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Davis, California

Monday, May 27, 2024

Ethnic studies push for a seat at the table

Call for DJUSD to give attention to Davis’ multicultural background

Community members pushed for the implementation of an ethnic studies program in the K-12 system at the Davis Joint Unified School District (DJUSD), which currently does not offer a course dedicated to ethnic studies.

This proposal comes after legislative action in an amended version of Assembly Bill 331, which would require California high school students to take a semester of ethnic studies as a graduation requirement. The bill would go into effect for the 2024-25 school year and allow for local school districts to customize the length and ways of incorporating such courses into the curriculum.

On May 16, the ethnic studies curriculum was discussed at the Davis school board meeting by residents, educators and students. Blair Howard, a history teacher at Martin Luther King High School, said in an email that his support for the bill is influenced by interactions with students who feel history is unimportant to them.

“As a teacher of US history for the past 10 years, I have seen students come into my class completely disinterested in history, when I ask them why they often tell me they don’t see why it matters to them,” Howard said. “I see it as a possible solution to diversifying history so that all students can see themselves in history and why they and their families matter.”

With the pressures of predetermined class time and a wide range of topics to cover, Howard found value in customizing his classes to the backgrounds of his students.

“It was only [in] working with a diverse set of students [that I] was spurred to find history that they could relate to, whether that was Filipino farmworkers in Gilroy, the history of Vietnamese Independence or the history of slavery in Brazil,” Howard said. “It will take some work but I know it will be worth it.”

Creating Inclusive Davis Schools (CIDS) voiced its support for integrating ethnic studies into the DJUSD curriculum. The organization’s members cited personal experiences as motivation for this integration.

“Throughout the time that I’ve been [in Davis] and talking with other parents of color, we’ve talked about ways that our children haven’t felt included or weren’t getting information from the curriculum that we thought they should have,” said Anoosh Jorjorian, a founding member of CIDS.

Ethnic and cultural studies courses and majors are offered at UC Davis, and they continue to grow in size and quality. David Michalski, a UC Davis Social and Cultural Studies Librarian, remarked that it would be effective to introduce ethnic studies at younger ages.

“[There] is a way to do it for kindergarteners, and there’s a way to do it for people going into college,” Michalski said.

Michalski added that ethnic studies goes beyond teaching about other cultures — the programs can touch on empathy as well.

“There’s a lot of empathy that has to be taught, and I think that is what ethnic studies teaches,” Michalski said. “Putting the United States in the global world is more important […] than ever, because people don’t live in a monocultural society. Books that present the culture like that are either trying to make a monocultural society or just being ignorant about the way the world is.”

CIDS encourages community members to write to the DJUSD school board and publicly educate others on the significance of ethnic studies for both marginalized and non-marginalized students. Jorjorian emphasized the importance of a culturally competent society, from kindergarteners to teachers, to reflect the diversity present in the Davis community.

Written by: Renee Hoh — city@theaggie.org


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