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California adopts first statewide ethnic studies curriculum

The board voted unanimously Thursday to approve the curriculum, which took years to draft.

SACRAMENTO, Calif. — California's State Board of Education has approved the nation’s first statewide model ethnic studies curriculum for high school students.

The board voted unanimously Thursday to approve the curriculum, which took years to draft. It comes as the country is reeling from the latest spate of deadly hate crimes and racism. 

“This bill, this curriculum, was intended to make sure that the diverse histories and knowledge of the many people that make up California was going to be more accurately reflected in the school’s curriculum and in the knowledge young students are learning," said Former California Assemblymember Luis Alejo.

The 900-page curriculum provides guidance to California’s public high schools that choose to develop courses meant to teach students about the struggles and contributions of “historically marginalized peoples which are often untold in U.S. history courses.”

“There’s a better cure to hate and ignorance and racism than education. Having better understanding and knowledge of the diverse people that make up your community," said Alejo.

Educators and officials who spoke mourned this week’s killing of eight people, most of them Asian women, in Georgia, saying it showed the urgency of educating children about discrimination and oppression that textbooks often overlook.

The curriculum's main focus is on four groups, including African Americans, Chicano/Latinos, Asian Americans, Pacific Islanders and Native Americans. It also includes lesson plans on Jewish, Arab, Sikh and Armenian Americans.

Fresno area elementary school teacher Heather McGrew likes the curriculum and says she thinks a single course in high school isn’t enough.

“I wonder if the approach to this is flipped on its head. Maybe you don’t start with high school maybe you start with the younger kids,” said McGrew. "There's so many different branches and I just think one course in high school, where you touch on all these things, with all the different people… You’re not gonna have time to get it in-depth about it."

Some opponents of the curriculum say it leaves out or misrepresents certain groups and their histories.

Anti-Semitism watchdog group the AMCHA Initiative calls it “a politically- and activist-driven mission that will incite hate and division and is dangerous for all high school students.”

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