The California Department of Education has proposed a new curriculum that would involve teachers leading students in chanting the names of Aztec gods in an effort to build unity in the classroom.
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The latest draft of the proposed Ethnic Studies Model Curriculum, which will undergo a vote for approval next week, seeks to “center and place high values” of the traditions and experiences of pre-Columbian America, and to critique “white supremacy and racism” that led to their marginalization in the modern world.
The Ethnic Studies Model Curriculum will focus on the traditional ethnic studies first established in higher education which has been characterized by four foundational disciplines: African American, Chicana/o/x and Latina/o/x, Native American, and Asian American and Pacific Islander studies.
The focus on the experiences of these four disciplines provides an opportunity for students to learn of the histories, cultures, struggles, and contributions to American society of these historically marginalized peoples which are often untold in U.S. history courses.
This model curriculum is a step to rectifying omission of the experiences and cultures of communities within California.
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Ethnic studies courses address institutionalized systems of advantage, and address the causes of racism and other forms of bigotry including antisemitism and Islamophobia within our culture and governmental policies.
The proposed draft says that when schools help students acquire a “social consciousness”, they are better equipped to contribute to the public good and help strengthen democratic institutions.
This guiding narrative is reflected in the design of sample lessons and various class activities, including the model curriculum’s official “ethnic studies community chant,” in which students directly appeal to the deities of the Aztec pantheon for the power to become “warriors” of “love, ecological and social justice.”
In the community chant of “In Lak Ech,” which translates to “You Are My Other Me,” teachers are instructed to first lead the group of students in chanting and clapping to Tezcatlipoca.
The students then chant to other deities including Huitzilopochtli, the Aztec sun god, seeking “healing epistemologies” and a “revolutionary spirit.”
The chant ends with a request for “liberation, transformation, decolonization,” after which students shout “Panche beh! Panche beh!” which translates to “seeking the roots of the truth” or “think critically.”
Watch video below showing what a unity chant looks like in practice. The video was taken at Social Justice Humanitas Academy in the Los Angeles Unified School District, where many indigenous songs and chants like In Lak Ech were developed.
However, some commentators have objected to this new initiative.
Christopher Rufo, the journalist who first reported about the chant to Aztec gods promoted by California’s new curriculum, wrote in his City Journal article that such practice almost certainly violates the First Amendment’s Establishment Clause that prohibits the state from showing a preference for one religion over others.
“Public schools are prohibited from leading state-sanctioned Christian prayers; they would presumably be similarly prohibited from leading state-sanctioned chants to the Aztec god of human sacrifice,” Rufo wrote.
The curriculum, if approved, would serve as a guide to California’s K-12 education system of more than 6 million students. It was originally proposed in 2019 as a part of the state’s effort to teach students about the accomplishments of non-Christian people, groups, and ethnic minorities to address “issues of ethnicity, identity, service, and social justice.”