California Approves K-12 Ethnic Studies Curriculum Denounced as ‘Indoctrination’

The curriculum has been criticized over its radical ideological framework — but many observers are especially alarmed over the disturbing religious components of the program.

Classroom (photo: BlurryMe /

On March 18, California’s Board of Education approved an Ethnic Studies Model Curriculum for K-12 students denounced as an assault on Christianity.

If you’re wondering what “ethnic studies” stands for, New York Times columnist Bret Stephens provided a helpful, if disturbing, overview in a March 9 article that echoed other critiques of the new curriculum.

Ethnic studies, explained Stephens, “is not multiculturalism. It is not a way of exploring, much less celebrating, America’s pluralistic society. It is an assault on it.” 

In fact, “Ethnic studies is less an academic discipline than it is the recruiting arm of a radical ideological movement masquerading as mainstream pedagogy. From the opening pages of the model curriculum, students are expected not just to ‘challenge racist, bigoted, discriminatory, imperialist/colonial beliefs,’ but to ‘critique empire-building in history’ and ‘connect ourselves to past and contemporary social movements that struggle for social justice.’”

The first draft of the model curriculum was too extreme to pass muster in this ultra-blue state. Further, Jewish groups and others raised serious concerns over anti-Semitic elements, in particular.

Is the final draft, approved last week, that much better? The Los Angeles Times said so, though that judgment lacked enthusiasm. Stephens disagreed, noting that the curriculum, aside from its radical ideological framework, also failed to address the experiences of many ethnic groups. 

“Irish-Americans have faced a long history of discrimination in the U.S. and are famously proud of their heritage,” he notes. “But the word ‘Irish’ hardly appears anywhere in the model curriculum, and nowhere in its sample lessons. Russians, Italians, Poles and others rate only the briefest mentions.”

In fact, Christian parents in the state are likely to be much more concerned about the curriculum’s bizarre and disturbing assault on their faith.

In a March 10 article for City Journal, Christopher Rufo, director of the Discovery Institute’s Center on Wealth & Poverty, drilled into the religious components of the program.

Rufo noted the critical role played by R. Tolteka Cuauhtin, author of Rethinking Ethnic Studies, a work cited throughout the curriculum.

Cuauhtin has claimed that “white Christians committed ‘theocide’ against indigenous tribes, killing their gods and replacing them with Christianity. White settlers thus established a regime of ‘coloniality, dehumanization, and genocide, characterized by the ‘explicit erasure and replacement of holistic Indigeneity and humanity,’” said Rufo.

In denouncing these atrocities, Cuauhtin seeks to help students “name, speak to, resist, and transform the hegemonic Eurocentric neocolonial condition’ in a posture of ‘transformational resistance.” 

“The ultimate goal is to ‘decolonize’ American society’” and “displace white Christian culture and lead to the ‘regeneration of indigenous epistemic and cultural futurity.’”

How does this mission inspire particular lesson plans?

One recommended classroom exercise directs teachers to “lead their students in a series of indigenous songs, chants, and affirmations, including the ‘In Lak Ech Affirmation,’ which appeals directly to the Aztec gods. Students first clap and chant to the god Tezkatlipoka — whom the Aztecs traditionally worshipped with human sacrifice and cannibalism — asking him for the power to be “warriors’ for ‘social justice.’ Next, the students chant to the gods Quetzalcoatl, Huitzilopochtli, and Xipe Totek, seeking ‘healing epistemologies’ and ‘a revolutionary spirit.’ Huitzilopochtli, in particular, is the Aztec deity of war and inspired hundreds of thousands of human sacrifices during Aztec rule. Finally, the chant comes to a climax with a request for ‘liberation, transformation, [and] decolonization,’ after which students shout ‘Panche beh! Panche beh!’ in pursuit of ultimate ‘critical consciousness.’”

In Rufo’s view, “The chants have a clear implication: the displacement of the Christian god, which is said to be an extension of white supremacist oppression, and the restoration of the indigenous gods to their rightful place in the social justice cosmology.”

He suggested, however, that the part of the curriculum that promotes such activity “is almost certainly a violation of the First Amendment’s Establishment Clause. Public schools are prohibited from leading state-sanctioned Christian prayers; they would presumably be similarly prohibited from leading state-sanctioned chants to the Aztec god of human sacrifice.”

It is not clear how the state’s Catholic and Protestant leaders, or the faith communities they represent, sought to influence the development of the Ethnic Studies Model Curriculum. News reports have focused on the role of Jewish organizations in fighting components of the program perceived as anti-Semitic. A quick review of the California Catholic Conference website failed to produce any statements on this matter.

Meanwhile, an internet search confirmed that of the six million K-12 students attending California public schools, just over half — 3,360,562 million (54%) — are Latino. About 55% of Latino residents in the state identify as Catholic and 22% as Protestant. 

If the model program “manages somehow to pass constitutional muster, 6 million American children could soon have it forced upon them from the age of 5 or 6 all the way up through the dawn of their adulthood,” warned a National Review editorial denouncing the initiative. “How many of them will be able to resist such a consistent and widespread program of indoctrination?”

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