I have read with interest the back and forth discourse regarding the Los Alamitos High School (LAHS) elective curriculum on ethnic studies. We should all be concerned over the increasingly harsher tones and opinions regarding the subject, potentially alienating individuals, family members, generations, neighbors, all small town citizens who should be tolerant and helping each other out when in need.
My perspective is coming from a background of having lived in Seal Beach for over 36 years, and with two now adult children, who received an excellent education (including the opportunity of participating in the then on-site Orange County High School of Arts [OCHSA] during their high-school years) within the LAUSD.
So, first the facts as per usnews.com. The high school is ranked #160 (top 10%) in California. Math proficiency is about 58%, and reading proficiency is above 80%. The student body is diverse, by ethnicity/race: 49% White, 26% Hispanic, 15% Asian, 6% 2 or more races, 3% black, 1% native Hawaiian/Pacific Islander, with 17% of students classified as economically disadvantaged.
Now for the hotly debated (by many from outside of our district, with no stake at all in the well-being of our children or our neighborhood) ethnic studies curriculum.
On the LAUSD website I could not find the LAUSD board-approved curriculum for the non-mandatory, elective ethnic studies course, which is available only for students who had already taken history courses. After searching on Google, https://event-newsenterprise.com/lausd-ethnic-studies-curriculum-now-on-public-preview/ revealed the recommended material prior to approval. The basic course book was written by an acclaimed expert Ronald Takaki, with the text inclusive of a multicultural perspective (I browsed chapter titles, but confess of not having read the book). I had read the recommended article on white privilege by Cory Collins, which I have found factual. There is no material on Critical Race Theo-ry.
It would serve the LAUSD Board well to link the approved and final ethnic studies curriculum to the website for all to see.
Away from the subject of LAHS curriculum however, one should really pay attention to the previously approved non-mandatory Social Justice Standards “tool” aimed to assist with younger students, (available at losal.org). The “tool” helps teachers to address race and gen-der. When it comes to religion and health, however, it falls short on appropriate and time-relevant guidance, as illustrated below.
For K-2, a Christian girl’s situational conversation about being religious ends with “ I can feel good about myself without being mean or making other people feel bad”. Why would a child even think that he/she should not be comfortable being a Christian? Having an in-school dis-cussion about being mean in this context probably intends to avoid expression of superiority to others. Such discussions however, primarily belong to the home of 5-7 year old kids.
For the 3-5 grade level, and example is a boy who always sits alone at lunch while frequently coughing. Two kids observing him plan to socialize with him to get to know him and make him feel better. The story implies that his loneliness and the cough is related to being disadvan-taged. As a physician, my first thought would be to be careful, help him with his cough through discussion with a teacher, who should then send the child to the school nurse for advise and the need for medical assessment. This example is particularly outdated during the pandemic.
A 6-8 Grade level scenario is particularly wrong in its message. Patrick is Christian, and he is interested in other religious beliefs and practices. He asks for advise from his Sunday school teacher, who assures him that he can be Christian and befriend and learn from people of dif-ferent religions. “In fact, the teacher’s best friend of thirty years is a Jewish woman she grew up with!” Teaching tolerance and explaining that different religions and people can coexist and respect each other is a must, but this example is equal to ‘I cannot be a racist because I have a Black, Asian, American Indian, etc, friend.’
While well-intended, with young kids-most of whom would describe a friend when asked about as wearing glasses, cool shoes, etc, rather than by race-being much more impressionable than high-schoolers, the Social Justice Standards is in need of serious revisions.
Back to LAHS and the recent correspondences: It is uncalled for for a white student from LAUSD to feel the need to apologize for the privilege she inherited and for living in a nice neighborhood; her parents worked hard for such. On the other side, arguing that the curriculum will decrease property values is flying in the face of double digit price hikes in Seal Beach, Rossmoor, and all around us. What could decrease property values is the constant bickering and spiritually militarized “discussions” on any subject, be that education, race, religion, or inequality, not to mention politics, regardless of the originating side, particularly if the intent is making our great and so far safe neighborhood the center of uncontrolled mob scenes. It is great news that fiscal restraints disallowed a potentially self-induced riotous scenario regarding the meeting “to educate” us.
I would like to express my appreciation to the Sun editorial staff for the objective journalistic reporting of the story behind the Orange County Board of Education and the Rossmoor Board discussions. The Sun’s Jul. 15 issue provided an inspiring and reassuring example of commendable, civilized, diverse, tolerant, peaceful coexistence by having articles on the Jewish Family and Children’s Service, Calvary Chapel baptism, and a Jehovah’s Witnesses virtual event, in addition to the Annual Sunset Pancake Breakfast, adjacently printed to each other.
We should all agree that the overriding aim of the board and LAUSD is to further the educational level-for example, set goals including ranking at least in the top 100 in California-through substantially improved math and reading proficiency, provide a safe and mutually respectful environment, allocate additional resources for all students, and, particularly for those of greater needs for whatever reason. Our state budget surplus should provide additional financial assistance for LAUSD, so we can let the educators focus on teaching and better preparation of the next generation for the future in an ever-more diverse society that increasingly puts a premium on applicable knowledge.
George Somlo MD