Zaira Hernandez testifies at school board meeting | Zoom screenshot
| YOUTH BEAT
By Karen Dorantes
On June 22, parents and grandparents arrived at a meeting of the Salinas Union High School District Governing Board to express their disapproval of the ethnic studies program currently taught in high schools in the district.
That night, no student was there to defend him.
Mike Lipe, one of the adults who came forward to oppose the curriculum, told the board that “there is absolutely no room for activists in our school boards and administrations. . These principles are deeply rooted in radicalism and racism. They promote division and hatred within society.
But the board members who voted for ethnic studies as a condition for a one-semester graduation in 2019 – to be implemented for the class of 2024 – held on.
The council’s support for ethnic studies contrasted with a 2012 decision in Tucson, Arizona, where one of the most popular and successful Mexican-American ethnic studies courses was banned by a law banning any course that ” advocates ethnic solidarity ”.
Carissa Purnell, who has taught ethnic studies in Salinas for the past six years, defined ethnic studies as “courses that use an interdisciplinary approach to analyze historical and contemporary issues and experiences associated with race, class and genre “.
She said ethnic studies were first introduced in the fall of 1968, when the Black Student Union led a student strike at San Francisco State University to demand more representation on campus.
School board president Phillip Tabera said it took five years of discussions to approve the district’s one-year ethnic studies course in 2018. It has become an option for all five high schools in Salinas this year. -the. The council approved a one-semester ethnic studies course in 2019 that will become a graduation requirement for the freshman class of 2024. District officials said the curriculum was developed with input from students. teachers, parents, students and the board.
Students defend ethnic studies
After the controversy at the June 22 meeting, about half a dozen young people came to the July 13 board meeting to express their support for the ethnic studies program. Many other students attended the meeting, hoping to speak, but public testimony was limited by the council. The most notable group of students was from La Cosecha, a youth organization that is part of the Building Healthy Communities initiative. (Disclosure: I am a member of La Cosecha.)
Seeing a group of students come together and stand up against adults telling them what they should and shouldn’t study in schools is something new to this generation.
Young people in La Cosecha, who are mostly Latino, said they supported ethnic studies because they wanted professionals to teach them about their own history. “My story should be taught, my story should be shown in these schools,” said Diego Puga Escobar, a member of La Cosecha and entering his last year at Alisal High School.
Escobar said after the meeting that he chose to speak to the board because he wanted to be the voice of those who might have been afraid to stand up for ethnic studies. Without ethnic studies, he said he believed there was a much bigger “gap” between people of different cultures, nationalities or ethnicities.
“If we are constantly taught a [side of history], then we’re going to be made to believe that there is only one truth, ”Escobar said. “All we’re trying to do is provide the resources to our people and be able to see that there are many truths on one side. “
Maraly Escalante introduced herself but was unable to speak at the July 13 meeting due to lack of time. She recently graduated from North Salinas High School and took an Ethnic Studies course at Hartnell College. She said the class allowed her to see Mexicans and Latinas in history, but she also learned about the history of other ethnicities and races.
Escalante said she believes ethnic studies gives students a better understanding of where members of their community come from, what their cultures are like, and what challenges they may have.
“I feel like ethnic studies unites us more because we have a new understanding,” she said. “A friend of mine used to tell me that throughout his school career he was ashamed of being African American and he didn’t know why he should be ashamed of it. In a way, ethnic studies help us understand why certain stereotypes exist in our communities and how to correct them.
To those who oppose ethnic studies, Escalante replied, “Yes, a lot of people can identify as Americans, but that doesn’t necessarily mean they see themselves everywhere. [the version of] American history they teach in high schools.
Alma Cervantes, regional education equity manager for Building Healthy Communities, said her goal is to give young people a platform and “critically challenge a system that has prevented them from learning truth about this country, a system that has not provided a space for them to talk about their history, their history, their cultures.
Cervantes said ethnic studies creates a transformative space where students can engage in meaningful conversation not only with teachers, but with each other as well.
“Ethnic studies is beyond a curriculum,” she said. “It’s a transformative way for students to feel like they belong to the class. It supports their self-esteem, it supports their academics, good attendance and it allows us to see each other in the classrooms. “
Purnell cited three articles that support Cervantes’ point. She said research shows ethnic studies have been “proven to increase grade points, credits, attendance, graduation, and college education, as well as lead to better test scores,” she said. grades, math, reading, writing, science and social studies ”.
Zaira Hernandez, another La Cosecha member and recently graduated from Alisal High School, who spoke at the July 13 board meeting, said: “These young students are supposed to know who they are. , where they want to go and what they want. do for the rest of their lives, but how can you expect them to know who they are, who they are, without taking a course like this, which shares their history and culture? “
Beyond Salinas, on July 17, Gov. Gavin Newson signed a bill requiring freshmen at California State University to take an ethnic studies course to graduate.
Hernandez said pursuing ethnic studies has helped her discover people who may be more like her, not only in terms of race or ethnicity, but also gender. She disagrees with the claim that the program encourages hatred.
In fact, she says, it helps students respect others better. “It’s not trying to divide people.”
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