Goal of ethnic studies curricula is erasure of American culture, experts say

The push for mandatory K-12 ethnic studies is more about “erasing” American culture rather than adding to it, said Heritage Foundation senior fellow Mike Gonzalez.

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(The Minnesota Sun) — A senior fellow at the Heritage Foundation said leftist lawmakers in Democrat-led states such as Minnesota and California are feeding into a culture of victimization and identity politics with their plans for mandatory K-12 ethnic studies curricula, the goal of which, he says, is actually to erase American culture.

In an op-ed at the Washington Examiner on April 22, Mike Gonzalez wrote that what is most disturbing about the leftist call for mandatory K-12 ethnic studies curricula in government schools is that most of the lawmakers proposing these bills are actually “not in the least bit interested” in learning about the minutiae of the hundreds of ethnic cultures represented in the United States. Rather, “they care only about American culture — or, at least, how to erase it.”

Gonzalez’s commentary was published several days after Katherine Kersten, a senior policy fellow at the Center of the American Experiment, wrote an op-ed at the Star Tribune warning that the Minnesota Legislature is “planning an ‘antiracist’ revolution” in the state’s government-run schools.

“Our K-12 education system is about to be transformed, almost beyond recognition,” Kersten wrote, noting:

“Under the radar, a package of bills is ramming through sweeping changes that will reorient our public schools around a new paradigm — subordinating academic basics to an obsessive, politicized preoccupation with race and social justice activism.”

Kersten pointed to HF 1502, a bill to create an “ethnic studies” requirement, and HF 320, a “Teachers of Color” bill that seeks to increase “the percentage of teachers of color and American Indian teachers in Minnesota,” as well as HF 2497/SF 2684, Minnesota House and Senate omnibus education bills:

“Taken together, this legislation will inject reductive, racialized thinking into every classroom in Minnesota’s approximately 500 school districts and charter schools; change the fundamental mechanics of education in our state; and give the Minnesota Department of Education (MDE) and the Professional Educator Licensing and Standards Board (PELSB) broad new powers that amount to an end-run around our state’s hallowed tradition of local control.”

“All students deserve to see themselves — their own cultures, communities, and histories — within their education,” Minnesota state Rep. Samantha Sencer-Mura, DFL-Minneapolis, a lead sponsor of HF1502, told MPR News.

As the Heritage Foundation’s Gonzalez observed, Sencer-Mura, who identifies herself as a fourth-generation Japanese American, stated she was inspired to sponsor the bill because she felt victimized as a ninth-grader because her world studies class focused primarily on Europe.

When Sencer-Mura asked her teacher when students would learn about the rest of the world, she was told they would have to wait until college.

“That experience stayed with me,” she told MPR News, which quoted as well a high school student of Hmong origin who complained that, while “other communities” who had a significant role in the foundations of America were featured in her U.S. history class, she wondered when her fellow students would learn about her culture.

The idea that every culture and ethnicity is to have a prominent role in K-12 curricula “raises its own questions,” Gonzalez wrote:

“In a country as ethnically diverse as the United States, where the world’s some 200 countries, and their hundreds of different ethnicities, are represented, can we devote time and attention to each of them? Aren’t the histories, philosophies, and religions of Rome, Athens, and Jerusalem, which were foundational to the American worldview and Western civilization itself, more worthy of attention?”

Ethnic studies activists in colleges and universities have urged Democrat-led state legislatures to require such curricula in K-12 education.

In a commentary published April 18 at The Harvard Crimson, Rhys Moon urged Massachusetts lawmakers to pass legislation that would fund the incorporation of “the histories and contributions of marginalized and underrepresented racial and ethnic groups into the curriculum of K-12 schools.”

Moon pointed out how mandated K-12 ethnic studies courses will ultimately benefit colleges and universities:

“Beyond the benefits that racially inclusive curricula yield for students, K-12 ethnic studies in Massachusetts may just be the catalyst for a sustainable push for the subject at Harvard. Preventing burnout and sustaining momentum as we fight for a formalized Ethnic Studies curriculum at the College requires a student body confident in the field’s pedagogical value. If we know that ethnic studies programs at the primary and secondary levels work to uplift students and drive engagement, expanding these frameworks at the K-12 level could help the department find a stronger footing at Harvard.”

Some at the university level have expressed significant concern that budgets for ethnic studies programs may be cut.

In Minnesota, for example, the Sahan Journal, a nonprofit media outlet “dedicated to reporting for immigrants and communities of color in Minnesota,” reported Thursday a petition was started at the University of Minnesota following news of proposed budget cuts to the school’s ethnic and gender studies departments.

“But those proposed budget cuts for the 2023–2024 school year were based on an ‘error,’ John Coleman, dean of the College of Liberal Arts, wrote in a Thursday email to faculty and staff,” the news outlet reported, noting that Coleman also said the ethnic and gender studies departments’ budget requests were “inadvertently lower” than those for last year.

The College of Liberal Arts has reportedly asked the ethnic and gender studies departments to resubmit their budget requests.

As Gonzalez warned, the push for mandatory K-12 ethnic studies is more about “erasing” American culture rather than adding to it.

“That is exactly what the Minnesota legislators are trying to do,” he observed. “Their bill says ethnic studies will analyze ‘the ways in which race and racism have been and continue to be powerful social, cultural, and political forces, and the connection of race to other groups of stratification, including gender, class, sexuality, religion, and legal status.’”

A better message, Gonzales said, was delivered by a 10th-grade student who confronted her school board in Florissant, Missouri, two weeks ago.

“I don’t want my school experience to be based on my identity,” the student asserted. “I don’t want you to make policies based on me being a black girl. I want you to make policies based on me being a student and holding me to the highest expectation.”


Dr. Susan Berry

Susan Berry has a doctorate in psychology. She writes about cultural, educational, and healthcare issues.