In Jr Arimboanga’s ninth-grade classroom, students learn about critical consciousness: how to read the word, but also the world. It’s a concept popularized by a Brazilian educational theorist named Paulo Freire in his book, Pedagogy of the Oppressed.
The class is ethnic studies. It’s part of an effort by San Francisco educators like Arimboanga to teach courses centered on the perspectives of historically marginalized groups. Just last year, California passed a law mandating a model ethnic studies curriculum.
Sometimes called multicultural education or culturally responsive teaching (though there are subtle differences among the three), ethnic studies has been expanding on the west coast and in pockets across the country. San Francisco’s curriculum is “designed to give high school students an introduction to the experiences of ethnic communities that are rarely represented in textbooks,” according to the school district’s website.
Teachers of ethnic studies argue that these courses give students a pathway to break the cycles of poverty, violence, and incarceration that so many communities of color face.
“Ethnic studies works,” says Artnelson Concordia, a veteran teacher who is helping to develop the San Francisco curriculum. He wants students to see that “all of their experiences can be connected to larger issues.”
“So by the end of the school year, they’re seeing themselves as makers of history,” Concordia says.
Movements and Counter-Movements
Ethnic studies has “gained momentum, frankly, with the election of Donald Trump,” says Ravi Perry, president of the National Association for Ethnic Studies. This summer, Oregon set a timetable for the adoption of K-12 ethnic studies standards. Efforts to introduce…