Ethnic Studies Promotes Understanding, Higher Academic Achievement

Support Ethnic Studies Programs

Ethnic studies is the interdisciplinary study of race and ethnicity, as understood through the perspectives of major underrepresented racial groups. It draws upon many disciplines to foster cross-cultural understanding -- and help students to value their own cultural identity while appreciating the differences around them. From campaigns to require schools to offer ethnic studies courses, to efforts to change the names of schools honoring Confederate leaders, students and educators around the country are mobilizing to include voices and stories of the diverse ethnicities that have contributed to the history and culture of the United States.

Ed Dept. Threat to Middle Eastern Studies Program Deprives Educators, Students, Says Teacher

October 4, 2019

By Félix Pérez
In what is being described as an “overly ideological” overreach that could stifle academic freedom, the U.S. Education Department has threatened to strip the funding of the Duke-University of North Carolina Consortium for Middle Eastern Studies.

Tinisha Shaw, a member of the first cohort of teachers to go through the yearlong program, says the criticism by Betsy DeVos’ department that the consortium didn’t present enough “positive aspects” of Christianity, Judaism and other religions reflects a lack of understanding of the program.

“Never in one conversation or in any of the sessions – because I am a Christian and my grandmother’s a preacher and my momma’s a preacher — never, not once, was there anything said against Christianity or Judaism,” says Shaw, a 13-year teacher granted a consortium fellowship during the 2016-17 school year along with 20 other teachers from North Carolina. “A lot of times there were even discussions about how Christianity and Judaism and Islam work together,” adds the Greensboro educator.


Community Campaign Key to Passage of Bill Requiring Ethnic Studies Curriculum in CT High Schools

August 5, 2019

All Connecticut high schools will be required to offer an elective course in African American, Puerto Rican and Latino history by 2022 under a bill passed by the state General Assembly and signed into law by Gov. Ned Lamont in June.

Passage of the bill follows months of organizing and mobilizing by students, educators and advocacy groups, including impassioned testimony by more than 200 people at a public hearing in March. The hearing featured testimony from dozens of students; no one testified in opposition.

“This bill is important to me because knowing your history gives importance and a sense of identity and self worth,” testified Shane Brooks, a student at the Science & Technology Magnet High School and New London High School in New London, CT. “Going to a public school with a lack of African American studies being taught in the school system made me feel irrelevant and unheard.”



Educator activism makes the promise of ethnic studies policy a reality

By Kate Snyder

One of the great opportunities in education is to find a way to challenge students to critically think about their own experiences and about the experiences of others. One of the main tenets of Ethnic Studies curriculum is to have students understand different systems of oppression, not just race.

“Ethnic Studies and social justice are a critical lens through which we can get a new perspective on history, so we are not doomed to repeat it,” said Ivan Viray Santos, who, with his colleagues from the New Haven Unified School District in California, was instrumental in developing high school curriculum for Ethnic Studies Departments, including an Ethnic Studies/Social Justice pathway with some classes available as early as the 7th grade.

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In July 2017, the State Board of Education approved inclusion of the role of Filipinos during WWII in the revised history curriculum framework for state schools, following passage of AB 199 in 2011. Santos and his colleagues have been part of a cohort working to develop this specific curriculum that they will present during the statewide conference of the Filipino American Educators Association of California on September 28-30 in San Diego.

“With passage of recent policy,” said Santos, “it’s an honor to be part of this historic moment as our units and lessons will be among the first to be shared with school districts as examples of how this history can be worked into the U.S. History courses.”

Santos’ colleagues and students shared their thoughts in a student directed video on the value of having an Ethnic Studies department.


“Know Your Roots” video produced by Santos’ former student, Karl Mena


Mexican American student:
Ethnic Studies taught me how to put theory into practice on the days when the world reminds me why Ethnic Studies is so necessary, I know how to navigate through all the rage or hurt in order to heal and build because of what I learned from Ethnic Studies.

Filipino student:
Ethnic Studies means learning about the world – the his/herstory of our people and how it has shaped my experiences and identity. It has given me hope and taught me that my narrative matters. I also learned that it takes action in our communities to transform it, and helped me find agency to struggle alongside people in the fight for liberation.

African American student:
Ethnic Studies has taught me selflessness, willingness to give back to my ancestors, my people. It has always grounded me in my actions, it has led me to organize more people and teach more people the root causes of the world. Ethnic Studies has led me to my community, it has made me learn that my identity is bound to the people/collective I serve.

Santos concludes, “Ethnic Studies is a means of critical analysis on the basis of race, gender, sexuality and class. It allows students to see how all these identities shape our lives and teaches students to identify problems, analyze roots causes, and take a critical look at historical and current issues as a means to create solutions for their communities and put them into action. I look forward to sharing our curriculum because I think this approach is exactly what we need to see more of in the world today.”

This article was originally posted on September 22, 2017.


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What's in a school name?

More than 100 schools across the country are still named after Confederate leaders, and over a quarter of those have predominately African American student bodies. In many communities, students, educators, parents and community activists are increasingly challenging whether Americans should continue to honor in public places people who fought to perpetuate human slavery.

These efforts gained momentum in the summer of 2017, as pressure mounted in state after state to remove Confederate monuments. Many students and educators took inspiration from these efforts, and began to look at the names of their schools.

In Jackson, Mississippi, a mother and daughter sparked an effort to change a school name from honoring the president of the Confederacy; students voted overwhelmingly to name the school after Barack Obama. In Minneapolis, students are driving an effort to rename Patrick Henry High School, after learning that the school’s namesake and revolutionary leader was also a slave owner.

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In some instances, rather than re-naming an existing school, activists have organized to influence the process for naming a new school. In April 2018, the Montgomery County, Md., Board of Education voted to name a new elementary school after Bayard Rustin, a gay African-American activist who worked alongside Martin Luther King, Jr., making the school the first in the state to be named after an openly gay person.


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Students, Educators Mobilize in Support of Ethnic Studies Programs

Irregardless of geography, state-level politics, or opponents who seek to stoke race-based fears, educators and students around the country are finding ways to organize, build strong coalitions, and help establish new ethnic studies programs, or pass legislation requiring schools to offer some ethnic studies courses.

In Arizona, years of hard work by faculty, staff, students and community members paid off in 2017 when Pima Community College launched its Department of Ethnic, Gender & Transborder Studies. The opening of the department coincided with the reversal of a 2012 court ruling which essentially banned as unconstitutional the teaching of Mexican-American Studies in Arizona K-12 classrooms. The federal judge who reversed the ruling found that it violated students’ constitutional rights and that those who worked to end Mexican American Studies were “motivated by racial animus” and “by a desire to advance a political agenda by capitalizing on race-based fears.”

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In Indiana, the Indiana State Teachers Association (ISTA) worked closely with the NAACP in supporting a law requiring Indiana high schools to offer ethnic and racial studies as an elective course at least once a year. Its surprising passage by the very conservative Indiana state legislatures was the culmination of a four-year, multi-racial campaign.

In California, social studies teacher and NEA member Jose Lara and a coalition of activists spearheaded the fight for the state’s game-changing ethnic studies bill. The first of its kind in the country, the landmark bill ordered the creation of a model ethnic studies course for high school students statewide.

And in Seattle, the NAACP, inspired by the adoption of ethnic studies programs for the city of Portland and the entire state of California, worked closely with students and a broad coalition of Washington educators to craft a similar resolution for Seattle’s schools. The proposal aims to make ethnic studies a mandatory part of curriculum by 2020.

Advocates point to a Stanford University study which found that attendance increased by 21%, GPA by 1.4 grade points, and earned credits by 23 for San Francisco high school students enrolled in ethnic studies courses.


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Historical Inaccuracies Are Barriers To Racial Justice

   By James W. Loewen

James Baldwin wrote, “American history is longer, larger, more various, more beautiful, and more terrible than anything anyone has ever said about it.” We can teach it that way!

More than any other topic, history is about us. Our nation is more stratified than any other industrialized country. The average White household has twelve times the wealth of Black or Native households. Nationally, schools are as segregated now as in the 1970s. Our public schools are where students should think about how we got this way.

Textbooks rarely use the past to illuminate the present. Worse, they mystify important topics in our past.

Instead, textbooks rarely use the past to illuminate the present. Worse, they mystify important topics in our past, including the Civil War and Reconstruction, making it harder to think about race relations. Consequently, history courses that should help build community often instead widen gaps by race and class. When asked their favorite subject, students across the U.S. usually rank history last. Students of color typically view history with a special dislike.

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This series, Correct(ed), tackles problems in history that we often teach wrong. Hopefully, educators, parents, and communities will find them fascinating and useful, because we all need to be historically literate, so we can help students (and ourselves) make sense of the present.

I hope you will join me on this journey.

James W. Loewen, Emeritus Professor of Sociology at the University of Vermont, is the author of “Lies My Teacher Told Me” and “The Confederate and Neo-Confederate Reader.” Each article in this series will come with a short annotated bibliography, often to items Loewen wrote, for educators seeking additional information. For more information and resources see: James W. Loewen’s official web page.


Essential Reading

Loewen, James W. “Introduction,” Lies My Teacher Told Me: Everything Your American History Textbook Got Wrong. (NY: Simon & Schuster, 2007), 1-9.
Discusses why relying on textbooks won’t do.


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Take Action

Building Power in Our Communities

Ready to get active and be the superhero our students deserve in the fight for racial, social and economic justice in public education? Then join the NEA EdJustice League!

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Ethnic Studies Toolkit

Check out the resource toolkit at that was helpful in campaigns to make ethnic studies a graduation requirement at two of the largest school districts in California.

View the Toolkit

Research Review

A comprehensive review of research on ethnic studies programs by the NEA Research Department found that diversity courses boost critical thinking, academic achievement and problem-solving skills.

View the research


This series by James W. Loewen, emeritus professor of sociology at the University of Vermont, tackles problems in history that we often teach wrong — and how these are barriers to racial justice.

Read the Series