Ethnic Studies Now


On November 18, 2014, the LAUSD Board of Education will consider a resolution that will require all LAUSD students to take a high school A-G Ethnic Studies course in order to graduate. If the resolution passes, it will not only signify a renewed commitment by the LAUSD for cultural inclusion in the curriculum, but it will also be an important step, which could lead to similar policies throughout public school districts in California and other states.


Many of the significant educational gains that were made during the tumultuous and successful struggles for educational equity and access of the ‘50s, ‘60s, ‘70s have been have eliminated or ignored by conservative educational policy makers, and most recently, neoliberal education privatizers.


Recent data from the California Department of Education reveals that Ethnic Studies courses are offered at only 19 out of 94 senior high schools in the LAUSD and that only 691 high school students out of a total of 152, 507 high school students in the LAUSD are taking Ethnic Studies courses, despite the fact that over 90 percent of the LAUSD’s K-12 student population is made of up of students of color. Furthermore, according to recent California Department of Education data, Latino students now comprise 53 percent of the state’s public school population, and less than one percent of them are taking Ethnic Studies courses.


Another disturbing fact is that some textbooks currently being used by LAUSD students exclude or greatly limit the histories and contributions of ethnic groups. For example, LAUSD students are using an 11th grade US history textbook: The American Vision: Modern Times by McGraw Hill, which has approximately 10-pages of Mexican American content spread throughout its 1,000 pages. The American Vision: Modern Times and other U.S. history textbooks that LAUSD students use also fail to mention the historic march against Proposition 187 that took place 20-years ago in Los Angeles. This mean-spirited and anti-immigrant law was ultimately ruled unconstitutional by the courts.

A significant gain that was attained by the historic Chicano student walkouts of 1968 was the establishment of the Mexican American Education Commission. LAUSD’s unfortunate elimination of the Mexican American Education Commission and the other six ethnic commissions in 1998 has created a vacuum, since their mission was to make educational recommendations to the Supt. and to board members relative to the educational needs of bicultural ethnic students. The elimination of the LAUSD Closing the Achievement Gap Committee in 2010, was yet another set-back by no longer offering professional development and culturally relevant strategies to administrators, teachers, counselors, and academic coaches for closing the achievement gap among students of color. The elimination of the LAUSD’s Closing the Achievement Gap Committee was a serious mistake by the LAUSD since it was successfully implementing its blueprint for closing the achievement gap among students of color.


Culturally relevant teaching can be defined as using the cultural knowledge, prior experiences, frames of reference, and performance styles of culturally diverse students to make learning encounters more relevant to and effective for them. Ethnic Studies courses are culturally relevant and responsive because they integrate the histories, cultures, communities, and lived experiences of racially-marginalized groups in the U.S. and beyond.


Research has clearly proven that students of color become more academically engaged, do better on achievement tests, increase graduation rates, and gain a much better understanding of themselves as the result of taking Ethnic Studies courses. The reason for this is very simple, ethnic bicultural students see themselves in the curriculum, which validates their culture, language, history, and communities. White students also benefit from taking Ethnic Studies courses since they improve their attitudes and perceptions of racially and ethnically diverse groups, which improves intergroup relations.


The LAUSD Board of Education must reaffirm its commitment to Ethnic Studies by approving the forthcoming resolution to make Ethnic Studies a graduation requirement for all LAUSD students. Not to do so, would be an educational and social injustice.


Dr. John Fernandez was the former director of the Mexican American Educational Commission for the LAUSD and taught social studies at Roosevelt High School. Dr. Fernandez was the first Chicano student at UCLA to receive a B.A. in Chicano Studies. He is currently a member of the Ethnic Studies Now Coalition. 

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  1. Excellent points. Great article. It’s a tricky historical moment, when a majority of White/non-Raza power brokers (I’m talking school board, superintendent, teachers, etc.) will have to be convinced what’s best for a student body that’s about 80% Latino (90% non-white). I pray for adults to be responsible in this history making moment.

    The books should have also mentioned the 2006 walkouts when predominantly LAUSD students initiated a social movement/WALKOUTS which turned the federal government around, repealing the HR4437 anti-immigrant federal laws. I think that was way historic. Some folks are scared of certain histories.

  2. Well said, I have experienced furthering my education through Puente program at a community college level where Chican@ literature is implemented so that we can relate to our education. Why should we wait to be in college for the right to learn about ourselves? We shouldn’t. Ethnic studies which is really “American” studies is critically needed. We would be investing in America’s future if we all had ethnic studies, as it is stated above white people may have a more understanding of “our ” lives and experiences, perhaps diminishing racial barriers as well.

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