I believe the Cal(ifornia) State University (CSU) system is the biggest state University system in the U.S., comprising over 430,000 students. On Wednesday, the CSU trustees voted that, starting in the academic year 2023-2024, all students must take either an ethnic studies course or a social justice course. A related but slightly different measure, which has already passed the state Assembly and Senate, will soon go to the governor.
The three articles below, from the Los Angeles Times, Courthouse News, and edsource.org (in order) give details (click on screenshots).
Apparently there was some fighting among CSU educators about the bill, as the CSU version allows you to bypass ethnic studies by taking a “social-justice” course. Some educators don’t like that, as they feel ethnic studies should be required. There seems to have been further arguments about the nature of ethnic studies, which in the bill is limited to the study of African-Americans, Latinos, Native Americans, and Asian-Americans (I believe students must take a course that deals with only one of these ethnicities). Although the reporting above is not clear, some trustees who opposed the plan felt that the ambit should be broader than this. (I have no feeling about that, though the four groups seem appropriate at least for Californians.) There are also two different bills, one proposed and passed by the legislature (requiring an ethnic studies course), and one proposed by CSU itself (in which a social-justice course obviates the need for an ethnic studies course); they are different and what the legislature determines will be what students have to take.
If you think about it while ignoring the current climate of Wokeness surrounding ethnicity and Critical Race Theory, there’s no reason to object to students learning about the history, lives, and experiences from those in other groups, particularly in such a diverse state as California. Why should students be required to study, say, Shakespeare or Plato or other “canonical” topics, but not the sociology of different ethnic groups whom they encounter daily?
The difference, I think, is that Shakespeare and Plato studies are not accompanied by an implicit ideology which I’m sure will be part of CSU’s ethnic-studies courses. Those courses may, although they won’t be taught for two years, be akin to proselytizing students in a way that stifles discussion or free thought. Why do I think that? Well, look at what happened to gender studies courses in universities. Dissent is suppressed in favor of Received Wisdom.
And there are these statements in the reports that buttress this concern:
[Loren] Blanchard [executive vice chancellor for academic and student affairs] said the new requirement “elevates” the study of the four racial and ethnic groups that traditionally comprise ethnicstudies to the same level as the natural and life sciences, the arts and humanities. It also “makes room for the voices and experiences of other oppressed and marginalized groups,” he said.
CSU Chancellor Timothy P. White said in a statement after the vote the requirement will better equip graduates to address the complexities of the world’s problems in a comprehensive way.
“This action, by the CSU and for the CSU, lifts ethnic studies to a place of prominence in our curriculum, connects it with the voices and perspectives of other historically oppressed groups, and advances the field by applying the lens of social justice.” White said.
It’s likely that such courses will use the 1619 Project as part of their curriculum, as it was explicitly designed for that use.
It is of course possible to teach ethnic studies without conveying a particular ideology to the students, or concentrating solely on oppression. Any courses would of course have to include descriptions of the discrimination and obstacles that ethnic minorities faced in America; after all, that’s part of their history. But there is so much more to black, Hispanic, Native American, and Asian-American history than a narrative of simple oppression. There are stories of triumph, of moral improvement of the oppressor, and of the wonderful diversity of each culture’s beliefs, food, music, and so on. I fear that CSU will subsume all that into a one-dimensional narrative of Critical Theory and identity politics.
As for the Social Justice courses, I have no confidence that they will turn out to be anything but Woke ideology. So it goes.