Rethinking Ethnic Studies

Rethinking Ethnic Studies

Rethinking Ethnic Studies

The quotation below is from the Introduction to the soon-to-appear Rethinking Ethnic Studies:

“In a short period of time, the Ethnic Studies movement has spread like wildfire. Numerous school districts across California now require Ethnic Studies, and the state of California is in the beginning stages of developing model Ethnic Studies and Native American curricula. Oregon has a statewide requirement to develop and offer Ethnic Studies K–12, and in Kansas there are efforts to introduce statewide legislation. Indiana high schools will soon be required to offer ethnic and racial studies as an elective course. States with large Indigenous populations—like Montana, Washington, and Alaska—have standards for including Indigenous knowledge in the curriculum. Seattle is in the process of implementing Ethnic Studies across the district; students in Providence, Rhode Island, have successfully lobbied for an Ethnic Studies pilot; and Albuquerque, New Mexico, is launching Ethnic Studies courses in all of its high schools. There are also individual Ethnic Studies courses popping up in individual schools around the country.”

With all of the energy being directed toward Ethnic Studies, now is a good time to ask what we are advocating for. This new volume offers a conceptual framework for Ethnic Studies curriculum, as well as many insightful essays and examples of teaching practice. We anticipate it being available through Rethinking Schools in January, 2019.

To many people, Ethnic Studies is course that is added to the school curriculum. This is the form it takes most often at the K12 level, and the form implied in debates about whether to adopt it or not. However, Ethnic Studies can be understood more productively as a standpoint for re-envisioning the entire curriculum and pedagogy. By standpoint, I am referring to perspective from a specific location within unequal relations of power.

An Ethnic Studies standpoint decenters Whiteness and White supremacy. White supremacy is so fully embedded in the school curriculum and in ideas about what schooling is for and what makes a good student that many people do not recognize these as White. This is certainly the case with most White educators and White students who simply take schooling as they have experienced it for granted. It is much less the case with educators and students of color, who routinely bump up against White narratives, expectations, and ways of doing things, and then are punished for failing to learn or behave.

But Ethnic Studies should not be about replacing one grand narrative with another. While specific lessons and courses can and should be grounded in the knowledge of specific communities of color and tribal nations, what we need overall (and overhaul) is curriculum that brings diverse experiences and points of view (including those of Whites) in conversation with one another — not necessarily in all courses, but over one’s experience in school. Doing this requires rethinking not just one course, but the entire school curriculum. In the American Educational Research Journal in 2018, San Pedro wrote that, “ethnic studies courses should be the foundation for all core courses and not neatly separated from the curricula.”

We hope that Rethinking Ethnic Studies prompts discussion about not just how to add a course to the curriculum, but how to rethink the entire curriculum as well as the education enterprise in order to educate all of our young people, in relationship to each other, and in service of diverse democracy.



  1. Marjorie Eiseman says

    Right On!!!!!

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