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The 1619 Polish craftsmen’s strike for equity at Jamestown and the California Ethnic Studies Model Curriculum

Update submitted by Gordon Black, Chair, Committee for Education, Committee for Ethnic Relations, The Polish American Congress, Northern California Division, (707) 937-4107, gblack@mcn.org.

The Ethnic Studies Model Curriculum (ESMC) was accepted by the California State Board of Education at its meeting of March 18, 2012, after several years of contentious preparation, including three public reviews. The Model is a guide, not a mandate, but it will be consulted by other States in the current pressures for social justice.

The Northern California Division PAC has two offices relating to these issues: Education and Ethnic Relations. The former emerged in the statewide Polonian action for inclusion of the Polish case in the 1988 California Model Curriculum for Human Rights and Genocide; the latter developed from a need to maintain proper understanding in inter-ethnic relations, often Polish/Jewish. So a developing Ethnic Studies curriculum called for attention.

The concept of Ethnic Studies rose from a 1968 campus strike at San Francisco State College (now University), with Black, Latino, Asian, and Indigenous American groups winning academic standing for their traditions. Those four are considered the core groups, while the field has widened to include other minority interests; the last act of the Board of Education in approving the ESMC was to call for the inclusion of a (favorable) definition of Critical Race Theory (CRT).

As my PAC Division has entrusted me with the Education and ER offices, I did contribute comments to each of the three field reviews of the Model Curriculum drafts. My first briefly noted that there are 93 languages spoken in the State, hence there exist other ethnicities than just the core group. The second draft received my suggestion for the inclusion of Artur Szyk’s painting, “Poles at Jamestown,” for use in a classroom exercise already described in the draft.

By this time I was becoming better acquainted with the American Council for Polish Culture (ACPC) and its Web resources regarding the Jamestown Poles and the 1619 strike. I had previously dismissed the story, largely because of Dr. James S. Pula’s article rejecting some Polonian assertions about the event. But the ACPC presented a well-founded lesson plan, developed at the University of Virginia, and my comment for the third field review called for its inclusion in the ESMC.

Of course the date of 1619 bounces in the eye of anyone familiar with the 1619 Project of The New York Times, which claims the origin of the American state in the landing of a slave ship that year at Point Comfort in the English colony of Virginia. However that view, I rather asserted a historical intersection of the strike by the Polish ethnicity at Jamestown and the strike by the ethnicities at San Francisco State, as one of many good reasons for inclusion in the ESMC.

The action for inclusion fell short, for lack of a proper grip sustained from the start, and its best idea perhaps too late. There were 100,000 field comments. That seen, my several inquiries for the status of the lesson plan brought no response, until an exchange of lawyer’s letters brought matters up-to-date. It is of some satisfaction that there are not, nor were there any, overt objections to the Jamestown lesson plan.

Good! An ancillary website is promised, dependent on State funds, if and when is forthcoming. This will require attention to upcoming legislation for education affairs, signing up for email notices from the State education authorities, and consulting each other for inclusion of the Jamestown lesson plan in the anticipated site – which was announced by State Board president, Dr. Darling-Hammond, at the Board meeting of March 18, 2012, as “a resource website that will allow folks to get access not only to more lessons that have been submitted, but also, to places that do this kind of work routinely, teaching tolerance, facing history in ourselves and other sources….”

My pursuant inquiry about this site was forwarded to the Frameworks section of the Department of Education, and I did receive the following reply from a senior specialist:

“The Governor’s January Budget proposal included provisions for $7 million to support the implementation of the model curriculum, including $5 million for teacher training and for the online repository of resources to support ethnic studies courses that were referenced by State Board President Linda Darling-Hammond.

“Before we can provide more details about the process that you requested, the above funds must be passed through the state Budget Act and the funding made available for the development of the online repository. If the funding is provided, that work will likely be carried out by a county office of education or a consortium of county offices of education. When more information is available, we will post it on our website.”

That should be a sufficient interval for Polonia to organize and address the occasion. Fortunately, some bright people are stepping forward with interest in the matter.

How does the action at Jamestown in 1619 not only inform history but also intersect with current theories in social justice? We recall the Polish football team standing respectfully before the game while stating, “We kneel to God.” There is a Polish way.

This article first appeared in PAC’s “Your Voice In America” Newsletter.

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