Corona-Norco Unified School District’s Ethnic Studies courses champion lessons of “identity,” “race,” “dominate narratives,” “oppression,” “work to recognize your privilege,” and combat “white dominate culture” instructional methods

In response to legislation passed by the California State Assembly requiring all California State University students to take courses in ethnic studies, Corona-Norco Unified School District encourages students to take ethnic studies courses in African American, Asian American, “Latinx” and Native American studies.

Parents Defending Education received documents of the district’s ethnic studies curriculum from a public records request submitted by the Zachor Legal Institute.

The district’s Ethnic Studies lesson plan highlights the importance of how race activism on campus at California state universities is closely tied to the state’s history. A lesson plan on the concept of race has been a lens through which many individuals, leaders, and nations have determined who belongs and who does not. The lesson explores the concept of “race science,” which is the idea that humankind is divided into separate and unequal races. Furthermore, the lesson explores racism as defined by difference and power. The lesson states the mindset of “them” versus “us” is permanent and unbridgeable.

A reading requirement for the course, “Schools and the New Jim Crow,” explains Americans rely on the justice system to label people of color “criminals” and engage in all the practices from the Jim Crow era. The reading elaborates on the criminal justice system and the effects it has on youth of color, “we’re not going to provide meaningful education opportunities to poor kids, kids of color, until and unless we recognize that we’re wasting trillions of dollars on a failed criminal justice system.”

The author describes the place of minorities in society as “trapped in birdcages” to explain the poor ghetto communities people of color are born into and are unable to escape. The author explains, “the mythology of colorblindness takes the race question off the table…it makes it difficult to see that the backlash against the Civil Rights Movement manifested itself in the form of mass incarceration, in the form of defunding and devaluing schools serving kids of color.”

Other excerpts in the printed course reading material rely on accounts from former labor activists in the Chicano civil rights movement.

Additional reading points to “perceived colorism” of lighter-skinned versus black people depicted in film and theater and notes colorism is still an obstacle today. The “Model minority myth” of Asian Americans is explored in the course reading as well. The firsthand accounts in the required reading note that “not all APIDA’s want to go into a STEM field. Not all APIDAs have high-paying jobs and steady income. This is something the world needs to realize if the model minority myth is truly going to be deconstructed.”

The course reading on Indian Americans notes “imperialist nostalgia” is at play in Indian American history by, “glorifying the endurance of white Pilgrim founders diverted attention from the brutality of Jim Crow and racial violence, and downplayed the foundational role of African slavery. The fable also allowed its audience to avert its eyes to the marginalization of Asian and Latinx labor populations, the racialization of Western European and Eastern European immigrants, and the rise of eugenics.”

The course material notes, “’American Indian’ is a political identity, not a racial one, constituted by formal, still living treaties with the United States government and a long series of legal decisions.” The reading implicates politics, by saying, “the Trump Administration would like to deny this history, wrongly categorize Indians as a racial group, and disavow ongoing treaty relationships.” Additional readings emphasize the role the federal government had in “round[ing] up students to far away intuitions for boarding school, also bounties were put out for young Indian children.”

A lesson plan titled “Names and Us” emphasizes “names are more than labels; they are symbols of our identity, a testament to our heritage, and the roots that anchor us in the diverse tapestry of humanity. Just as the roots of a tree provide nourishment, stability, and a connection to the earth, our names ground us in our cultural, familial, and personal histories, reminding us of the intricate stories that have shaped us.”

“Names and Us” provides an ancestor acknowledgement for Wangari Maathai, of Nyeri, Kenya, who was the first woman in East and Central Africa to earn a doctorate degree. She mobilized Kenyan women to plant more than 30 million trees, and inspired the United Nations to launch a campaign that has led to the planting of 11 billion trees worldwide.

This lesson stresses the importance of names shaping our identity through the meanings of surnames. “Second names (surnames) often hold significance in identity, culture, and heritage.” This portion of the lesson encourages students to reflect on the “location”, “culture”, “religion”, and “social” implications of their names.

“Names and Us” asks students to consider the importance of how names make us perceive someone. The lesson requires students to write a reflection, facts about your name, and how this feels to you:

  • Discuss
    • What reason would someone have to change their name?
    • How much of our identity is wrapped up in our names? Does your identity change if your name changes?
  • “Facundo Question:”
    • Why should teachers and peers on campus attempt to pronounce student’s names correctly? What ways can students push back when educators change or alter a student’s name, like in the video?
  • Questions to consider when contemplating include:
    • I was given my name because…
    • I like/dislike my name because…
    • My name is/isn’t a good fit for my personality because…
    • Describe a time when someone made an assumption about you because of your name.
    • Describe a time when your name affected your behavior.

The district provides an explainer on Ethnic Studies. The flyer “What is Ethnic Studies” encourages teachers to include data and statistics highlighting the benefits of Ethnic Studies and “how do these statistics demonstrate the positive impact of Ethnic Studies on academic achievement, cultural competency, or other relevant areas?”

Teachers are encouraged to use Creation apps, such as Canva, specifically, “8-10 square-style visuals that could be used on Instagram.” The Visual Requirements emphasize “clarity, creativity, organization, and balance” of social media posts. Specifically, asking teachers to “employ visuals, color schemes, and formatting techniques that are appealing and capture viewers’ attention.”

The “Brave Space” lesson plan asks students, “what is my role in creating and participating in a brave space for myself and others?” Like other lesson plans in the Santa Ana ethnic studies curriculum, this lesson includes an Ancestor Acknowledgement. This time for James Baldwin, who embodies the concept of a brave space because of his navigation of the turbulent waters of race, sexuality, and class in America.

The Lesson asks students to think about a time when they didn’t feel welcome and how it made them feel. The interactive white board lesson asks students to answer questions and share with the class. The questions include:

  • What do I need to feel safe?
  • What do others need to do?
  • What do I need to participate?

Furthermore, the lesson lists a series of things for students to consider when participating, adopted by the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) and not limited to “own your intention and your impacts,” “work to recognize your privilege,” “make space,” “notice and name group dynamics in the moment,” “Challenge with care,” and “commit to confidentiality”.

Students are asked to sign the following pledge, “in order to create and participate in a brave space for my classmates, and for myself, I need to (stop/start/continue) doing XXXXX.” Students are then asked to recite an untitled poem by Beth Strano about creating “our space together”, before turning this poem into “visual art” by re-writing with “emphas(is) [on] words or lines that connect with you the most”.

The “Goals of Ethnic Studies” lesson plan encourages students to point out differences between ethnicities by, put(ting) a star next to any people, groups, or events that highlight the contributions or histories of indigenous Americans, African Americans, Asian & Pacific Islander Americans, Latino Americans, and LGBTQ+ community.” Ethnic Studies is defined by:

  • Perspectives, histories, and cultures of racialized groups that have been historically marginalized and underrepresented.
  • African American Studies, Asian American Studies, Native American Studies, and Latino/a/x Studies.
  • Addresses concepts such as race, ethnicity, nationality, culture, and identity, and how these interact with aspects of society like power, inequality, and social justice.

The lesson plan emphasizes research that shows “robust ethnic identity and racial awareness contribute to better mental health and academic achievement.”

In addition, the research from the National Education Association says, “ethnic studies curricula that teach directly about racism produce higher levels of critical thinking and positively impact ‘democracy outcomes,’ particularly when they include cross-group interaction and especially on White students.”

The “Traditions of Education and Resistance” portion of the lesson cites LibreText research indicating, “generations of students and activists have had to fight for the rights of Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) communities to receive an education at all.” This includes “instructional methods and systems are designed for the white dominant culture.” The intended goals for this lesson are:

  • Question traditional constructions of knowledge
  • Develop critical hope
  • Search for counter narratives
  • Maintain a community grounded praxis

The lesson plan singles out a parent’s Facebook post as, “this is revisionist history-retelling the story however the winners would like it told.”

The interactive portion encourages students to assess different concepts when looking at history and uses the example of Christopher Columbus. The lesson emphasizes terms like: “dominant culture,” “dominant narrative,” and “counter narrative.” A dominant culture is defined as the social customs on which the society was built that has the most power. A dominant narrative is defined as an explanation that is told in service of the dominant culture group’s interest and ideologies. The lesson plan takes students through a case study of Christopher Columbus and creation of Indigenous People’s Day.

The perceived benefits of Ethnic Studies highlighted in the lesson plan are:

  • Racism and Implicit bias challenged
  • Prejudice reduction
  • Empathy building
  • Positive social identities
  • Strengthens our democracy

The Ethnic Studies Challenges & Celebrations lesson plan celebrates the achievements of Ethnic Studies in the last 50 years. Specifically, Corona-Norco Unified School District’s planning committee championed an Ethnic Studies Planning Committee in 2019, which resulted in pilot courses and board approval by 2023.

The lesson plan requires students to fill out a handout titled “Why Ethnic Studies Matters” based on a TED-X talk about the pushback Arizona faced, including how to pushback on criticisms that Ethnic Studies courses may be “un-patriotic” or “un-American” and “the importance of learning about the struggles and unity of African and indigenous people and Mexico?”

The “Ethnic Studies” syllabus for Eleanor Roosevelt High School focuses on “the four ethnic groups that have been traditionally marginalized and have untold stories in most history courses: African American, Chicanx/Latinx, Asian American, and Native American.”

The coursework is explained as an “overarching study of the process and impact of the marginalization resulting from systems of power, is relevant and important for students of all backgrounds. By affirming the identities and contributions of marginalized groups in our society, ethnic studies helps students see themselves and each other as part of the narrative of the United States.” The course highlights assigned reading on the history of the Black Panther Party, Social Construction of Race and Power, Mass Incarceration, Judas and the Black Messiah, the invention of Thanksgiving, “Retracing His Ancestor’s Boarding School Escape,” Chicanx History of Los Angeles, and “Schools and the New Jim Crow: An Interview with Michelle Alexander.”

The “Corona-Norco Unified School District High School Course of Study” document explains the course will include analysis including “contributions of people of color, women, and the LGBTQ+ communities.” The purpose of this course is to, “explore the meaning and origins of America’s racial diversity, and the political, social, and economic impacts that have created social inequalities.”

The course description also details, “students will consider concepts of identity, community, power, and social movements and the ways in which they have fostered hindered social change in the United States.”

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