SANTA BARBARA COUNTY GRAND JURY 1997-1998
HIGH SCHOOL ETHNIC STUDIES
Released June 1, 1998
The Grand Jury received a letter regarding an item which had appeared in the "Letters to the Editor" column of the News-Press. The letter to the editor is reproduced as Exhibit A. It recounts the experience of a senior year college history student interning in the Chicano studies class at a local public high school (the High School). It was the intern’s opinion that the class structure and content tended to develop anti-American sentiment in younger (ninth grade) students. The letter to the Grand Jury suggested that "these attitudes may very well transform these youngsters into tomorrow’s urban guerillas." It further suggested that the course is formulated and taught by members of a Chicano activist group.
Could these things be true? The Grand Jury wanted to know to what extent the conditions described above exist, and what could be contributing factors. In particular, we had these questions:
The Grand Jury studied relevant documents; interviewed school, district and county staff; and visited the school campus.
We first examined how the course content was established. Are there state guidelines? We obtained a document called History-Social Science Framework for California Schools Kindergarten Through Grade Twelve from the County Schools office. The document makes the following statement about ethnic studies:
"This framework incorporates a multicultural perspective throughout the history-social science curriculum. It calls on teachers to recognize that the history of community, state, region, nation and world must reflect the experiences of men and women of different racial, religious and ethnic groups. . . . . The experiences of all these groups are to be integrated at every grade level in the history-social science curriculum. The framework embodies the understanding that the national identity, the national heritage, and the national creed are pluralistic and that our national history is the complex story of many peoples and one nation . . .."
Does "integration" mean that there should be an effort to downplay errors or injustices that the United States committed when dealing with other nations, so as not to arouse ethnic students? The Framework says no.
"This framework encourages teachers to present controversial issues honestly and accurately within their historical or contemporary context. Through the study of controversial issues, students should learn that people in a democratic society have a right to disagree and that judgments should be based on reasonable evidence and not on bias and emotion."
Is the ninth grade too early to expose students to an ethnic studies curriculum?. In the Secondary School Curriculum portion of the Framework, "Ethnic Studies" is specifically listed under the recommended ninth grade curriculum. Grade 9 includes the "younger students" that concern the author of the letter to the editor. What is the recommended content of the grade 9 course? The framework reads:
"In this course students focus on an in-depth study of ethnic groups, including their history, culture, contributions, and current status in the United States. They learn about the characteristics of America’s ethnic groups and the similarities and differences of these groups in both their past and present experiences. They should study the social, economic, and political forces that caused people to come to America. As a result of these studies, students should gain a deeper understanding of American society and its diverse ethnic composition and develop acceptance and respect for cultural diversity in our pluralistic society."
Could a course with this content generate anti-American sentiment? Was there a breakdown in communication between the State and the District? It appears not.
In December 1993, the Santa Barbara High School District (the District) commissioned a "Multi-cultural Education Task Force" to define a curriculum that would implement the intent of California’s Framework. The task force reported back in March of 1994:
"There was a consensus that every student needs to receive a multi-cultural
education as suggested by the California History/Social Science Framework . . ..
. . .The task force members agreed that . . .the most realistic approach . . .is to teach multi-cultural education through existing history/social science courses."
Why is there a single Chicano Studies class at the High School instead of a multi-cultural studies course given to all students? Is the High School operating contrary to the District’s mandate? Again, it appears not. Throughout the District there are no multi-cultural courses offered. A High School administrator told the Grand Jury, "We wanted to offer a single multi-cultural course, but the District mandated a separate Chicano Studies course and a separate Black Studies course." He went on to say that individual ethnic courses tend to emphasize cultural diversity rather than the single multi-cultural society described in the State Framework.
Then what happened? According to the District Secondary Curriculum Director (the Director), the curriculum is determined by the school board, which is a 5-member group elected by the public at large. He said the school board reviewed the state guidelines and the study recommendations, and chose to move in a different direction. He also said that the board probably responded to pressure from activist groups. The District had no choice but to implement the board’s decision. He said "We chose the most benign textbook available, but had to offer the Chicano Studies course."
The Grand Jury also learned that since this decision was made by the school board, there has been an election and the composition of the board has changed. There is now a plan under consideration to give a required course in multicultural studies at the 9th grade level. The plan includes increasing the number of units required for graduation, so no other courses presently required will be impacted. This plan could be in place as early as fall 2000. While the individual ethnic studies courses will still be offered, the Director feels that with the multicultural course as a basis, students will have a better understanding that all ethnic groups in the United States have struggled to overcome problems at one time or another as they merge with society.
Chicano Studies Textbook
The County Schools Office told the Grand Jury that high school textbooks are selected by the district, and do not require state approval. Supplementary texts (those which are present in the classroom in limited number) may be selected by the teacher. The Grand Jury examined the Chicano Studies class textbook. It discusses certain actions by the United States which are usually downplayed in American history texts, such as the forceful takeover of Northern Mexico and the mistreatment of Mexican-Americans by agencies of the United States Government. The text was not critical of the United States for these actions, it simply reported that they occurred. Could this objective reporting of facts cause anti-American sentiment in youthful readers?
The Grand Jury asked this question of several people. They all said probably not. One of the text’s authors said that there had been some controversy about that, but as an experienced teacher and author, he felt that "It is probably better to present the facts rather than attempt a whitewash. By the time students reach the ninth grade, they already
know what happened." This opinion was echoed by the Director, the High School Principal and History Department Chairman, the Chicano Studies class teacher, and the students.
Chicano Studies Class Session
An appointment was made for two Grand Jury members to attend a class session. Prior to meeting with the class we talked with the teacher about what the class format would be on the appointed day. Did the Grand Jury want to prepare a list of questions to ask the students? This initially seemed a tempting offer, but it turned out to be hard to generate questions that did not sound like we were trying to verify a conclusion we had already reached. We decided that the Grand Jury members would simply introduce ourselves, give a brief statement of our purpose, and ask if there were any questions. The class would then continue as usual. The teacher seemed anxious to cooperate in our investigation. She said she was surprised and disturbed by the letter to the editor. She said that last semester, when the letter was written, there had been two or three fairly vocal students who had not returned this semester. She wanted the Grand Jury to know that the class is conducted in a scholarly manner, that homework is required, that the textbook is the basis for the class content, and that discipline is maintained. Students earn grades and receive class credit. She also said she enjoys teaching the Chicano Studies class, but she wishes there were training available to help her handle the unique problems that arise. We learned the Chicano Studies class is open to students of all grades, and there are many ninth graders in the class. There are about 30 members total. Most are of Mexican descent. We photographed the classroom bulletin boards which showed no sign of anti-Americanism. We also obtained a copy of the semester final examination which is reproduced in Exhibit C. Its questions parallel the textbook development of course material.
On the day of our visit, the class came to order instantly at the bell, and remained orderly throughout the session. Many of the students participated in the hour-long discussion that followed, which centered on why they liked the class, and how they felt as members of a minority They said they liked being able to study Mexican culture. They liked the class because it is "theirs." There was a feeling of being "comfortable", but also of being "separated." Some thought wanting to separate into your own group is a natural thing. Several said they have non-Chicano friends.
The letter to the Grand Jury mentioned a particular Chicano advocate organization. The Grand Jury learned there is a school-sponsored chapter of the organization on the High School campus. We wanted to determine its charter. From the UCSB library, a document called El Plan de MEChA was obtained and reviewed. The date of publication is 1990. A goal of the organization is to advance "La Raza" by promoting college education among Chicanos. The document also states "We continue to fight for political power and for the
Chicano Studies Classroom.
self-determination of our oppressed nation Aztlan." (Aztlan is the former state of Northern Mexico which is now part of the southwestern United States). In a section
called "High School Organizing", one of the headings is "Institutionalizing Chicano studies as a high school graduation requirement."
The Grand Jury asked the High School principal about the activities of the organization on the High School campus. He gave us a copy of the School Activities Guide which reads "promotes awareness of Mexican-American heritage through school activities and support for educational experiences." We obtained permission from the principal to
speak to the faculty sponsor of the group. In a brief phone conversation, the sponsor said "I would rather the Grand Jury address its questions to the principal."
While we were deciding whether to pursue the issue, we received an unsolicited letter from the sponsor with an expanded description of the group’s campus activities.
". . .the . . . group meets to participate in school functions, raise funds for
scholarships, attend local, regional and national conferences, share culture,
history, politics, exchange information on current events, network, support
each other and have fun."
According to its newsletter, available on the Internet, the national organization is "fighting to establish chapters in high schools." It is apparent from the newsletter that the national organization is considered controversial by many conservative groups and high school administrators. The newsletter is reproduced in Exhibit D.
In the opinion of the Grand Jury, the High School Chicano Studies course is not influenced by outside organizations except as they petition the school board with their demands. The course is taught by an American history teacher who has worked in the District for approximately ten years. The course content closely follows the district-specified text.
It is the Grand Jury’s opinion that the Chicano Studies class has served as an outlet for expression of the nationalistic feelings of a few students. The on-campus activist group probably promotes Hispanic cultural awareness. There is no indication that the teacher allows this to affect discipline in her class, or that she re-enforces attitudes developed outside the class.
Santa Barbara High School District: Findings 1 and 2, Recommendations 1 and 2.
County Schools Office: Finding 1, Recommendation 1.
The Grand Jury commends the High School Chicano Studies teacher for her cooperation with the Grand Jury on a "sensitive" investigation, and for her dedication in maintaining a high level of class discipline and scholarship.
ALL EXHIBITS ARE IN THE PUBLISHED FINAL REPORT
We want to advise you that California Penal Code Section 933.05 requires that responses to Grand Jury Findings and Recommendations must be made in writing to the Presiding Judge of the Superior Court and the Grand Jury Foreperson within 90 days (Governing bodies) or 60 days (Department heads) of the issuance of the report
Therefore the Grand Jury requires that you respond to each of the Findings and Recommendations that applies to your agency.
Please send your response to:
Honorable Judge Frank J. Oachoa
Presiding Judge, Santa Barbara County Superior Court
1100 Anacapa Street
Santa Barbara, CA. 93121
Grand Jury Foreperson at the same address.
Responses to the Grand Jury should be submitted on a 3 ½ inch computer disk (preferably in Word) along with the printed response.