By Amanda Solomon Amorao, PhD
On June 9, 2015, the San Diego Unified School District overwhelmingly passed a resolution to establish and implement Ethnic Studies curriculum in all K-12 classrooms of the district. The resolution, authored by Board Trustee Richard Barrera and Board President Marne Foster and supported by a broad-based coalition of community organizations, represents a dedication to culturally relevant curriculum grounded in social justice and critical thinking. The Kuya Ate Mentorship Program (KAMP) is proud to have mobilized with the Association of Raza Educators, Unión del Barrio, and diverse but dedicated individuals and groups to advocate for the passage of this necessary resolution.
The move to institute Ethnic Studies in California K-12 public education has been steadily gaining ground since February 2014 when Assemblymember Luis Alejo (D-Salinas) introduced Assembly Bill (AB) 1750 in the legislature. AB 1750 called for the formation of a task force to create and implement a comprehensive Ethnic Studies curriculum to serve the state’s increasingly diverse population. As the debate over culturally relevant curriculum proceeded in the state capital, several individual school boards took the initiative to pass their own resolutions. In June 2014, El Rancho Unified School District became the first to declare its commitment to Ethnic Studies followed by Los Angeles in November, San Francisco in December and Montebello in February 2015. By June 3, 2015, AB 1750 had been reconstituted into AB 101, which called for an Ethnic Studies Advisory Committee to be formed that would make recommendations to the Board of Education regarding Ethnic Studies as well as mandate the State Superintendent to make plans to offer Ethnic Studies curriculum in schools.
The resolution passed by San Diego Unified School District (SDUSD) on June 9 explicitly states that regardless of the fate of AB 101, San Diego would become the fifth district to dedicate itself to establishing an Ethnic Studies curriculum for all of its students. Over 75% of SDUSD’s population identify as students of color. More than 45 languages are spoken in the district, with the diversity of the region expected to increase; yet, according to the Ethnic Studies NOW! petition in support of the resolution, there has only ever been one identifiable Ethnic Studies course offered to a district of over 100,000 students. Members of the Ethnic Studies NOW! Coalition spoke eloquently and passionately before the board’s vote about the significance of the resolution. Student speakers talked about the power of hearing the stories of their communities treated with equity and dignity in the classroom. Educators and community members discussed how Ethnic Studies would benefit all students regardless of racial background, as it would cultivate critical thinking skills and a sense of tolerance and justice.
Sarah Mirelles, graduate of San Franisco State University’s Master’s Program in Ethnic Studies, addressed the school board on behalf of KAMP as one of the Ethnic Studies NOW! speakers. She shared how significant such a curriculum had been in her life. “Ethnic studies is what taught me how to fight for what I feel passionately about. All the speakers that came all spoke from the heart and for the love of their communites,” Mirelles stated after the resolution passed. She has been a member of KAMP for the past year and has expressed her plans to continue working with the Ethnic Studies Advisory Committee to establish and implement courses in SDUSD classrooms.
KAMP’s mission since its founding has been to provide a space for all students, especially Filipino American students, to dialogue about issues of ethnic culture, identity, and history. As such, it will tirelessly continue to work with the SDUSD Board and the Ethnic Studies NOW! Coalition to ensure that the resolution will be implemented in a fundamental and transformative way. Ultimately, Ethnic Studies curriculum is not simply about introducing students to cultural differences between groups. The Ethnic Studies movement began forty-five years ago on the public campuses of California’s higher education system as a concrete and mobilized action against racism, imperialism, and the dehumanization of marginalized communities. KAMP believes that to institute an Ethnic Studies curriculum in SDUSD is to decolonize the education system. It is to engage in the concerted effort to tell the stories that are silenced, stories that are dismissed in order to maintain power for certain groups at the cost of the possibilities of life for others. Such an education is a right for all and simultaneously such an education is necessary to guarantee justice for all.
For more information on the Ethnic Studies NOW! Coalition, visit www.ethnicstudiesnow.com/sdusd.
For more information on the Kuya Ate Mentorship Program (KAMP), see www.kampsd.org.