California makes race studies compulsory in state high schools

Californian teenagers will not be able to graduate from high school unless they complete a controversial race theory course.

The legislation, which critics have branded racist, requires schools to offer ethnic studies courses from 2025. It will be a condition of graduation by 2030.

It is one of a package of liberal measures signed by California’s governor, Gavin Newsom, who last month comfortably headed off a recall petition launched by conservatives in the state.

California will also outlaw the sale of petrol-powered lawnmowers and leaf blowers, while major toy retailers have been ordered to introduce “gender-neutral aisles”.

More than 90 per cent of American children are educated in state-run schools and the curriculum has emerged as one of the biggest fault lines in US politics.

There has been a growing debate over the teaching of “critical race theory” which argues racism is systemic in US institutions, and that they function to maintain the dominance of white people in society. 

Before leaving office Donald Trump created a national commission to “promote patriotic education” accusing teachers of “left-wing indoctrination.”

Five states have passed laws banning the teaching of critical race theory, and 17 more are considering similar legislation.

Florida’s Republican governor and potential 2024 presidential candidate Ron DeSantis has gone further, signing a law requiring children be taught about the “evils of communism”.

California, which regards itself as one of the most progressive states in the US, has been debating making ethnic studies compulsory for five years.

The measure was finally passed after being revised following a backlash from California’s legislative Jewish caucus, which said an earlier version promoted anti-semitism by supporting the campaign to boycott Israel.

California’s ethnic studies curriculum will see students being taught about the experiences of groups said to face bigotry including black, Asian, Latino, Jewish, Native and Indigenous Americans and women,

Conservatives were swift to condemn the move. Williamson Evers, who served as assistant education secretary under George W Bush, dismissed the bill as indoctrination.

Opponents of an academic doctrine known as Critical Race Theory attend a packed Loudoun County School board meeting until the meeting erupted into chaos

Credit: Evelyn Hockstein/Reuters

“It still force-feeds our children the socialist dogma that capitalism is oppression.”

Melissa Mendez, a Republican member of the California senate, added: "The last thing we need is state-sanctioned racism being taught in our schools."

In a separate initiative, California became the first state to order major toy retailers to introduce “gender-neutral” aisles as well as traditional boys and girls sections.

It follows criticism that traditional marketing techniques, such as using pink and blue hues, reinforced gender stereotypes.

The measure, which will impose fines of up to $500 when it comes into force in 2024, was criticised as government overreach by conservative groups.

California Family Council President Jonathan Keller said: “activists and state legislators have no right to force retailers to espouse government-approved messages about gender.

“It’s a violation of free speech and it’s just plain wrong.”

Some major retailers have already introduced these aisles. Target, which has nearly 2,000 stores across the US, scrapped gendered children’s sections in 2015.

California’s ban on the sale of petrol-powered lawnmowers and leaf blowers could come into force as early as January 2024.

It was welcomed by Will Barrett of the American Lung Association in California.

“This law really sets a strong course to not only his commitment to transitioning to zero emissions but also to cleaner air and healthier lungs,” he said.

It is a reflection of the state’s tough line on emissions, which has also seen California ban the sale of petrol-powered cars and trucks by 2035.

 

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