The Spirit of the Third World College in the AB2016 Ethnic Studies Model Curriculum
by Kristian Emiliano Vasquez and Brian Zamora
The demand for autonomy and control of the college by Third World people was necessary to retain the flexibility and latitude required to develop a meaningful curriculum and course content. To allow the white majority to control the Third World College would result in its conformity to existing organizational and academic standards which have proven ineffective in fulfilling the pressing needs of our society. The role of the Third World College within the Third World communities, its political and economic orientation, and its definition of Third World people will serve to contract eternal domination over Third World people.
―“Third World College Proposal,” third world Liberation Front at UC Berkeley (1969)
Our power is not that of money or of traditional political backing. Our only power is that of numbers.
―“Communiqué #8,” third world Liberation Front (1969)
The third world Liberation Front (twLF) of 1968, and onward, demonstrates the diverse and serious commitment to challenging the normative US colonial education of the last 240 years. At the turn of the twentieth century, the battle for “inclusive” and relevant curriculums, schools, and education was a fight for communities to be liberated from the colonial constraints of white supremacy. The twLF, a coalition of Black, Indigenous, Asian, and Chicanx students, from San Francisco State University and the University of California at Berkeley, offered a radical analysis of the US colonial situation as it pertained to post-secondary education.
From the epigraph above, the twLF demanded a “Third World College” whereas Third World students, faculty, and staff would have complete autonomy and control of such an entity on a college campus. The critique was of white supremacy, colonial knowledge, and violence of the curriculum in post-secondary institutions as it related to Third World students. The demand for a liberated curriculum was a demand for self-determination.
Fifty years since the struggle for a Third World College in the Bay area, many critical educators in California have fought for Ethnic Studies since. Students especially have been at the forefront of such struggles on college campuses, where the history of the ’90s is also a brutal history of hunger strikes for Ethnic Studies departments and programs throughout the California university system. During the fifty years since the calls for self-determination of a curriculum for “Third World peoples,” the US educational system has continued in constant opposition to such endeavors. The struggle for Ethnic Studies has also seen its role in the high school level. In light of the fiftieth anniversary of the 1968 Chicanx Los Angeles Blowouts, high school student activism has become revitalized to engage students in an active struggle for their very survival in a twenty-first century settler-colonial state.
A more recent case is the struggle for the Tucson Unified School District’s Mexican American Studies (MAS) Department in Arizona. This particular struggle was met with white supremacist book burnings (the banning of cultural/political literature), and anti-Mexican animus in the aftermath. Following court rulings that declared the ban unconstitutional in 2017, the MAS department now faces dilution from a decolonial and critical discourse into one that centers multicultural studies. Ethnic Studies as a project of challenging white supremacy in the US educational system is a threat to the settler-colonial project.
Today, we are met with a push from critical educators in California for the implementation of the Ethnic Studies Model Curriculum in the K-12 system. The difference this time around is the spirit of encouraging all high school level students in California to learn the histories of communities of color alongside analyses of power, exploitation, and most importantly resistance. This spirit of education and pedagogy is a decolonial love for students in high schools who will enter a world trapped in systems of oppression, where mass shootings from male white supremacists happen every day in the US more than ever.
This is not a call to elected officials, rather, it is a call to those who do not see the relevance of supporting the AB2016 Ethnic Studies Model Curriculum. The Ethnic Studies Model Curriculum Advisory Committee has committed their professional and community organizing to ensure that the development of an Ethnic Studies framework and curriculum is one about relationality, representation, and critical thinking. All K-12 students, regardless of racial background, would benefit from the Ethnic Studies approach. As many published scholars point out, Ethnic Studies increases academic performance for students’ grade point average, attendance, and high stakes testing.
The demands for liberated curriculums in high schools reverberates a historical struggle that sought and continues to seek a Third World College. The spirit of the twLF continues forward, as Black, Chicanx, Asian, Indigenous, and other People of Color scholars and educators resume the struggle for Ethnic Studies, one that contends with the California K-12 educational system and contesters who seek to derail it. This is a call for all communities to support this struggle to save the CA Ethnic Studies Model Curriculum as it was originally proposed and drafted.
This is also a call for students on university campuses to take up intellectual arms. Form committees, spread awareness and defend the dignity and integrity of Ethnic Studies across California. Professors, Ethnic Studies centers, and related departments and programs are encouraged to follow this work as well.
Click here to support the call to demand from the “CA Department of Education, Instructional Quality Commission, State Board of Education President Linda Darling-Hammond, State Superintendent Tony Thurmond, and Governor Gavin Newsom:
To follow Save CA Ethnic Studies’ campaign, click here.
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