A Multi-Ethnic Coalition for Empowered Ethnic Studies

The Coalition for Empowered Education is in the process of developing an alternative to the Liberated/Critical Ethnic Studies Framework that is presently the default option in many K–12 and higher education spaces nationwide. 

Please join us at Ed Empowerment 2024 in Sacramento, CA May 19–21 to learn more about the Empowered Ethnic Studies Framework. Social Justice is central to the Ethnic studies field. Below we outline some of the important distinctions between Critical Social Justice Approaches and Classical Social Justice Approaches.

Ethnic Studies is an interdisciplinary field that aims to increase student knowledge and awareness of ethnically minoritized histories, cultures, struggles, and contributions. Ethnic studies programs are advancing in K-12 and higher education systems throughout America. In many instances, local rules and state laws have been instituted that make completing an ethnic studies class a requirement for public high school graduation and/or for matriculation into public colleges or universities. This means that all students, irrespective of their academic interests or goals, may soon be required to engage with ethnic studies curricula.  

It is important that educators, legislators, community advocates, and students alike are aware of the ways that learning experiences may vary depending on the social justice approach that is used to teach an ethnic studies class. This document outlines key educational components that may impact student learning experiences when a critical social justice or classical social justice approach is used to teach ethnic studies.

Understanding Social Justice
Approaches in Ethnic Studies

Download a PDF version of this resource and visit our Resources page for more information and supports.

Educational Components

Critical
Social Justice Approaches

Classical 
Social Justice Approaches

Example Frameworks

  • The Liberated/Critical Ethnic Studies Framework
  • The Empowered Ethnic Studies Framework

Key Instructional Tools and Methodologies

  • Focuses on decentering whiteness, raising critical consciousness, the liberation struggles of BIPOC people, and intersectionality
  • Focuses on centering American pluralism and the contributions of diverse minoritized people to E Pluribus Unum and a More Perfect Union
  • Sample Themes Utilized: (1) Identity, (2) History and Movement, (3) Systems of Power, (4) Social Movements and Equity
  • Sample Themes Utilized: (1) Pluralism, (2) Agency, (3) Resilience, (4) Changemaking, (5) Equality
  • Encourages students to become activists and co-conspirators
  • Encourages students to become informed and engaged citizens 

Foundational Assertions

  • America was founded on and is irretrievably rooted in white supremacy; systemic racism is baked into American society and is the cause of every disparity
  • America was founded on and is rooted in the aspirational goals of fairness and equality for all; racism is not the cause of every disparity
  • The histories, cultures, struggles, and contributions of four groups of historically marginalized peoples in American history deserve to be known
  • The histories, cultures, struggles, and contributions of multiple groups of historically marginalized peoples  in American history deserve to be known

Recommends and Promotes

  • Anti-Colonial, Anti-Imperialist, Anti-Capitalist, and Anti-Racist informed  ideas and practices (e.g., prioritizes present and future discrimination as a remedy for past discrimination)
  • Liberal Democratic Values, Inquiry-Based, Bias-Free, Objective Pluralism, and Empowered Pathways informed  ideas and practices (e.g., prioritizes human dignity and equal treatment of all under the law)
  • Critical Consciousness
  • Social Consciousness
  • Resistance movements (i.e., violent and non-violent) for disrupting the social order 
  • Multiple mechanisms for social change through peaceful and non-violent means 
  • Manifesting equality of outcomes
  • Manifesting  equality of opportunity

Expressions of Race and Gender Identity Ideologies

  • Promotes neo-reconstructionist race ideologies; teaches that race is a real and that race is socially constructed; claims that racism is present in all interactions and social dynamics
  • Promotes skeptical eliminativist race ideologies; teaches that race is not real and that racism is socially constructed; claims that American understandings of race, ethnicity, and racism continue to evolve
  • Supports understanding privilege-oppression and victim-oppressor dynamics between racial and gender identity checkboxes; explores the historical and contemporary effects of  heterosexism, cisheteropatriarchy, and more
  • Supports developing a value-centered identity, cultivating a dignity lens, and fostering mindsets of inquiry and compassion;  explores the historical and contemporary effects of  human agency, resilience,  and more
  • Embraces race essentialism and gender identity stereotypes; views gender as a synonym for sex;  teaches students that sex/gender is a spectrum and that true liberation involves the ability to change one’s sex/gender and acceptance of  sex/gender “fluidity” as a norm in society
  • Rejects  race essentialism and gender identity stereotypes; views gender and sex as distinct and recognizes that sex is binary;  appreciates that explorations of sex and sexuality are unrelated to better understanding the experiences of  ethnically minoritized groups and/or Ethnic Studies
  • Proposes there are only four minoritized ethnicities worthy of study:  African American, Chicana/o/x and Latina/o/x, Native American, and Asian American and Pacific Islander
  • Proposes there are numerous minoritized ethnicities worthy of study; rejects the renaming of racial/ethnic groups without their consent in order to conform to gender identity ideology linguistic maneuvers
References

Bernstein, D. L. (2023). Woke antisemitism: How a progressive ideology harms Jews. Wicked Son.

California Department of Education. (2022). Ethnic studies model curriculum. Adopted by the California

State Board of Education March 2021. https://www.cde.ca.gov/ci/cr/cf/documents/ethnicstudiescurriculum.pdf

Coalition for Empowered Education. (2024). The Empowered Framework Guiding Principles.

https://empowered-ed.org/

Cooley, H. C. (1907). Social consciousness. The American Journal of Sociology, 12(5), 675–694.

Delgado, R., & Stefancic, J. (2017). Critical race theory: An introduction (3rd ed.). University Press.

DiAngelo, R. (2011). White fragility. International Journal of Critical Pedagogy, 3(3), 54–70.

Freire, P. (1973/2003). Education for critical consciousness. Continuum.Kendi, I. X. (2019). How to be an antiracist. One World.

Lee, T. (2023, February 28). Race ideology-in-practice: Racial equity in American learning environments.

https://freeblackthought.substack.com/p/race-ideology-in-practice

Liberated Ethnic Studies Model Curriculum Coalition. (2021). Chapter 1.

https://www.liberatedethnicstudies.org/

Lindsay, J. (2020, March 3). Breaking down critical social justice theory in K-12 education. New

Discourses. https://newdiscourses.com/2020/03/critical-social-justice-k-12-education/

Littlefield, J. (2023). Empowered Humanity Theory: A framework for an empowering and dignified life.

Mason, S. M. (2022). Theory of Racelessness: A case for antirace(ism). Palgrave Macmillan.

McWhorter, J. H. (2021). Woke racism: How a new religion has betrayed Black America.

Portfolio/Penguin.

Mounk, Y. (2023). The identity trap: A story of ideas and power in our time. Penguin Press.Patel, E. (2022). We need to build: Field notes for diverse democracy. Beacon Press.

Rowe, I. V. (2022). Agency: The four point plan (F.R.E.E.) for children to overcome the victimhood

narrative and discover their pathway to power. Templeton Press.

Rubin, D. I. (2024). “Liberated” ethnic studies: Jews need not apply. Ethnic and Racial Studies, 47(3),

506–525.

ETHNIC STUDIES: FROM RADICAL ROOTS TO GOVERNMENT MANDATE

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 racialized and ethnic communities.