Ethnic Studies Becomes a Required High School Course in California

Ariana Jaramillo, Political Writer

New Law Adds Diversity Exposure to the High School Curriculum

Gov. Newsom signed a law requiring all high school students to complete a semester-long course in ethnic studies to receive their diploma, making California one of the first states requiring such.
The signing of the law has brought up some questions. Such as, how should ethnic studies be taught? And, what impact could it have on young people?

First, it’s important to look into why ethnic studies was created. Ethnic studies was “created to challenge the Eurocentric, cis-heteropatriarchal curriculum that often neglects or dehumanizes Black, Indigenous, Asian American, Pacific Islander, Chicanx and Latinx communities,” according to Dr. Jocyl Sacramento, an assistant professor and faculty advisor fellow in the Department of Ethnic Studies at California State University, East Bay.

Teaching students that “our communities, while having experienced oppression, also have a long history of resisting colonization, racism, patriarchy, heteronormativity,” Sacramento noted, is essential to the instruction of ethnic studies.

With these ideas in mind, Sacramento believes it is important that teachers are mindful of the students in their classrooms. “Tailoring the course to the students and incorporating the regional context is important,” she explained. Additionally, she informed that it is also important for teachers to avoid “watering down” the curriculum.

Teachers can visit here and here to learn more information about authentic ways of teaching Ethnic Studies. Sacramento is co-editing a book on comparative ethnic studies grounded in “Love, Knowledge, and Revolution” that provides content and pedagogical support for teachers.

What does this mean for the students taking the course? According to Sacramento, it means learning “language and concepts that will help them articulate what is happening in the world today with regards to the movement for Black Lives, anti-Asian violence, and movements to protect Mauna Kea.” It also means learning about the multiple perspectives of the people around them.

Taking the course could also lead to other areas of improvement in a student’s life. “Research shows that ethnic studies courses can improve students’ engagement with school, particularly improving student attendance and improving GPAs,” Sacramento shared.

Furthermore, ethnic studies has the potential to impact social interactions. “Students examine oppression and resistance at institutional, interpersonal, and internalized levels,” Sacramento informed, adding that “one Ethnic Studies goal is to help students recognize that they are agents of social change, that students can make change in their own lives and in their communities.”

The new law will take effect with the graduating class of 2030, though it will require that high schools start offering ethnic studies in the 2025 school year.