Anaheim High School Teachers Say the Time for Ethnic Studies is Now!

Jose Magcalas in his Loara classroom
Jose Magcalas in his Loara classroom

The movement to have ethnic studies classes offered at California high schools is advancing all over the state. In April, Bassett Unified School District in La Puente became the latest to follow in Los Angeles' historic footsteps by passing a resolution making the class not an elective, but a graduation requirement. A petition to do the same in San Diego is circulating online.

In Orange County, Santa Ana Unified will offer a district-wide optional ethnic studies course starting next fall. But what about Anaheim, alma mater district to our Mexican-in-Chief and yours truly? A pilot course at Loara High School is being readied for next fall!

It'd be fitting for the Ethnic Studies Now movement to take hold in the city. The coalition by the same name that's scoring victories left and right is led by José Lara, a teacher in LA, who spent part of his formative years at Western High School. (And for full disclosure, my brother Javier San Román, a Savanna High grad and LAUSD administrator, is on the steering committee). All the elements for Anaheim are there, starting with the new class.

Juniors and seniors can take "Cultural Experiences in America/Ethnic Studies" as a social studies elective. It just got approved as an 'A-G' requirement for UC and Cal State enrollment. Jose Magcalas, a U.S. history teacher at Loara, took initiative in developing the class, with help from a host of folks, including Lara.

The infamous sacking of the Mexican-Americans Studies program at Tucson Unified in 2010 sparked Magcalas. "I came to understand in high school curriculum there's a big lack of perspectives by not only Chicanos, but Filipino-Americans, African-Americans, low-income whites," he says. "We need ethnic studies at Loara High School. We need ethnic studies throughout the district."

In the class, students will tackle stereotypes, study the institutional oppression of California Indians, do an oral history project, and learn about community organizing. Course materials include everything from Howard Zinn's Voices of a People's History of the United States to the HBO film Walkout about the 1968 student protests in East LA.

"Any other site can come along and take it as an elective if they want to," says Diane Donnelly-Toscano, Anaheim Unified's Director of Curriculum and Instruction. "If I were to go back to the classroom, I'd want to teach this."

At Savanna High School, the ol' stomping grounds of this reporter, two teachers are interested in ethnic studies, but with a class focused specifically on Chicanos. Juan Villa teaches Spanish for Spanish Speakers and AP Literature. Across the quad, Brian Cortes handles U.S. and World History. They already try to introduce culturally relevant lessons into their classes.

"I talk about the Aztecs, Mayans and Aztlán," Villa says. "It's happening in Spanish classes but not in history or in English." His classroom is decorated with portraits of Frida Kahlo. Another poster highlights the massacre of Mexican students at Tlatelolco in 1968.

Cortes tries his best when teaching students about the U.S. during World War II. "The Longoria affair or the bracero program doesn't get covered," he says. The same difficulties apply to world history lessons. "It varies from teacher to teacher," Cortes adds. "Some teachers are going to spend more time on European history. I spend a week on the Mexican Revolution."

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A Chicano Studies class, they say, would allow them to combine their respective talents. Both are eager for an opportunity to develop and co-teach it, but are passing on Magcalas' course for now. It originally had "Chicano Studies" in its title but the focus changed when updated and revised. "I believe that the course should not only focus on Mexican-Americans but all ethnicities in the United States," reads a letter by Magcalas to social studies department chairs.

Magcalas, an enthusiastic Filipino-American who went to Loara himself, says students are clamoring to take the class next school year. The district is backing the pilot, too. "My superintendent Michael Matsuda has been very supportive," he says.

The Weekly reached out to AUHSD board members for their perspective. "I am supportive of it in general," says Al Jabbar of ethnic studies. "In terms of it being a graduation requirement, we have not looked at it, although we are more focused on increasing our A-G requirements for students so they are better prepared for college."

Both Savanna and Loara are roughly three-quarters Latino, which is higher than the district-wide stat. Anaheim Unified serves 31,679 students in total, 66% percent Latino. The city's been through rough times, too, with the summer riots of 2012.

"Has this community really been able to dialogue in an organized manner," asks Magcalas, "to talk about these issues that we face?"

Follow Gabriel San Román on Twitter @gsanroman2

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