A Multi-Ethnic Coalition for Empowered Ethnic Studies

Ethnic Studies (ES) can be taught in different ways. Empowered Ethnic Studies focuses on educating and building understanding, while tackling challenging issues through an analytic lens. The empowered model is inclusive, exposing students to diverse narratives and understandings. Students are taught civic responsibility, exposed to multiple perspectives, and encouraged to develop opinions based on inquiry. Its guiding principles specifically guard against political indoctrination and are based on the History-Social Science Framework for California Public Schools.

In contrast, Critical/Liberated Ethnic Studies imposes a narrow ideology, promotes a militant, anti-Western agenda that polarizes students and views history and civics entirely through a racial lens. It divides students into powerful oppressors and disempowered victims, categorizing them based on inborn color-based identity, not individual characteristics, and frames ideas and groups in all-or-nothing terms. This pits students against each other based on ideology or skin color. Critical/Liberated Ethnic Studies also channels students to accept predetermined answers, rather than inviting inquiry.

While both approaches aim to address racism, Empowered Ethnic Studies leads to critical analysis of multiple perspectives, informed decision making, and respectful dialogue. On the other hand, Critical Ethnic Studies leads to doctrine regurgitation, closed-mindedness, and bullying of those expressing different opinions.

This contrast chart summarizes the main differences between the two approaches.


Ethnic Studies

Upholds liberal democratic principles

Considers multiple causes for disparities, including racism, income, language, education,
and individual agency

Explores the multiple mechanisms for societal change

Teaches students to think critically about all economic and social systems

Does not place any group of people above another – values the humanity in everyone. Holds that multiple perspectives and experiences should be taught/learned

Critical Consciousness/”Liberated”

Ethnic Studies

Invalidates liberal democratic principles (individuality, free speech, independent thought)

Views disparities as evidence of racism, ignoring individual agency and all other causes

Attributes social change solely to resistance movements,
minimizing the impact of running for office, peaceful social movements, and working within the system for change

Insists that capitalism is a system of white supremacy, and ignores freedoms lost under communism

Seeks to de-center or ignore narratives that do
not align with critical ideology

An extreme group has been pushing the most radical versions of the curriculum to California’s 1,250+ school districts and now to other states and school districts. They are succeeding in numerous instances where the school boards and administration are in the market for Ethnic Studies and anti-racism curricula and may be unaware of the radical approach.   

This ideologically charged and politically motivated brand of “Liberated” Ethnic Studies is laced with stereotypes and tropes that erase students’ individuality, flattening them into narrow group identities based on immutable characteristics. It steals agency from students, relegating them only and always into binary categories of either oppressed or oppressors. Such a curriculum is inimical, not supportive, of a pluralistic, democratic society.


While the Coalition opposes radical versions of Ethnic Studies, we support constructive and inclusive Ethnic Studies, what we call Empowered Ethnic Studies. We support Ethnic Studies that generates courageous curiosity, individual agency, and objectivity; that thoughtfully explores racism and bigotry in America’s past and present; and that celebrates and honors the accomplishments and contributions of diverse racial, ethnic and immigrant communities.