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Palo Alto Unified prepares to make ethnic studies a graduation requirement

Original post made on Sep 13, 2023

The Palo Alto Unified School District is moving to adopt an ethnic studies graduation requirement starting with the Class of 2029. This was declared at the Board of Education's meeting Tuesday night, Sept. 12.

Read the full story here Web Link posted Wednesday, September 13, 2023, 8:39 AM

Comments (21)

Posted by Bystander
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 13, 2023 at 9:18 am

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Let's hope that it covers things like the Barbary pirates and how they enslaved northern europeans and then castrated all the males. Hope they teach the etymology of the word slaves which comes from the fact that so many Slavs from eastern europe were captured that it became the word for doing this. Since ethnicity means people from all over the world, then ethnic studies has to be studied globally to make sense.

Posted by Tristan Rogers
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Sep 13, 2023 at 9:38 am

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Concurring with order for this course to have any real significance, it will need to be comprehensive and expose all of the inequities, inhumanities, and injustices that have taken place throughout the history of mankind regardless of the perpetrator's race, color, creed, or religion.

And this means that all parties regardless of their race, color, creed, or religion should be held accountable for their societal and global wrongdoings both past and present.

In this current period of national disunity and divisiveness, do we really want to go there?

The last thing we need is more fingerpointing at one another.

Sometimes it is better to let sleeping dogs lie even if they are partially awake.

Posted by What Will They Do Next
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Sep 13, 2023 at 10:22 am

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If group after group starts making demands for inclusion and lawsuits are filed because they are not, it'll be interesting to see what happens if mandatory inclusion for every ethnic group is required. What'll happen to the curriculum around math, science, history, etc.? California public schools have not been performing well for years (some may even say failing) and national rankings show that to be a fact. Will the day be filled with ethnic studies at the cost of basic education?

Posted by Roy M
a resident of Downtown North
on Sep 13, 2023 at 11:45 am

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Ethnic Studies is a good thing if it is done right. More importantly, it is state law, so it is too late to complain about the requirement. Contrary to the quote from Don Austin, the controversy is not so much about what is in the model curriculum as it is about what eventually was taken out and what districts are implementing. As the district is planning to base the curriculum on the current elective, I would like to know who advised the course content and what the content is or will be. Does anyone know the answers to these questions? The course catalog for the existing elective only says the following:

The course covers the history and culture of various ethnic groups in the United States, exploring how contemporary issues have been shaped by their histories. Students will look at historical events from multiple perspectives and explore issues and challenges of diversity in America today. The course is an excellent supplement to the US History course, where these issues are also covered, but without the depth of a specialized course. Students should expect homework reading assignments 2-3 nights per week, tests and/or projects for each unit.

Posted by Richard
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Sep 13, 2023 at 3:28 pm

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Since virtually every ethnic group, nationality, religious group has committed atrocities against other ethnic groups, other tribes, other nationalities, other religious groups etc, perhaps a course on ethnic studies should teach that general idea but concentrate heavily on the positive contributions different groups have made to society, the nation, the world etc. Developing pride for in such accomplishments and respect for the accomplishments of others is a worthwhile goal whereas fostering divisiveness and focused blame only enhances ill will and victimization, which are destructive to a cohesive society.

Posted by Retired PAUSD Teacher
a resident of another community
on Sep 13, 2023 at 4:02 pm

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I see no problem because it is like a history course at the end of the day. I believe it to be okay to learn about the wrongs of the past, but let's hope as well that various cultures or ethnicities are celebrated for what they have contributed to our nations as well as the human race. Balance and objectivity are key, but hard to come by sometimes. I hope the course succeeds.

Posted by Anonymous
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Sep 13, 2023 at 5:39 pm

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Unlikely to be comprehensive and balanced

Posted by Retired PAUSD Teacher
a resident of another community
on Sep 13, 2023 at 6:29 pm

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"Unlikely to be comprehensive and balanced"......

Good point.

Posted by One Town Over
a resident of Mountain View
on Sep 13, 2023 at 8:13 pm

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When is the AI and Data Science requirement for graduation coming? How is anyone going to get a job of the future because of “ethnic studies”? These kids are going to be graduating at 18 and so far behind the fast moving world of AI and Data Science. Data is the new oil, people!

Posted by EM
a resident of Midtown
on Sep 13, 2023 at 9:47 pm

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At oneTownOver, the AI and data science class is already here. There is also an ad-how committee that was just started on the use policy of AI tools in PAUSD. For the ethnics class, you still have to wait a few years. By then, maybe AI will teach our kids about all ethnic groups others are talking about.

Posted by Me
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Sep 14, 2023 at 12:59 am

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Why will it take 6 years before it's required?

Posted by Retired PAUSD Teacher
a resident of another community
on Sep 14, 2023 at 7:35 am

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Education is about balance too. Not all courses are about getting a job. At back to school nights I would tell parents I was not training employees, and I was not sure what careers your children would pursue, but they needed to be trained on being a good citizen. Civic virtue is what our Founders called it, and it is necessary in our democracy, AI or no AI.

Maybe a few of my history students were inspired to become lawyers, politicians, or educators, but I hope most walked away with a sense of civic duty, and civic pride.

Posted by Seer
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Sep 14, 2023 at 10:52 am

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[Post removed.]

Posted by Jack
a resident of Barron Park
on Sep 14, 2023 at 12:34 pm

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I wouldn't mind seeing a statewide voter proposition to approve ethnic studies as a graduation requirement. As we saw with Prop 16 in 2020, on racially charged topics like this there can be a lot of distance between state leadership and the people.

I understand this is well-intentioned but I see two destructive outcomes. First, any curriculum will marginalize a lot of groups and lead to division. Second, psychologists talk about the importance of framing and in-group/out-group dynamics. If we emphasize the racial aspects of how we define ourselves, that leads to more racial division over time, not less.

Posted by James
a resident of Midtown
on Sep 14, 2023 at 11:58 pm

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[Post removed.]

Posted by Leslie York
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Sep 15, 2023 at 7:29 pm

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Are students today required to take a course in personal finance so that Form W2 from their first job is not alien to them like it was to me when I graduated Paly in 1973? We learned zilch about taxes, credit, investment, savings, retirement planning, etc. when I went to Paly. Has that changed since, or are they still graduating financial illiterates? It should be required, not elective, as those things will come home to roost in the real world after one's 18th birthday.

I was forced to take 3 years of Latin in middle school. When I graduated I had no idea what Adjusted Gross Income is but I could conjugate them Latin verbs like a summab*tch. In my crazy, cockeyed world view, knowing about compound interest is a far more valuable life skill than knowing how slaves got here, no offense to any ethnic group. Lack of financial skills left a big, gaping hole in my education.

I'm retired now and pretty adroit at finance, no thanks to my Paly education. I've had to learn everything the hard way. And I still hate Shakespeare as much as I did in 9th grade.

Posted by Rebecca Eisenberg
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Sep 16, 2023 at 4:11 pm

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Leslie: You will be pleased to know that there is a Life Skills requirement, which includes some basic home finance issues. I agree that these skills are important!

To clear up some confusion above, Ethnic Studies is already state law, so PAUSD does not have a say in the matter. There was a lot of disagreement about this at the state level. I think it is safe to assume that whatever ends up appearing in response to this requirement will be watered down as much as the school district can do, in order not to offend *anyone* (yet it will offend people regardless). I'm guessing it ultimately will be form over substance, which personally I find too bad.

I wish that there were a civics requirement. That said, there already are so many required courses and "strongly encouraged" courses that students barely get to take electives that interest them as the situation currently exists.

Finally, I want to point out that Paly currently offers an exceptional optional program for students who want a more balanced and relatable (to these students) approach to the History and English requirements: the Social Justice Pathway. SJP is somewhat of a school-within-a-school, allowing students to have the same 2 teachers for English & History for 3 of their 4 high school years. Additionally, history & English classes are planned together, so topics covered in History are accompanied by writings studied in English. I have a kid in this program, and he-and we-love it.

Importantly, SJP is an opt-in alternative to the traditional approach. Many families prefer the existing high school English & History classes, and they choose not to participate in SJP. But for those who seek different approach that includes more historically-excluded/outsider perspectives, SJP is a fantastic option. Everyone can have the learning approach they prefer.

If ES adds some additional outsider perspectives to traditional narratives, it could be interesting and engaging to students. We'll see how it shakes out.

Posted by Leslie York
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Sep 17, 2023 at 6:51 am

Leslie York is a registered user.

"some basic home finance issues."

At first blush that doesn't sound very comprehensive. I wouldn't think taxation is a "home" finance topic inasmuch as taxation relates to government. I fear Paly graduates will greet their first W2 with a resounding "WTF?" and will have to seek mummy and daddy's help because they didn't learn it at prestigious Paly. They can get into Harvard but can't prepare their own 1040-EZ.

In the '70s we were taught about budgeting — in the 9th grade as I recall. It barely skimmed the surface of financial budgeting and also covered time budgeting.

Posted by Retired PAUSD Teacher
a resident of another community
on Sep 18, 2023 at 10:42 am

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Amazing how PAUSD adheres to some state laws, but ignores others, like math placement, or teacher evaluation requirements.

Amazing how PAUSD will cite Ed. Code when it serves their ends but will ignore it when the code does not.

I was not aware that a school district could choose which laws to follow and which to ignore. Clearly ignoring the Ethnic Studies requirement would be bad politics for 25 Churchill, but ignoring math placement laws, complaint protocols as set out by the Ed. Code, and teacher evaluation protocols as per Ed. Code, and even classroom square footage per student rules seem to be politically alright.

The average person, for good reason, does not have the option to choose which laws to follow and which laws to ignore. Why does 25 Churchill get such exemptions?

Posted by Midtown Citizen
a resident of Evergreen Park
on Sep 21, 2023 at 10:48 am

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Ethnic Studies is necessary because American public education has myopically viewed the world and America's place in it through an exclusively white, Christian, European lens (I say this as white, Catholic, man with Celtic/Norse ancestry and a BA in American History). While that myopia may have been understandable (it was never justifiable) into the late 20th century, a proper understanding of the world into which our high school students will enter requires a broader exposure to the experiences of formerly "overlooked" (usually oppressed) groups in America: people of color, women, non-Christians, etc. Teaching social sciences without those groups included in the curriculum is like teaching mathematics without geometry.

Public education should not be propaganda for American exceptionalism; America, like all countries, has committed both great acts of humanitarianism and absolute atrocities. Our schools must teach all of it for our students to understand their world. If ethnic studies is taught correctly, either as standalone coursework or incorporated into existing history, literature, and other social science courses, we provide out students with the knowledge base that will allow them to interact with future employers, co-workers, neighbors, and government officials that come with a very different experiential background than them. You can't effectively interact with others without at least some understanding of the differences between you.

Posted by Mondoman
a resident of Green Acres
on Sep 21, 2023 at 11:08 am

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Re: " incorporated into existing history, literature, and other social science courses,"

Yes, this is exactly right. Siloing such issues into a separate course is just intellectual ghettoization that will promote ignoring or devaluing the material.

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