NEA EdJustice Features

Educators’ activism makes the promise of ethnic studies policy a reality

Ivan Viray Santos stands in front of a mural of Larry Itliong and Philip Vera Cruz – two Filipino-American labor leaders. Ivan and others led a campaign to change the name of their school to honor them.

By Kate Snyder

One of the great opportunities in education is to find a way to challenge students to critically think about their own experiences and about the experiences of others. One of the main tenets of Ethnic Studies curriculum is to have students understand different systems of oppression, not just race.

“Ethnic Studies and social justice are a critical lens through which we can get a new perspective on history, so we are not doomed to repeat it,” said Ivan Viray Santos, who, with his colleagues from the New Haven Unified School District in California, was instrumental in developing high school curriculum for Ethnic Studies Departments, including an Ethnic Studies/Social Justice pathway with some classes available as early as the 7th grade.

In July, the State Board of Education approved inclusion of the role of Filipinos during WWII in the revised history curriculum framework for state schools, following passage of AB 199 in 2011. Santos and his colleagues have been part of a cohort working to develop this specific curriculum that they will present during the statewide conference of the Filipino American Educators Association of California on September 28-30 in San Diego.

“With passage of recent policy,” said Santos, “it’s an honor to be part of this historic moment as our units and lessons will be among the first to be shared with school districts as examples of how this history can be worked into the U.S. History courses.”

Santos’ colleagues and students shared their thoughts in a student directed video on the value of having an Ethnic Studies department.

“Know Your Roots” video produced by Santos’ former student, Karl Mena

Mexican American student:
Ethnic Studies taught me how to put theory into practice on the days when the world reminds me why Ethnic Studies is so necessary, I know how to navigate through all the rage or hurt in order to heal and build because of what I learned from Ethnic Studies.

Filipino student:
Ethnic Studies means learning about the world – the his/herstory of our people and how it has shaped my experiences and identity. It has given me hope and taught me that my narrative matters. I also learned that it takes action in our communities to transform it, and helped me find agency to struggle alongside people in the fight for liberation.

African American student:
Ethnic Studies has taught me selflessness, willingness to give back to my ancestors, my people. It has always grounded me in my actions, it has led me to organize more people and teach more people the root causes of the world. Ethnic Studies has led me to my community, it has made me learn that my identity is bound to the people/collective I serve.

Santos concludes, “Ethnic Studies is a means of critical analysis on the basis of race, gender, sexuality and class. It allows students to see how all these identities shape our lives and teaches students to identify problems, analyze roots causes, and take a critical look at historical and current issues as a means to create solutions for their communities and put them into action. I look forward to sharing our curriculum because I think this approach is exactly what we need to see more of in the world today.”

4 responses to “Educators’ activism makes the promise of ethnic studies policy a reality

  1. Az-cowboy – I see no problem with ethnic studies as long as they emphasize our unity as citizens of this land and an appreciation of the need to improve the American experience for people of all cultures. The way you phrase it, you sound like another frustrated white person who’s afraid of his/her fading dominance. Ethnic studies doesn’t necessarily mean anti-American or anti-white in particular.

  2. I find these ethnic studies classes appalling and support from the NEA shocking, but alas, not surprising. These classes are nothing more than breeding grounds for Hate America and Hate White People propaganda. They create division and hatred. The support socialism and tear down capitalism. Have you seen the recent video of a student in Riverside stealing a MAGA hat? Sure bet she’s had an ethnic studies class. How about American Studies NEA? Your anti-American stance is pathetic.

    1. You need to see the PBS documentary “Precious Knowledge,” about the ethnic studies class at Tucson High. The graduation rate went up and the drop-out rate went down for these thoughtful students. FYI, I’m a WASP.

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