Education · Fresno

Fresno Unified ethnic studies mandate faces worry of omitting Armenian, anti-Semitism studies

Fresno Unified’s school board is set to approve a resolution requiring its students to take two semesters of ethnic studies in order to graduate from high school.

The move puts Fresno Unified ahead of California legislators – who have debated a statewide requirement for the past year – and runs headlong into the fraught, and often confusing, world of ethnic studies curriculum.

The Fresno Unified resolution calls for its high school students to take 10 units of ethnic studies as part of the state-mandated requirements for graduation.

It specifically argues that “not learning about the comprehensive history and contributions of people of color in America contributes to lower test scores and achievement gaps for African American, [Latino/Chicano] and Native American students.”

It does not, however, cite a source to that specific claim.

While the district’s resolution crafting a required ethnic studies program does not lay an early blueprint for the specific required topics, it opens the door for the California Department of Education’s Ethnic Studies Model Curriculum.

The model curriculum came under fire last summer when unveiled by State Superintendent Tony Thurmond for omitting references to the contributions of and prejudice facing Jewish Americans.

The curriculum also initially omitted any reference to the Armenian population, which now exceeds 1 million in California.

Following an update, the current version of model ethnic studies curriculum includes four references to Armenians – all tied to the Armenian Genocide.

Jewish advocates expressed hope that Fresno Unified would avoid the key pitfalls embraced by state officials in 2019.

“We’ve been following this issue closely on a state level, in regards to the California Ethnic Studies Model Curriculum (ESMC),” said Max Samarov, Executive Director of Research with Jewish advocacy group StandWithUs. 

“While the ESMC is headed in the right direction, further revisions are needed to make it more inclusive of California’s diverse communities and perspectives. We hope Fresno Unified will work carefully to ensure that the serious problems we saw with the first draft of the state curriculum are not reproduced on a local level.”

Meanwhile, Armenian-American advocates cite the sizable population concentrated within the Golden State as reason to garner more than passing reference in model curriculum.

“We have been actively engaged in the California Ethnic Studies Model Curriculum conversation for over 2 years, and echo the calls of Asian-American Studies scholars to examine and include the experiences of other West Asian peoples, including the Armenians,” said Armenian National Committee education committee chair Alice Petrossian.

“Our Committee has always been in support of including Ethnic Studies classes in public education, and made sure that the CDE hears the voices of over one million strong Californians of Armenian descent. We advocate for representation in the curriculum of other marginalized groups. Ethnic studies must reflect our histories and experiences in California’s public schools.”

Alex Tavlian
Alex Tavlian is the Executive Editor of The San Joaquin Valley Sun and Executive Director of Valley Future Foundation. You can reach Alex at alex.tavlian@sjvsun.com.