The Ethnic Studies Curriculum proposal for the State of California is now open and accepting public comments through August 15th. A quick online search will return a whole host of op-ed pieces supporting or denouncing the proposal. My personal and professional opinion is that an Ethnic Studies curriculum is essential to increase the critical thinking skills of students, democratize the curriculum, create a more inclusive learning environment, and ultimate create better citizens.
This may sound like a lot for one curriculum to manage, but it is no longer an option. Our citizens need the language and experience engaging in critical conversations. This experience is essential for all of us to learn and prosper together, disagree and compromise, and ultimately move our society forward into the 21st century. Knowing how to engage in critical conversations in a language that is inclusive is essential.
One of the biggest criticisms of the Ethnic Studies Curriculum is that it is filled with academic jargon. The Wall Street journal points to the fact that: “the document is filled with fashionable academic jargon like “positionalities,” “hybridities,” “nepantlas” and “misogynoir.” It includes faddish social-science lingo like “cis-heteropatriarchy” that may make sense to radical university professors and activists but doesn’t mean much to the regular folks who send their children to California’s public schools” (ref.).
This reliance on academic jargon has been a personal critique of mine for years. What we do in academia is only relevant and important if it can live outside the Ivy Walls. If our research cannot improve the lives of others, then what we do is literally just an academic exercise. This inability, or hesitation, to make our research relevant has stifled our ability to learn to code-switch. As academics, we know what that word means: the ability to change tone, word choice, and speech patterns, even linguistic families, in order to communicate in a particular context. Barack Obama is masterful at code-switching, so are those who speak more than one language.
In order for academics to find and maintain their relevance in the public sphere, we must learn to speak English! I know we all speak English, but not the English that non-academics speak. We must code-switch. Popular reading materials like magazines and newspapers are written to match the reading and comprehension level of a typical 8th grader. There is nothing wrong with this because it allows the information to reach the largest group of people and is inclusive of those who are not proficient in English. Academics must learn to code-switch, change up our language so that it is inclusive of different populations and ability levels. Our purpose is to have our research, and the learning that is possible from it, reach the greatest number of people. Code-switching allows us to be relevant to a broad group of people. Ultimately, we must learn and be comfortable with code-switching.
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