Late last week, over 80 Jewish groups banded together and wrote Governor Gavin Newsom a letter, asking him to veto a bill that would make ethnic studies a requirement in high school.
Jewish groups call AB 331 ‘Anti-Semitic’
Under Assembly Bill 331, authored by Assemblyman Jose Medina (D-Riverside), a one-semester ethnic studies class would be added as a mandatory class to California high schools, including charter schools, statewide beginning in the 2025-2026 year, with the class being a graduation requirement starting with the 2029-2030 class.
AB 331 was highly controversial this session, passing based largely on party lines in the Senate and Assembly. Call for racial justice after the George Floyd protests earlier this year fueled the bills rapid ascension this summer, much like the similar AB 1460, which created a mandatory ethnic studies class for CSU students beginning in the 2021-2022 year.
However, unlike AB 1460, which added amendments to include multiple ethnic and cultural groups as possible CSU classes, AB 331 did not go into what the class would specifically entail.
In the letter to the Governor, the Jewish groups, spearheaded by the AMCHA Initiative, said that the class would focus on Critical Ethnic Studies. The groups said that the class is “firmly rooted in Marxist ideologies that divide society into oppressed and oppressor groups based primarily on race and class, and, as part of its disciplinary mission, uses the classroom to indoctrinate students into narrow political beliefs and political activism.”
They also accuse the class of being anti-Semitic, as a draft of the proposed class would have Jewish and Irish American students write about how they have achieved “racial privilege” in the U.S.
“At a time when anti-Jewish sentiment, hostility and violence has reached truly alarming levels, indoctrinating students to view Jews as ‘white’ and ‘racially privileged’ is tantamount to putting an even larger target on the back of every Jewish student,” read the letter. “In light of the overwhelming evidence that the final draft of the model curriculum will embrace a highly politicized and divisive Critical Ethnic Studies approach that can’t help but incite hatred and harm against some students, particularly those who are Jewish, we believe that signing AB 331 into law will be a disaster for our students and our state.”
Gov. Newsom has until September 30th to sign AB 331
Many Catholic groups have also spoken out about the bills passage, pointing out that having students from historically oppressed groups and religions write about how they have “privilege” would ruin the entire point of the class.
“Catholics had hundreds of years of bias in the U.S. There used to be signs for Irish or Italians ‘need not apply. Jews, of course, have faced thousands of years pf prejudice and worse. And these are still happening today,” explained Kathleen Johnson, a leader of one such Catholic group against AB 331.
“Of course we can’t deny the years of racism and prejudice against other groups, but we need to tell the full story and have students critically think about this. But the fact that the class would ignore this, and possibly even call out some on having privilege, despite coming from a group or religion that has faced prejudice itself, it’s hypocritical. If we want an ethnic studies class, let’s truly make it ethnic and not just pick and choose who was treated badly.”
The Jewish groups in the letter took a similar stance, asking that if it is signed that teachers cannot use their classrooms for their own agenda or as a one-sided view.
Governor Newsom has until the end of the month to sign AB 331 into law.