Jaime Kardontchik
Jaime Kardontchik

Critical Race Theory and the Jews

The curriculum of the K-12 schools in all California is lately being radically changed under the pressure of the proponents of the “Critical Race Theory”, and the Jews in the new curricula appear as part of the class of “white people” oppressing the indigenous “people of color”, who should repent for their “whiteness” if they live in the US, and should be boycotted if they live in Israel.

The original “Ethnic Studies Model Curriculum” for California K12 schools presented in 2019, lately renamed by its proponents as the “Liberated Ethnic Studies Model Curriculum” (“LESMC”), is full of antisemitic content [See Reference 1]. The approval of the new “Ethnic Studies Model Curriculum”, (“ESMC”) in March 2021 [See Reference 2], for which many Jewish organizations fought so hard, did not solve the problem, since it was immediately downgraded in July 2021 by the California Legislature as “one possibility out of many” that the K12 schools in California can adopt (Assembly Bill AB-101, approved on July 15, 2021) [See Reference 3]

In fact, the antisemitic LESMC will become in the coming years the de-facto curriculum adopted by a significant number of school districts in California [See, for example, Reference 4], which, by law, have to implement now “Ethnic Studies” courses at K12 schools: there is a cadre of professors and lecturers at the California universities, teachers in K12 schools (graduated from the “Ethnic Studies” departments at the California universities) and private “consultants” – all ideologically committed to the LESMC – who are being presently hired by local K12 school districts to implement the LESMC curriculum. The LESMC is the only well-developed Ethnic Studies program in town: the new ESMC approved in March 2021 only exists on paper and there is no cadre of committed professors, lecturers, K12 teachers and consultants behind it needed to implement it in K12 schools. “Curricula” are not implemented at schools, they only provide guidelines: actual materials, lectures and textbooks are what rank-and-file teachers need.

This will be a long fight and perhaps the Jewish community in California has already missed the train. It could perhaps limit the damage only in school districts where the local Jewish community is well represented and actively engaged.

I do not pass judgement about the intrinsic value of some aspects of the “Critical Race Theory” philosophy. This can be discussed at the Universities, in the same way that other philosophies and philosophers are, from “The Republic” by Plato to “The Capital” by Marx.

However, the proponents of the “Critical Race Theory” should first clean up their house and get rid of the antisemitic elements in their midst: their negative obsession with the Jews and Israel, boycotts of Israel and their opposition to the right of the Jewish people to self-determination and the right of the Jewish State to exist in the land of Israel. [See Reference 5]

This latter fight will be perhaps the right place where the Jewish community as a whole should place its limited resources.

References

[Reference 1] Liberated Ethnic Studies Model Curriculum (LESMC):Preparing to teach Palestine: A toolkit”:

http://www.liberatedethnicstudies.org/teach-palestine4.html

Introduction

The past year has seen an enormous shift in the landscape for teachers who want to include Palestine in their curriculum. In California, attacks by Zionist and other right-wing organizations on the inclusion of Arab American studies—and specifically Palestine—in the CA Ethnic Studies Model Curriculum (ESMC) have shone a spotlight on Palestine and importance of including it in ethnic studies curriculum.  Many educators who have taught ethnic studies for years without thinking about Arab American history are reflecting on their curriculum, learning new content, and making revisions. Discussions about the pedagogical importance of comparing and contrasting settler colonialism in the US and Palestine have been central to that process. The vicious attacks that equate any mention of Palestine with antisemitism have pushed teachers, unions, and districts to understand that honest discussion of Israel’s role in the oppression of Palestinians is not antisemitism.

Another factor has been the shift in public opinion in light of Israel’s May 2021 bombing attacks on Gaza, their efforts to forcibly expel longtime Palestinian residents of Sheikh Jarrah and Silwan in Jerusalem, and their violent suppression of Palestinian resistance. Even media as blindly loyal to Israel as the New York Times have carried front page stories on the children murdered by Israeli bombs in Gaza and home demolitions in Silwan. As the violence dominated the news, students pushed their teachers to explain what was happening, and to make space for classroom discussion of the issues.

So we are seeing an upsurge in interest in learning about and teaching Palestine, often within an ethnic studies framework. At the same time, Zionists are organizing to police curriculum on Palestine. They often try to isolate and attack individual teachers to scare other educators away.

That’s not a reason not to teach about Palestine, just as attacks on Black Lives Matter in Schools isn’t a reason not to teach Black history. Teaching the truth about the history of the US is a liberatory act, for teachers and for students. Teaching the truth about Palestine is also a liberatory act, for teachers and for students. It’s a political decision. But, as much as possible, you want to be strategic. The goal is for your anti-racist teaching to be sustainable, and to be part of a larger movement. This is a road we’re making by walking, but this toolkit provides a brief framework for thinking about how to approach teaching about Palestine.

[Reference 2] Ethnic Studies Model Curriculum (ESMC), approved on March 18, 2021:

https://www.cde.ca.gov/ci/cr/cf/esmc.asp

Even the new ESMC (2021), cleaned from the virulent antisemitic content of the LESMC (2019), is not kind to the Jewish people and its history. For the sections referring to Jews, see Chapter 4, Lessons 30 and 31. Notice how these lessons are shaped in the terminology of Critical Race Theory and its intent to differentiate the recently arrived Jews in the US from the Arab countries (“Jews of color”) from the other Jews, both Sephardi and Ashkenazi Jews coming from Europe and constituting more than 95% of the Jews in the US, long integrated in the US society, who should repent for their “whiteness”.

For more on this subject, see the chapter “A Brief History of the Jews: Sephardi, Mizrahi and Ashkenazi Jews” in my book “Boycott of Israel is Wrong: How to fight it”.

[Reference 3] California Legislative Assembly Bill AB-101

https://leginfo.legislature.ca.gov/faces/billNavClient.xhtml?bill_id=202120220AB101

The following text in the bill specifies the requirements for future graduation for K12 students in schools of California:

(i) Commencing with pupils graduating in the 2029–30 school year, including for pupils enrolled in a charter school, a one-semester course in ethnic studies. A local educational agency, including a charter school, may require a full-year course in ethnic studies at its discretion. Commencing with the 2025–26 school year, a local educational agency, including a charter school, with pupils in grades 9 to 12, inclusive, shall offer at least a one-semester course in ethnic studies.

(ii) Subject to the course offerings of a local educational agency, including a charter school, a pupil may fulfill the requirement of clause (i) through the completion of any of the following types of courses:

(I) A course based on the model curriculum developed pursuant to Section 51226.7.

(II) An existing ethnic studies course.

(III) An ethnic studies course taught as part of a course that has been approved as meeting the A–G requirements of the University of California and the California State University.

(IV) A locally developed ethnic studies course approved by the governing board of the school district or the governing body of the charter school. The proposed course shall first be presented at a public meeting of the governing board of the school district or the governing body of the charter school, and shall not be approved until a subsequent public meeting of the governing board or governing body at which the public has had the opportunity to express its views on the proposed course.

Note by the author: A course based on (I) is the ESMC approved in March 2021. Notice that a school district can choose between any of four alternatively designed Ethnic Courses. For a detailed discussion of option (III) see the chapter “California Assembly Bill 101 – From bad to worse” in my book “Boycott of Israel is Wrong: How to fight it”.

[Reference 4] There are 1,037 school districts in California:

https://www.cde.ca.gov/ds/ad/ceffingertipfacts.asp

In many of these districts only a relative small number of Jewish families live, and they cannot influence what the schools will decide to teach. Each school district can develop its own “Ethnic Studies” curriculum, according to the AB-101 bill. People might never know the actual content of an “Ethnic Studies” course developed by some obscure author or local school district (options II and IV in Assembly Bill AB-101): they could and they will be a backdoor to reintroduce at the local levels the original openly antisemitic 2019 Curriculum, lately renamed by its proponents as LESMC, “Liberated Ethnic Studies Model Curriculum”. For example, the Hayward Unified School District, next to San Francisco, adopted last June 23th an Ethnic Studies curriculum based on the LESMC. According to the website of the Hayward Unified School District:

https://www.husd.us/pf4/cms2/news_themed_display?id=1624611250631

I quote:

HAYWARD, Calif., June 25, 2021—The Hayward Unified School District (HUSD) Board of Trustees voted unanimously at the June 23, 2021 meeting to approve a new Ethnic Studies policy for the district and to waive the need for a second reading. HUSD will expand Ethnic Studies throughout all grade levels (preschool-12) and across disciplines. The policy reaffirms the district’s commitment to establishing Ethnic Studies as a graduation requirement by the 2022-23 school year. 

The policy and efforts to develop an Ethnic Studies framework are informed by and will include Critical Race Theory and the Liberated Ethnic Studies Model Curriculum.

 Note: Boldface added by the author. Notice also that the Hayward Unified School District intents to teach Critical Race Theory not only at the high-schools, but at all grade levels, from kindergarten up, and across all disciplines, including Math and Science courses.

[Reference 5] Jaime Kardontchik, “Boycott of Israel is Wrong: How to fight it”, 2021

You can read the complete book and download it for free from the ResearchGate website:

https://www.researchgate.net/publication/352573399_Boycott_of_Israel_is_Wrong_How_to_fight_it

The book is also available at Amazon, in electronic (Kindle) and paperback formats.

About the Author
Jaime Kardontchik has a PhD in Physics from the Technion, Israel Institute of Technology. He lives in the Silicon Valley, California.
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