inclusion of culturally diverse texts and literature in various curricula. There is even agreement around the statement that there should be “Open and honest discussion about social justice and diversity”—three-quarters of all administrators support this idea though their starting positions may be a bit different.

College and university administrators are notably more ideologically diverse in the South and they are less likely to support the growth of social justice principles.
Where opinion diverges is over the statement that schools should work to promote the “Integration of principles of social justice throughout classes and campus activities.”

Such work on the part of administrators is not neutral behavior intended to promote inclusion—social justice messaging has become overtly political, is often explicitly progressive in nature, and impedes viewpoint diversity and alternative worldviews by shutting down discourse in the name of “harm” and “offense.”

Furthermore, in my view, such advocacy in the classroom is simply not appropriate given that it steps on the academic freedom of faculty as well.

In the survey, 72 percent of administrators outside the South are very willing to support such an idea compared to a notably lower 54 percent in the South. While there remains a slight majority of administrators in the South who support social justice integration, it is far less extreme than elsewhere in the country.

In short, the narratives from the data are clear: College and university administrators are notably more ideologically diverse in the South and they are less likely to support the growth of social justice principles which are progressive and not neutral in today’s climate. These administrators have an incredible amount of influence on campus discourse and free speech and expression has been curtailed in the name of social justice concerns.

The South is in better shape compared to other regions around the country. Many schools are well aware of these concerns and have initiatives to promote real discourse and debate, from the University of Chicago to UC Berkeley to Claremont McKenna, but change and progress will take time.

Students and their families should look to the South and its world-class schools if they want balance now for while the Southern colleges and universities may not be perfect, one can find far more ideological pluralism and openness among its powerful administrative class.


Yes, Ministers – collaboration is the answer

Public confidence in Australian school education may be low, but no one could complain about a shortage of official reviews and reports.

High-powered panels and prominent figures continue to produce lengthy publications recommending various strategies to achieve one mighty goal: improve the academic performance of students.

The long list includes the Review to Achieve Educational Excellence in Australian Schools (Gonski 2.0), the Independent Review into Rural, Regional and Remote Education and the National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Education Strategy 2015.

From the start of this year, all states and territories have signed up to a National School Reform Agreement that has the overarching objective of ensuring that Australian schooling provides a high quality and equitable education for all students. That Agreement will expire on 31 December 2023.

Success will depend on what the Agreement refers to as ‘the long-standing practice of collaboration between all governments to deliver school education reform’.

But wait, there’s more! One of the most important — albeit most abstract — documents guiding Australian school education since 2008 is also being reviewed.

The Melbourne Declaration on Educational Goals for Young Australians, signed by all education ministers serving at the time, has steered the development of the Australian Curriculum and other reforms. It followed the Hobart Declaration (1989) and the Adelaide Declaration (1999).

All these national frameworks have stressed the importance of collaboration. As the Hobart Declaration put it, working together “to enhance Australian schooling” would be the key to success.

But collaboration isn’t easy in a federal system where each jurisdiction has separate responsibility for schools, teachers, curriculum, assessment, student credentials … and so on. There are still far more differences than areas of common practice. Notwithstanding the flexibility states and territories need to do their best work for their own schools and students, this is not leading to the best results.

As ministers consider the review documents landing on their desks, collaboration should be at the very top of the subsequent list of action items. They should insist on an honest assessment of the cost and benefits of education between 1989 and 2019 — particularly as seen through the lens of national agreement and the goals of the three documents.

If nothing else, better collaboration would set a great example to young Australians. After all, isn’t this one of the exciting new 21st century skills they are supposed to be learning?

Ministers would be wise to tread cautiously with regard to all proposals for solutions. Australian education has been all too vulnerable in the past to a range of fads and trends, much of which explains the challenges we face now.

It would be good to think that 30 years of talking about teamwork won’t be wasted.


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