The Orange County Board of Education (OCBE) Ethnic Studies and Critical Race Theory (CRT) Forum held on July 27th, and a subsequent guest column in the OC Register authored by Board President Mari Barke with Wenyuan Wu, were filled with so much misinformation that we were compelled to respond.

It was disappointing to see our community group, Truth in Education (TIE), criticized by Barke and to see the OCBE’s Forum refuse to provide honest Ethnic Studies reviews. The speakers, almost none of whom are dedicated Ethnic Studies experts, did not represent nor speak to the reality of Orange County schools.

The OCBE fails to engage in authentic dialogue about Ethnic Studies. Professor Theresa Montaño pulled out of the panel once she realized that she would be the only Ethnic Studies educator and curricula expert; how can panels advance dialogue if the panelists are uninformed?

Despite Barke’s repeated efforts to portray the forum as diverse, the views of the panelists largely parroted the same uninformed rhetoric against Ethnic Studies and CRT. No actual discussion of this field’s research and theory took place nor any reviews of the years of data that Ethnic Studies research provides.

While CRT philosophically supports the pedagogy and content of Ethnic Studies courses, they are not synonymous. CRT was created twenty years after Ethnic Studies as an academic movement used in legal scholarship to examine the hows, the whys, and the effects of racial policies (black codes, Jim Crow Laws, Chinese Exclusion Act, Indian Removal Act, Executive Order 9066 – Japanese American Internment, Operation Wetback, etc.) on marginalized communities.  It became a resource or philosophy that supported the work in Ethnic Studies classes. So while Ethnic Studies is not CRT, it is a tool that can be used to support it.

Panelists and public commenters repeatedly labeled Ethnic Studies educators as “Marxists” and “communists.” Yet Barke called the Forum “apolitical”. This is red-baiting and an effort to silence Ethnic Studies supporters, a far cry from apolitical.

Unfortunately, the panel that the OCBE organized made it obvious that they do not understand Ethnic Studies, nor have they taken a class, or talked to students, parents, teachers or professors who have taken or taught Ethnic Studies.

Contrary to the fearmongering in Barke’s Forum, Ethnic Studies does not victimize students. In truth, Ethnic Studies empowers students of all backgrounds to make positive life choices, to empower their communities, and to improve our society as a whole. Ethnic Studies benefits all students, including white students, by fostering cross-cultural understanding among all students.

Ethnic Studies brings the experiences of our diverse communities into the classroom in a way that validates our students’ cultural identities, celebrates the achievements of underrepresented ethnic groups, and studies the interracial and intergenerational alliances throughout our country’s long history to achieve, fairness, justice, and civil rights. Research shows that students who take part in well-designed Ethnic Studies classes that teach about racism and cultural identity develop a stronger sense of self-efficacy, perform better academically, and graduate at higher rates.

Ethnic Studies places an emphasis on civic engagement. It demonstrates a love for community and to make our society fairer and more equitable for people of all races, classes, and genders.

One of Barke’s statements at this event made sense: “We [the OCBE] do not have oversight to make a decision [about Ethnic Studies], that is your local district.” We agree and recommend that the OCBE leave it to parents, teachers, students, and Ethnic Studies experts to implement these classes in OC communities. We have heard the outdated, uninformed, and vindictive rhetoric coming from the OCBE and its supporters for too long, and we will continue speaking out against it.

In that spirit, we formed a county-wide coalition, TIE (Truth in Education), to ensure that Ethnic Studies is implemented with careful consideration throughout Orange County. We will conduct upcoming events to help parents, educators and students understand and explore Ethnic Studies and tools like Critical Race Theory to provide a more complete understanding of this discipline.

TIE-OC (Truth in Education) is hosting An In-Depth Look at Critical Race Theory and Ethnic Studies webinar this Monday, August 23rd.

Shuntele Andrews is a grandmother of fifteen, retired history teacher of 35 years, a member of the original class of the first sixteen Black students at UCI.

Briana Walker is a wife and mother of five on a mission to bring awareness to the disinformation campaigns in Orange County.

Mike Rodriguez is a biracial Chicano/White husband and father of two, a teacher of 18 years, and co-teaches a summer program entitled “The Peoples History of Orange County.”For more information about TIE, please email TruthInEducationOC@gmail.com.

Opinions expressed in community opinion pieces belong to the authors and not Voice of OC.

Voice of OC is interested in hearing different perspectives and voices. If you want to weigh in on this issue or others please email opinions@voiceofoc.org.

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