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Ethnic Studies resolution passes School Board unanimously

March 8, 2010

by Coleman Advocates

The struggle for Ethnic Studies at San Francisco State, the first such program in the country, took a five-month student strike, from November 1968 through March 1969, and many clashes with police. – Photo: Gordon Peters, SF Chronicle
“How can I learn who I can be, when I don’t even know who I am? Ethnic Studies provides me the foundations to learn who I AM!” declared Monet Wilson, a Y-MAC leader at Balboa High School.

Over 125 youth, parents, teachers and supporters packed the Board of Education meeting on Tuesday, Feb. 23, to urge the board to vote in favor of the Ethnic Studies resolution. This resolution would continue and expand an Ethnic Studies pilot program for the San Francisco Unified School District (SFUSD) to take place in five high schools next year.

The board’s unanimous vote marks a victory for a several-year campaign to have SFUSD prioritize curriculum that explores the history of people of color, which often is marginalized in mainstream history textbooks. In a city with a powerful history of winning Ethnic Studies at San Francisco State University and in a district with a student population that is 90 percent students of color, this move was a long time coming. But we want to recognize every member of the Board of Education for making the right choice, particularly Commissioners Fewer, Kim and Maufus, who co-authored the resolution.

According to the resolution, Ethnic Studies “steers youth away from truancy and the juvenile justice system by making their educational experience more personal and relevant. It fosters strong ties between students and their families, neighborhoods, and schools, thus encouraging a sense of civic engagement and social responsibility.”

Students organized in large numbers to appear at the meeting to say that Ethnic Studies makes school more relevant and empowering for them. Over 60 high school and college students as well as teachers testified in front of the Board of Education about the benefits of the classes.

The dean of San Francisco State’s College of Ethnic Studies also testified that the university will provide students who take Ethnic Studies at SFUSD up to six units of college credit that may be used for general education requirements. This year is the 40th anniversary of the creation of Ethnic Studies at San Francisco State.

Coleman leaders voted to push for Ethnic Studies as part of our Coleman’s “College and Career for All” A-G policy implementation campaign because students have a right to learn about their history and be engaged in meaningful learning that validates their own life experiences! We are especially excited that the board will be looking into getting the classes certified as A-G courses in the future.

The vote was a strong statement of district priorities; we recognize that investing $250,000 in a new equity-centered class in the midst of a tremendous budget crisis is politically challenging. No one is happy about impending layoffs, but we want to challenge the idea that we must choose between saving teachers or teaching Ethnic Studies.

Congratulations to the other organizations who put in so much work: POWER, Filipino Community Center, Pinoy Education Partnership, Chinatown Community Development Center and HOMEY. We again want to recognize all seven board members – Commissioners Kim, Fewer, Maufus, Yee, Wynns, Norton and Mendoza – for their leadership. But more importantly, we need to celebrate the incredible, brilliant and powerful youth who did the work, told their stories, and got organized to fight for the kind of schools that will help them be successful.

To learn more and get involved in the work of Coleman Advocates for Children and Youth, visit www.colemanadvocates.org. SFUSD contributed to this story.

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