FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE—May 28, 2020
OUSD Board Includes Arab American Studies in Support for CA Ethnic Studies Curriculum
At almost 2:00 am on May 28, in historic recognition of the importance of Arab American Studies to Ethnic Studies, the Oakland Unified School District (OUSD) Board of Education voted 4-2 (with one abstention) in favor of a resolution adopting the CA Ethnic Studies Model Curriculum (ESMC). This curriculum addresses some of the most pressing issues confronting Arab American students today.
“It’s important for Oakland to stand up and say that we stand with our Ethnic Studies scholars and underrepresented communities, who have never seen themselves reflected in their classroom curriculum,” explained School Board Director Roseann Torres. “We reject attempts to whitewash our Ethnic Studies curriculum and to remove the voices, movements, and real-life experiences of communities of color, including Palestinian Americans.”
The need to include Arab Americans in the Ethnic Studies curriculum is clear from the results of TURATH (Teaching Understanding and Representing Arabs Throughout History), a 2020 report researched and written by the teenage members of Arab Youth Organizing (AYO). AYO is part of the Arab Resource and Organizing Center (AROC).
According to AYO’s findings, 61.5% of the students surveyed had spent no class time this year learning about Arab history or culture. More than 66% of students surveyed said they received most of their information on Arabs or Muslims from the internet or television; only 2.3% said they received information about Arabs or Muslims at school. AYO’s listening sessions included shocking revelations about the levels of Islamophobia in Bay Area schools:
“My history teacher repeatedly asked me if he could call me “Middle East” because my name is too hard to pronounce.”
“I have been made fun of for being Arab and Muslim. I have been called a terrorist and a camel rider.”
AYO’s findings underscore the critical need to include Arab American studies in the statewide ESMC, now awaiting approval by the Instructional Quality Commission (IQC) of the California Board of Education at their upcoming August 13 meeting. The inclusion of Palestine in the curriculum—a focal point of right-wing opposition—is central to Ethnic Studies. Studying
Palestine offers Arab American students an opportunity to understand that their community’s struggles are connected to those of other communities across California and the Middle East.
The Coalition to Defend Arab American Studies is leading the effort to support the ESMC. The coalition is made up of teachers, scholars, parents, students, and community members who believe in the need for students to learn Arab American history. Equally important, the coalition highlights the need of Arab communities, including Arab American Studies scholars, students and teachers, being consulted about any changes or revisions to the Arab American curriculum. The Coalition is working closely with legislators, curriculum experts and educators.
Since the ESMC’s release for public comment in August 2019, the Arab American content has come under attack by an organized and well-funded campaign of racist, Islamophobic and pro-Israeli lobbyists. Now, the entire Ethnic Studies project is vulnerable to attack.
“The California Board of Education has the power to provide leadership to school districts across the state and throughout the country for the type of classrooms our students will return to after the COVID-19 pandemic. Now is the time to support the call by Asian American studies practitioners to include Arab American studies as a critical component of Ethnic Studies. Doing so will advance the well-being of all students and challenge the rise of racism and xenophobia,” stated Lara Kiswani, Executive Director of the Arab Resource and Organizing Center (AROC).
Ethnic Studies has been linked to increases in positive personal, academic, and social outcomes for students. In the post-9/11 era, exacerbated by Trump’s Muslim ban, Arab American students are desperately in need of curriculum that reflects their histories and current realities.
“I want my story to be told to other people. I want people to understand that there isn’t just one side to my history. Our issues are just as complex and beautiful as anyone else’s,” says Khalid Kishawi, Bay Area high school student and Arab youth leader.
By approving the resolution to adopt the ESMC, the OUSD Board of Education has stood up once again to champion progressive Ethnic Studies programs for the state of California. The IQC must now decide between protecting an ESMC that celebrates and reflects our diverse community, or bending to anti-Arab bigotry.