Columns
October 24, 2020
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California Focus

Thomas D. Elias
Ethnic studies: don’t let it promote grudges
September 25, 2020

There could be no better way to promote a lifelong sense of victimhood and an enduring series of grudges and resentments than to adopt a public-school ethnic studies curriculum like the one now proposed for California’s public schoolchildren.

Here’s why: Despite being sent back to the drawing board last year because of its obvious biases, untruths and incompleteness, the second draft plan still is under the strong influence of the Critical Ethnic Studies Assn. (CESA), a college-level academic group that stresses (according to its websites) “colonialism and conquest, racial chattel slavery and white supremacist (doctrines).”

Although it has added anti-Semitism and the Armenian genocide of the early 20th Century to its list of longstanding persecutions, the new version still lacks emphasis on anyone’s positive contributions to America and California, let alone those of European-derived whites who organized this country.

Its stress on conquest would likely result in teaching schoolkids about how their infecting the Aztecs, Incas and Mayans of Mexico and Central and South America with smallpox enabled a very small force of Spanish conquistadors to conquer large and successful empires.

 But chances are it would ignore the fact that the Spanish conquests ended human sacrifice and some limited forms of cannibalism in this hemisphere. Odds are it would also ignore how English settlers brought ideas like freedom of religion here after being persecuted in Britain.

 Yes, the proposed curriculum would justifiably and properly emphasize how much enslaved Africans contributed to the building of America, but it would downplay the contributions of figures like Thomas Jefferson, George Washington and James Madison because they owned slaves. Not that those seminal historic figures should be excused for owning, exploiting and trading in the lives of other humans. But the fact that they promoted and wrote into the Constitution ideas contrary to their personal practices must also be recognized, if there is to be any accuracy to this program. Their vital contributions to establishing the world’s first democracy since King Philip of Macedon defeated ancient Athens cannot be ignored, even as some of their statues come down.

 But accuracy is not the hallmark of the CESA. Grudges are.

As one reader noted, it’s not enough to cover the history of American slavery and blame it all on Europeans, although they were certainly culpable. Ignoring the fact that slavery was an ancient practice recognized and not condemned even in the Bible makes America seem uniquely evil, promoting lasting resentment of this country. Ignoring the fact that Africans held and traded in slaves long before they began selling some to Europeans who carried them to America promotes an inaccurate version of history.

 Said the reader, “Our children have to be taught the history of America using hard facts and documents, not opinions.”

Of course, opinions about what’s important vary, also changing over time. Is it more important to cover Jim Crow laws in an ethnic studies course or to examine the racial and religious restrictions that prevailed in America until about 80 years ago, some still memorialized in current deed restrictions that are no longer recognized legally? Why not look at both?

 But the proposed curriculum prevents such a realistic look at a seamy side of American life by dividing this nation into four basic groups: whites, African Americans, Hispanic Americans and Asians and Pacific Islanders. Where does that leave, for example, Jews – they have lived for centuries in every area from which those four groups stem. Yet their exclusion until the last half-century or so from many neighborhoods and the limitations admission quotas long placed on their presence at many universities would be ignored by the curriculum.

 In short, the CESA-led group that designed the new planned curriculum has decided which people are and were legitimate victims and which were not, regardless of what may really have befallen them.

That’s not a factual approach and cannot help but lead to inaccurate classroom instruction.

Which means that the state Board of Education, due to okay or reject the latest curriculum plan by the end of next March, must sent it back for another rewrite, or perpetuate what may be the most destructive set of academic guidelines ever introduced into California’s education system.  

 

Elias is author of the current book “The Burzynski Breakthrough: The Most Promising Cancer Treatment and the Government's Campaign to Squelch It,” now available in an updated third edition. His email address is tdelias@aol.com