Assembly Bill 331: Redemption or Failure?

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A big believer in the power of communication. If not writing, out exploring the city.

“It is not a question of whether the subject itself is necessary but rather, how do we ensure the curriculum is comprehensive, rigorous and inclusive enough,”

-Assemblyman José Medina, D-Riverside

It is nearly impossible to properly represent every ethnic and religious group into a year-long high school course, but that won’t stop José Medina and a group of educators from trying.

Originally set out to make an ethnic studies course mandatory for high school students to graduate, Assembly Bill 331 has instead lit up a debate on exactly who ought to be represented in such a course. Out of the over 5,000 comments posted on the topic of the draft bill on the California Department of Education website, many were critical on the noticeable lack of certain communities. With the curriculum generally focused to represent Asian Americans, African Americans, Latinos and Native Americans as a whole, it left out specific ethnicities within these groups such as the Korean community and the struggles of persecuted religious groups such as the Jewish community.

That is not to say that the bill did not have its fair share of supporters. Many students and educators have gone out on the record to support it, detailing how the bill addresses a very real need in society to have people educated on the struggles of the people that make up this country. Those in the academic field of ethnic studies have also supported the way the curriculum was constructed as the integrity of the study was at stake.

“The purpose of the model Ethnic Studies curriculum is to center the history of people of color who have been marginalized or ignored by the current curriculum,”

-Jewish Voices for Peace — Bay Area

While both sides made their points very clear, it was ultimately decided to delay the bill until a new curriculum was constructed to be fully representative. This decision was made back in August 2019 and with the deadline for the new curriculum looming this year, it is interesting to see what the impact of the bill would be like.

As a high school student, I would be lying if I didn’t say that I believe there are some major precautions that the main narrative around this bill has failed to focus on. While it looks as though I won’t be impacted by the proposed date for the curriculum, I can say that there will be unforeseen consequences. Issues relating to money, student count and classroom space are already at their tipping point for most schools. So, I’m not sure if this is a project that we are ready for; it may not even be something that most students are ready for. My school district of LAUSD has a graduation rate of 78 percent. With a little less than a quarter of students being unable to graduate already, adding an extra mandatory class may make less eligible to receive a degree.

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All those concerns aside, I do see the point of attempting to make something official out of it. As an Asian American, I want this to be something that is taught in classrooms. With so much misunderstanding between the people of not only this state but the country, I believe that this is a step in the right direction for better race relations. That is why when I find such faults in a bill that I support fundamentally, it hurts.

As ground zero for legislation that typically goes nationwide, California needs to prove that this can work. Infighting and incomplete plans only serve as reasons to support the contrary. Regardless of whether or not you support the bill, most in the debate agree that this is a project to support. Progress is being made to address concerns, and by the time the new curriculum is made, it has to be something that we all believe can work. We only get one chance at this, so let us hope that the revised bill is the one to prove that.