Gavin Newsom, the highly controversial governor of California, made the news again this week. He just signed legislation that makes his state the first to mandate public high school students pass an ethnic studies class as a graduation requirement.
According to The San Francisco Chronicle, high school students in California will eventually be required to learn about the contributions and oppression of people of color in America. This new measure signed by Newsom this past Friday will add a one-semester ethnic studies course to the state’s high school graduation requirements for public schools, starting with the 2029-30 academic year.
The legislation, known as Assembly Bill 101, will also require public schools to offer at least one ethnic studies course as an elective beginning in the 2025-26 school year.
The governor said that the legislation will enable students to learn their own stories and those of their classmates. He also believes that a number of studies have shown that these courses boost student achievement over the long run – especially among students of color.
Governor Newsom, who recently won a run-off election in California, wrote that America has been shaped by our shared history, and much of it “painful and etched with woeful injustice.” He added, “Students deserve to see themselves in their studies, and they must understand our nation’s full history if we expect them to one day build a more just society.”
Jose Medina, a Democratic assembly member from Riverside, authored the bill. He described the signing as just one step in the long struggle for equal education for all students.
He noted in a statement that the inclusion of ethnic studies in the high school curriculum is long overdue. He believes that students can not have a full understanding of the history of the state of a nation without the inclusion of the contribution and struggles of Native Americans, African Americans, Latinos, and Asian Americans.
“I want to acknowledge the countless young people, high school and college students, teachers and professors, who have organized, demonstrated, boycotted classes, and gone on hunger strikes to demand a more equitable and inclusive educational system,” Medina noted.
The Chronicle wrote that some Republican legislators believe the course is not appropriate for high school students. They argued that it was rooted in critical race theory and held the view that racism is ingrained across laws and government institutions.
Those in favor of the course argued that ethnic studies courses have proven to help students of color advance academically because they feel empowered by seeing themselves reflected in textbooks, rather than a “Eurocentric” version of history, according to The Chronicle.
The outlet also noted that the final version of AB101 includes a provision that discourages school districts from using earlier versions of the model curriculum that included references to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
The legislation also prohibits schools from using instructional materials that promote bias or discrimination toward any group.
Last year, Governor Newsom vetoed a similar proposal. According to The Los Angeles Times, Newsom called for a revised and completed state curriculum guide for ethnic studies. He wanted one that would be balanced, fair, and “inclusive of all communities.” In March, the California Board of Education approved those revisions.
A prominent Black Lives Matter organizer who is also a professor of Pan-African Studies at Cal State LA, Dr. Melina Abdullah, has been a vocal proponent for mandating ethnic studies requirements for public high schools and colleges in California. She has been a major force in convincing the L.A. Unified School District to make ethnic studies a graduation requirement.
Abdullah said that Black Studies transformed her from one who dropped out of traditional high school and was losing her way to one who earned her Ph.D. and became a professor and activist/organizer.
She wrote to her followers on social media, “There are countless others like me whose lives have been saved by ethnic studies.”