California high schools are adding hundreds of ethnic studies classes. Are teachers prepared?

31 March 2023

CALIFORNIA, USA — This story was originally published by CalMatters.

On a rainy Friday afternoon at Santa Monica High School, ethnic studies teacher Marisa Silvestri introduced her class to the rap song “Kenji.” Silvestri’s class fell silent as singer Mike Shinoda narrated his family’s experiences in the Japanese American incarceration camps of World War II. After the last bars of music filled the room, the class began analyzing the song’s lyrics, agreeing that Shinoda humanized a historical event some students knew little about.

Now in her second year of teaching ethnic studies, Silvestri said she had undergone several iterations of her curriculum and expected more changes to come. She has studied California’s ethnic studies model curriculum, attended workshops at local universities, and sought the advice of ethnic studies teachers from other school districts.

But Silvestri has never received a teaching credential in ethnic studies. Whether that’s important is a question California officials are weighing now that the state has become the first in the nation to require that high school students take at least one semester of ethnic studies before graduation.

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