Education activist expands students’ reach of ethnic studies


(pictured above: Jose Lara, recipient of NEA’s 2015 Social Justice Activist of the Year Award, and NEA President Lily Eskelsen Garcia)

by Kate Snyder

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In 2015 Jose Lara won the first ever Social Justice Activist Award given by the NEA for his fight to implement an Ethnic Studies program in California schools.

Accepting the award at the NEA Representative Assembly, Lara said: “Social Justice is a verb. It is a sense of community and responsibility that goes beyond the classroom. It is fighting for the most vulnerable students.”

Looking back, Jose Lara observes: “This award gave me the opportunity to elevate this issue across the country. I had the chance to help people think about things in a different way. This is a different America. It is okay to question our history, to want a more inclusive conversation, and to want the faces and voices of people of color included. If you look around, this is a different America, and we are stronger because of it.”

A high school social studies teacher, Jose Lara ran for and was elected to the El Rancho Unified School District Board and quickly worked to pass a resolution to make Ethnic Studies a graduation requirement—the first in California. This made a huge difference for the students in California. Now they can learn about the role played by their people in our shared history.

“Given the language used by Trump and the other Republican candidates in the primaries, we need people to understand what an anti-racist education looks like,” Lara says. “We can’t let students only hear this hurtful rhetoric, we can’t keep them ignorant of the brilliance and resilience of women and men of color—we must bring those stories to our classrooms. These students are the voters, workers and educators of tomorrow.”


Building on his success, Jose Lara put together a multiethnic coalition to demand school districts across California bring the stories and rich histories of people of color into the classroom. The website details the victories that the coalition has won during the last year. Today 2o Districts across California are implementing an Ethnic studies curriculum. And thanks in part to Jose Lara’s work, interest in the curriculum has expanded beyond California’s borders.

“It was an amazing year, I had the opportunity to light the fire for ethnic studies in other states like Texas, Oregon and Minnesota. I just want to give a shout out to the educators that I met across this country who are doing amazing work. I can’t wait to hear what the 2016 Social Justice Award recipient will do.”

Reader Comments

  1. Professor Lara is correct ethnic studies when done correctly should be part of our national education systems. What I find and I think many people find disturbing is Raza studies in particular tell history in such a way to demonize Caucasian people and tells often a one sided and bias history of events such as the Mexican American War and seem to foster resentment of American History.

  2. The ethnic studies that ought to be taught in this country are the ethnics of America. We are all Americans. What used to be a melting pot of one vision for freedom, liberty and pursuing what ever opportunity awaited one, has now morphed into a patchwork quilt of non directional diversity. While this has been in the works for a long while, the current very confused president has kindled fires that have created fear, distrust, and diminished opportunity for all.

    Politicians like Warren, Billary, Pelosi and other bleeding heart liberals have fostered the idea that this country is a free for all regardless of your commitment to contribute. They want to forgive loans taken on by willing students, continue welfare programs for illegals, and welcome terrorists to this country in the name of supporting liberty for all.

    Interestingly, today’s number one player in this game, Ms. Clinton, has now carefully played her words in regard to the newest revelation that her email server contained Top Secret documents. She carefully worded her response today: ‘no documents that were identified as such.’ This is another example of her (family’s) ability to mince words (like Billy-Boy saying I never had sex with that woman: quite an interpretation).

    People like her think anything goes. The support for illegal aliens in this country is disgraceful. People like Clinton think they and their traditions ought to be celebrated.

    All this ethnic Identification needs to be made subservient to unification of America. There is no problem with celebrating one’s ethnic background, but other than American law and traditions of honoring the constitution, working hard and not taking things for free are what comes first, and foremost. Other celebrations and history come second.

    For those who think their ethnic traditions trump American rules and traditions, I would offer they need to return to their native lands and celebrate their culture in those countries.

    America first.

    1. Bob, your “colorblind” racism is insulting. Since you “disapprove” of the “non directional Ethnicities” (whatever that means) you obviously assume “America” means white, and people like you will continue to exclude histories that are non-white. That’s why we need Ethnic Studies.

      1. Elias, the correct use of quotes is when one literally quotes something. Perhaps you should insult your English teacher for not providing you with an adequate education in the English language.

      2. You are 100% I am color blind, ethnic blind and blind to anything that interferes with celebrating my ethnicity: American. Is there some background that is more important in this country? Please, let me know what ethnicity trumps American? I just made a pun.

        1. There would be no need to celebrate one’s ethnicity if all of us were treated like Whites. Until the time comes, as Martini Luther King, Jr., stated, that you judge me by the content of my character and not the color of my skin, I will continue to be an 83+ year-old Black-American activist feminist academician and great-grandmother!

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