Theses Doctoral

The Battle over Critical Race Curriculum: U.S. States and the Political Struggle over Ethnic Studies in K-12 Schools in the 21st Century

White, Juontel

This dissertation explores the racial politics of the U.S. through an examination of political contention over the inclusion of ethnic studies in K-12 public schools. Black, Indigenous, Chicanx/Latinx, and Asian/Pacific Islander Americans have indelibly shaped the political, economic, and social contours of the U.S. from its founding to present. However, the fullness of their experiences in and contributions to the nation remain woefully inadequate in K-12 U.S. history/social studies curricula (Brown & Brown, 2010; Journell, 2009; Ladson-Billings, 2003; Loewen, 1996; Reddick, 1934; Woodson, 1933; Woodson & Wesley, 1922). To address this curricular gap, a wave of 21st century activism is demanding that K-12 schools teach ethnic studies, curricula that centers and examines the history of race, racism, and the contributions of people of color in the U.S. Contemporary state policies requiring the inclusion of ethnic studies in K-12 schools are far more progressive (and contentious) than aligned education reforms of previous decades, which were overwhelmingly school district policies focused on offering an optional ethnic studies elective.

Drawing on archival, media, and interview data from three states (Arizona, California and Oregon) which recently decided on including ethnic studies in K-12 schools, I explore how race shaped the state policy processes and outcomes. While Arizona banned ethnic studies, Oregon adopted an ethnic studies requirement, and California’s ethnic studies requirement was vetoed by its governor. I argue that advocacy for the inclusion of ethnic studies which employs critical race conscious frames, mitigates intra-partisan conflict, and engages intersectional mobilization is most strongly positioned to advance such systemic, state-level reform. By examining the racial political dynamics of systemic policy change, this dissertation intervenes in political sociology and race scholarship in education. The findings can, moreover, help advocates of the full inclusion of ethnic studies in K-12 schools navigate the path toward systemic reform.


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More About This Work

Academic Units
Sociology and Education
Thesis Advisors
Henig, Jeffrey
Ph.D., Columbia University
Published Here
October 6, 2021