The ideological battles over California’s ethnic studies curriculum are finally over, at least for now. The disputed model curriculum was approved by the state legislature in March, and soon the guidelines for mandated high school programs will be disseminated to local school boards across the state.
Last summer, though, when it was still too close to call, the cadre of ethnic studies professors and education bureaucrats, the ones who were the primary instigators of the new curriculum, were furious that there was any resistance at all. “I’m pissed,” said Allyson Tintiangco-Cubales, an ethnic studies professor at San Francisco State and key architect of the controversial curriculum. She was addressing a Zoom meeting, joined by concerned colleagues throughout the state. They were up in arms over proposed revisions to their plan, which they felt would undermine the political essence of the program. “For them to slap us in the face! That’s not cool.”
The revisions were minimal, and the legislature was almost certain to pass the bill—a state law requiring every public high school to teach ethnic studies, using their curriculum as the model. They were on the verge of achieving their dream. So why the panic?
For all the talk of this being a movement for social good, a new dawn for American students, and a solution to oppression, ethnic studies is also, crucially, very much a nascent but nationwide white-collar industry. Indeed, while evidence for its educational or even social value is hotly debated, what’s not in dispute is that the business of flipping the public education establishment on its head is beginning to pay—and very well.