The Snake Swallows the Elephant: Ethnic Studies Hijacks Education

The Snake Swallows the Elephant: Ethnic Studies Hijacks Education

Returning students walk the hallway at Hollywood High School in Los Angeles on April 27, 2021. (Rodin Eckenroth/Getty Images)

Wenyuan Wu

Wenyuan Wu

5/20/2024

Updated: 5/23/2024

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Commentary
In “The Little Prince,” the title character talks of his “masterpiece,” a drawing showing a boa constrictor digesting an elephant. Since the drawing is only a silhouette, the adults in the story have mistaken it for a hat, causing the little prince to fret.
Too many of us, all grown up and influenced by the world around us, don’t bother to decipher the great truths within us. Instead, common sense and intuition are traded for popular culture, while an innate sense of right and wrong can be easily replaced by political correctness. It is increasingly the case in the sphere of education, where learning and excellence give way to indoctrination and lowered standards.
To this end, ethnic studies, an emerging discipline fraught with controversy, is an especially powerful Trojan horse. In California, ethnic studies will become a high school graduation requirement by 2025 because of the passage of Assembly Bill 101 in 2021. California law requires that ethnic studies be taught to prepare students to “be global citizens with an appreciation for the contributions of multiple cultures” and that it be free of any bias, bigotry, discrimination, or religious doctrine.
Unfortunately, so far, none of the existing curricula in dozens of public school districts throughout the Golden State has comported with the legal guardrails. Instead, all are eerily similar to each other in their conspicuous endorsement of a race-based dogma, critical pedagogy, the radical lens of oppressor versus victim, and divisive identity politics.
To make matters worse, the University of California Academic Senate is now reconsidering a previously aborted proposal to add ethnic studies as a systemwide requirement for undergraduate admissions. The revised proposal, submitted by the UC Board of Admissions and Relations with Schools to the Academic Senate on Jan. 11, 2024, still promotes a radical, politicized and unbalanced version of ethnic studies and is based upon debunked research on the educational benefits of teaching ethnic studies.
Based on the revised criteria, ethnic studies courses must apply “culturally relevant pedagogy,” “abolitionist teaching,” “critical analysis,” and “nuancing approaches to race, racism and racialization” in order to be approved for UC undergraduate admissions. Questionable scholarly sources including “Toward a Critical Pedagogy of Race: Ethnic Studies and Literacies of Power in High School Classrooms” and “The Development of Critical Consciousness and Its Relation to Academic Achievement in Adolescents of Color” are cited as research evidence for K–12 ethnic studies. If the proposed criteria were to be adopted, the University of California would enact a set of ideologically rooted guidelines, thereby providing top-down incentives for local school districts throughout the state to teach ideologically hijacked ethnic studies.
Practitioners of liberated or critical ethnic studies, who vehemently protested California’s final state model curriculum as a spineless compromise for “white supremacist, right wing conservatives,” are also engaged in the vertical integration of their thought experiment. Ethnic studies, they argue, must be infused into other academic disciplines as a teaching philosophy. For instance, in the state’s second-largest school district, the San Diego Unified School District, where only half of the student are proficient in English and an alarming 60 percent could not do math at grade level, the school board approved a multi-million dollar local spending plan in June 2021 to implement ethnic studies, anti-racism, and restorative justice in all academic instruction, professional development, human resources management, and administrative leadership. According to the school district leadership, ethnic studies benefits all core disciplines such as math, science, English, and social studies, for all grade levels.
In March 2024, the California Council for the Social Studies (CCSS), a membership organization for social studies teachers in California, held its annual conference, titled “Our Voices, Our Stories: Developing Community & Belonging Across the Social Studies,” to showcase best practices in the social studies profession. The four-day conference program featured an “Ethnic Studies Symposium” and about 20 sessions regarding different topics under the umbrella of ethnic studies.
On March 8, the CCSS conference held an “Ethnic Studies Forum” organized by the organization’s Equity, Inclusion and Social Justice Committee at which speakers discussed pedagogical frameworks and best classroom practices related to ethnic studies. According to these teachers and their students, ethnic studies needs to be tasked with transforming schooling so that students can “unlearn the history of just the white guys,” “unlearn all the prejudice,” and “unlearn basic stereotypes that are normalized in school.”
One of the speakers works in the Salinas Union High School District (SUHSD) to train teachers on ethnic studies, under the title of “History and Social Science Curriculum Specialist.” His expertise includes “action civics, Ethnic Studies, civic imagination, critical media and literacy studies, restorative justice, [and] environmental/social/racial justice.” He has written book chapters on “transformative and liberatory education.” Ethnic studies has been a required course in the SUHSD since 2021. There, parents and community members have unearthed a treasure trove of evidence showing the radicalization and hijacking of ethnic studies by critical race theory.
The other speaker for the “Ethnic Studies Forum” is employed by the neighboring Elk Grove Unified School District as a program specialist who conducts history and social studies professional development training. During the CCSS conference, she also led another session, named “Honoring Our Ancestors: Pedagogies for Black Children,” in which a “[Black] Labor Acknowledgment” was introduced to honor “enslaved Africans and their ascendants.” In a ritualist style rooted in the 1619 Project, the Black Labor Acknowledgment states that “much of what we know of this country today ... has been made possible by [Black] labor.” The session went on to discuss “culturally sustaining pedagogy,” a teaching method that “calls for schooling to be a site for sustaining ... the cultural ways of being of communities of color.”
When a hotly contested field of scholarly inquiry such as ethnic studies is pushed as a foundation for all academic instruction, the ideological hijacking of education begins. In California, the snake of radical ethnic studies is swallowing the elephant of public education. Sadly, education leaders and bureaucrats treat the hijacking as a harmless “hat,” rather than the venomous snake it actually is. Life imitates art.
The author wishes to thank Ms. Kelly Schenkoske for her valuable contributions to this essay.
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Wenyuan Wu

Wenyuan Wu

Author

Wenyuan Wu holds a doctorate in international studies from the University of Miami and is the executive director of Californians for Equal Rights Foundation. Wu’s recent advocacy has focused on combatting critical race theory in American public life. She has given expert testimony in various state legislature hearings on the topic and helped launched the website RejectCRT.org. She writes for Minding the Campus of the National Association of Scholars and sits on the board of Parents Defending Education Action.

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