Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Our Message to the Democratic Party: We Need Ethnic Studies as a New Default in Public Education

I am in total agreement with University of Texas at Austin Education Policy and Planning doctoral student, Greg Worthington regarding his Huffington Post blog titled,

No Curriculum Left Behind: Democratic Platform on Education Missing Support for Ethnic Studies in Public Schools.  

I encourage you to read it in its entirety.  Accordingly, I offer the following:

The democratic party really needs to get religion really soon on the Ethnic Studies movement that is sweeping across the Southwest like a gust of fresh air (e.g., see this blog   It represents the revitalization of an historic struggle for curricular respect, recovery, and inclusion with roots that go easily back to the 1960s and 70s Mexican American—as well as Puerto Rican, African American, Native American, and Asian American—civil rights struggle but which has acquired added momentum in the wake of the dismantling of Mexican American Studies in TUSD in Tucson, Arizona, in May, 2011 and in response to the literal banning of books in that school district that rather than quelling, fomented renewed emphasis on Ethnic Studies by scholars,   as well as parents, students, and community advocates nationwide. You can begin learning about this here and throughout this blog.

Folks, the jury is in. Ethnic Studies promotes academic achievement, college readiness, better school attendance, and a positive sense of belonging not only in K12, but also at the higher education level. 
Let's all learn about and fully support Ethnic Studies in Arizona, California, Texas, New York, and beyond.  Let's also lend our support to the beleaguered Ethnic Studies Department at San Francisco State University, the program and partnership that helped birth the well-developed program in the San Francisco Unified School District (SFUSD) that is now receiving accolades as a result of the Dee and Penner (2016) study that showed very positive findings regarding its benefits.  We need many more partnerships and programs like this one throughout the U.S.

[Dee, T. & Penner, E. (2016). The causal effects of cultural relevance: Evidence from an Ethnic Studies curriculum. National Bureau of Economic Research, Working Paper 21865.]
There is other important work in this regard by K12 Ethnic Studies scholars like Christine Sleeter, Carl Grant, Emilio Zamora, Nolan L. Cabrera, Gloria Ladson-Billings, Alma Flor Ada, Margarita Margie Ines Berta-Avila, Laura Alamillo, Olga Vásquez, Belinda Bustos Flores, Gilda Ochoa, Peter Mclaren, Barbara Flores, Ellen Riojas Clark, Keffrelyn Brown, Anthony Brown, Luis Urrieta, Bernardo Gallegos, James Banks, Lisa Delpit, V June Pedraza, Juan Tejeda, Philip Chinn, Bill Howe, Linda T. Smith, Cynthia Dillard, Sandy Grande, Ines Hernandez-Avila,Cherie Cherrie L. Moraga, Sonia Nieto, Geneva Gay, Zeus Leonardo, Nicholas Daniel Hartlep, Julio Cammarota, Deb Palmer, Francesca Lopez, Cinthia Salinas, Martha P. Cotera, Carmen Tafolla, Juan Felipe Herrera, and myself, to name but only a very few.

Intellectually, ethnic studies is no longer a discipline that is situated "at the margins." It rests instead at the core of fresh articulations of social justice, college readiness, and inclusion. At its best, it serves as an antidote to children's alienation and disaffection from school and develops a counter-narrative of alternative routes to a better world and future both for themselves and society at large.

In addition to the stock concerns with respect to all forms of literacy,  Ethnic Studies accords primacy to the heretofore subjugated knowledges, histories, stories, values, frameworks, and ways of knowing such that by tapping into their liberatory potential and promises—that any well-conceived ethnic studies course, concentration, program, or department accomplishes—it simultaneously reinscribes the Deweyan notion of schools as laboratories for democracy.

In the absence of culturally relevant curricula taught by teachers that have been prepared adequately to teach the curriculum, youth may form detached, vulnerable, identities that can unwittingly become fertile ground for any kind of ideology, extremist or not, that casually or cavalierly—as in the case of the current Republican presidential nominee—presents itself to them.

The demonstrated, emancipatory potential of Ethnic Studies for ALL children and for society, as a whole, should settle the matter and form part of all future party platforms.

With respect to our struggle for inclusion in Texas, please consider signing a petition on behalf of our Responsible Ethnic Studies Textbook Coalition (or "REST Coalition") at Additional information is available at

No excuses, democratic party. Our nation's children  need culturally relevant curriculum, culturally relevant teachers to teach it, and we need it to compliment and not supplant bilingual and dual language education, the latter of which should already be a default throughout our state and nation if we are to enter into the membership of a world community as ambassadors to a new national consensus on the imperative for Ethnic and Multilingual Studies in all of our nation's schools and classrooms.

Let's make this happen—and let's make this happen now!

Angela Valenzuela, Ph.D., Faculty
UT Austin Educational Policy and Planning Program
Author of Subtractive Schooling and Editor of Growing Critically Conscious Teachers