Ethnic Studies Programs In America: Exploring the Past To Understand Today's Debates

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The debates that involve banning critical race theory and implementing ethnic studies programs have recently surged. But this is not the first time that controversy about ethnic studies programs and other efforts to promote equity has led to dissension. In the 1960s, similar discord led to violence. Today, right-wing activists are making efforts to prevent ethnic studies programs from being implemented. Many educators and historians, however, are expressing the need to teach the accurate histories of racial and ethnic minority groups at educational institutions. In this article, I argue that today’s resistance to implementing ethnic studies programs is a continuation of the opposition that occurred in the 1960s against this trend and the other efforts that were designed to promote equity. In contrast to the idea that ethnic studies programs contribute to divisiveness, I argue that they offer a better way of teaching students in a country that has become more racially diverse. I retell what happened during the Freedom Summer of 1964 and the strikes at Columbia University and San Francisco State College to offer a perspective that is often neglected when authors describe the movement to ban critical race theory.

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Policy Futures in Education

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