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California’s “privilege”-based curricula are at odds with America’s ideals

The idea that judging someone based on their skin color rather than the content of their character is now increasing in schools across California.

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Increasingly, it seems, California schools are accepting the idea that students should be evaluated primarily on the basis of their skin color rather than their actions or beliefs. This is not the case for only these institutions. One of the most cherished principles in the United States, equal protection under the law, is being challenged in classrooms all over the country. There has been a rise in attacks on the ideal of equality in K-12 education, from labeling a biracial high school student in Nevada as a “oppressor” to teaching white students in Manhattan that they are inherently evil.

Many activists and intellectuals, under the banners of “critical race theory,” “equity,” and “intersectionality,” have embraced the idea that a person’s character is determined by fixed, irrelevant factors like race and sex rather than by their words and actions. These activists have advocated for lessons in elementary and secondary schools in which students are divided into groups according to race and asked to write about their “privilege” or “marginalized status” as a result of that division. This aims to silence critics while indoctrinating students in an ideology that promotes racial stereotypes and undermines equal protection under the law.

California’s latest example of “woke” education is a radical model curriculum promoting race-based K-12 curriculum developed by the Liberated Ethnic Studies Model Curriculum Consortium. The website’s front page promotes “lesson plans that center students in their self-identity,” a focus on race, and provides a link to a YouTube video that uses the statement “I can expect my children to get a good education” to illustrate white privilege.

The lessons are meant to serve as a warning against the perils of teaching students solely based on their race. It asks students to think critically about their own racial history and to make distinctions between people based on the “privilege” they may or may not have been born into. Land acknowledgments, in which students publicly declare that they are living on indigenous peoples’ land, are also required. After being plagued by accusations of antisemitism, the governor of California rejected a similarly radical curriculum created by this group in 2020 on the grounds that it was “insufficiently balanced and inclusive.” Despite this, many districts have hurried to implement the Liberated Ethnic Studies Model Curriculum and similar programs.

The Liberated Ethnic Studies Model Curriculum discriminates against students on the basis of their race, in contravention of the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment and Title VI of the Civil Rights Act. Teachers who spread racial division through their words or actions make the school environment unsafe for students. The dream of Martin Luther King, Jr. was that children “will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character,” so this focus on racial identity is antithetical to that goal.

Meanwhile, it’s a violation of the First Amendment to force students to express or adopt any particular viewpoint. The Supreme Court ruled in 1943 that students could not be coerced into saying the Pledge of Allegiance or saluting the flag. Similar concerns can be raised about curricula that demand students adopt woke dogma or admit that they are “privileged” or “oppressors” simply because of their race. Students should not be required to share opinions that go against their morals in the classroom.

There is a rising tide of illiberalism in our public schools, but some parents are fighting back. Pacific Legal Foundation is just one of many public interest groups aiding parents, students, and educators in their fight for free speech and equal treatment under the law. There is a greater need than ever before for advocates of the traditional civil rights principles. In its seminal decision Brown v. Board of Education, the Supreme Court ruled that “in the field of public education the doctrine of’separate but equal’ has no place.” Unfortunately, not enough progressive activists seem to have learned from this.

Both Jack Brown (@jebrown300) and Ethan Blevins (@ethanwb) are attorneys at Pacific Legal Foundation, a non-profit organization that fights for Americans’ freedom and constitutional rights.

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