Anticipating state mandate, social studies department adds ethnic studies course option for freshmen

February 21, 2021 — by Shreya Rallabandi and Lihi Shoshani

In response to a proposal in the state Legislature to require an ethnic studies course for high school graduation, the social studies department has created an ethnic studies class for freshmen next year. 

Though the bill to mandate ethnic studies has not been signed into law, the department decided to create one to help students understand the lives and histories of a range of ethnicities. The primary creators of the classes have been social studies teachers Margarita Morelle, Faith Daly and Mike Davey.

Incoming freshmen will now be offered the choice between a semester of ethnic studies and a semester of world geography. (The other semester of the class will continue to be health/driver’s education.)

While world geography focuses on the physical, cultural and economic geography of selected cultural regions, especially the early history of the non-western world, ethnic studies will focus on experiences of ethnic communities that are less often represented in textbooks. 

The curriculum is being expanded beyond the four groups more often covered — Native Americans, African-Americans, Latinx Americans and Asian Americans — to recognize the experiences of Jewish and Irish people. The course will explore units like The Flight from Ireland, The War Against Mexico and Japanese “Money Trees,” according to the proposal that was presented to the district board on Jan. 12 and revisited on Feb. 9. The course is expected to be approved by the district board.

According to Morelle, social studies classes have always included segments about individual groups’ fights for equality in existing classes. The ethnic studies course seeks to expand upon this coverage along with more in-depth materials adopted from other districts and universities.

The broad goals of the course are designed for students to be conscious about their personal connections to local and global histories, develop an understanding of the histories of inequality and focus on contributions and struggles of different racial, ethnic and minority groups, Morelle said. The course also seeks to offer something new to students who have only had a short coverage on other ethnicities during their history classes.

“Ethnic studies allows for an introduction to the experiences of ethnic communities that are rarely represented in textbooks,” Davey said. “It is a compelling way to examine race, ethnicity, nationality, socio-economic and cultural groups in the United States.” 

Due to the events of the past year including the rise of the Black Lives Matter movement and increasing and sometimes violent political polarization, the school especially wanted to provide students with the opportunity to learn more about ethnic groups, regardless of whether the bill mandating ethnic studies is ultimately signed into law by Gov. Gavin Newsom.

Senior Shannon Ji said the new class would be beneficial for new Falcons. “I think ethnic studies is more relevant to society nowadays than world geography is,” Ji said. “It would be really interesting for me to learn about the diversity in America so I can better approach the people in my life.”

Dahlia Murthy is one of the incoming freshmen who signed up for the new course. She said she chose the course since she looked forward to learning about topics rarely discussed in the classroom. 

“I think it’s a good idea to be educated about other ethnic communities that are not taught regularly in school,” Murthy said. “Representation of different races and cultural groups is really important, so it’s nice to be able to learn about them in class.”

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