California State Board of Education Adopts Expanded Armenian Genocide Curriculum

Assemblymember Adrin Nazarian, ANCA-WR Executive Director Elen Asatryan and ANCA-WR Chief Legislative Consultant Haig Baghdassarian at the July 14th CA State Board of Education Meeting

SACRAMENTODuring its July 14 meeting, the California State Board of Education (“CSBE”) adopted a new History-Social Studies curriculum framework which will serve as guidelines for public school teachers. This framework provides significant improvements and expanded language and scope of information regarding the Armenian Genocide, reported the Armenian National Committee of America – Western Region (ANCA-WR).  

The additions regarding the Armenian Genocide were a result of collaborative work between the ANCA-WR, the Genocide Education Project (“GenEd”), the Instructional Quality Commission (IQC), Superintendent Tom Torlakson, and a culmination of the initiative taken by Assemblymember Adrin Nazarian (D – San Fernando Valley) and the Armenian Legislative Caucus beginning with the Armenian Genocide Education Act (AB 1915), initiated by principal author Nazarian, which was signed into law in 2014.  

Photo 1“Genocide education has been a top priority for the ANCA-WR and the adoption of the new curriculum framework, with the additional language regarding the Armenian Genocide, will further students’ understanding of crimes against humanity and provide them with greater context regarding the interconnection of such historical events, beginning with the Armenian Genocide.  We extend our heartfelt appreciation to the State Board of Education, the IQC, Superintendent of Public Schools Tom Torlakson, our Education Committee, GenEd, Assemblymember Nazarian, and the Armenian Legislative Caucus for their commitment and leadership as well as UTLA, SEIU, LAUSD, President Zimmer and the thousands of organizations, officials, leaders, and community members who submitted letters of support, making the language additions possible,” stated ANCA-WR Executive Director Elen Asatryan.  “We look forward to continuing our work with the Department of Education, Superintendent Torlakson and GenEd through our Education Committee to make the necessary changes in the textbooks that are reflective of the new curriculum framework and ensure that the Armenian Genocide is taught in every classroom throughout the Golden State and beyond,” added Asatryan.  

“I want to thank all the groups and individuals from the Armenian community who took the time to get involved in this process,  make so many great comments and attend numerous meetings,” said State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson. “This was an inclusive public effort to broaden knowledge of this terrible period in history, learn more about world events, and deepen our students’ understanding of the Armenian experience. California students will be better prepared to succeed in 21stcentury careers and college because of the contributions made in our updated History/Social Science Frameworks,” he added.

Representatives of the Armenian American community and the ANCA – WR, including Asatryan and Chief Legislative Consultant Haig Baghdassarian were in Sacramento to testify when the Board of Education deliberated adoption of the History-Social Studies Curriculum Framework. Assemblyman Nazarian traveled especially to Sacramento, in the midst of the legislature’s summer recess, to have his voice and those of his constituents heard by the Board.  

The ANCA – WR, the Genocide Education Project, and the Armenian Legislative Caucus, in coordination with GenEd, led the way in ensuring that the IQC proposed, and that the Board of Education adopted an accurate and comprehensive treatment of the Armenian Genocide. Nazarian led the efforts of the Armenian Legislative Caucus, and his efforts were supported by Assemblymen Katcho Achadjian (R – San Luis Obispo) and Scott Wilk (R – Santa Clarita).  

Beginning in September of 2015, the ANCA-WR, Genocide Education Project, Assemblymember Nazarian and the Armenian Legislative Caucus submitted proposed language changes and additions to the current curriculum framework and attended the IQC hearings to advocate for those proposals.  Submitted proposed language additions and changes may be found online at www.ancawr.org/CAGenocideEducation.  Just days before the July 14 meeting, the ANCA-WR also launched a letter campaign, which resulted in over 2,000 support letters being submitted to the SBE on the subject from elected officials, organizations, educators, officials, and residents throughout California.

“This is a watershed moment; education and vigilance are the keys to banishing the act of genocide to exist solely in the pages of history books,” stated Assemblymember Adrin Nazarian. “I am proud to have lead the legislative charge to pass the Armenian Genocide Education Act (AB 1915). The decision by the State of California Board of Education will allow students across California to understand and learn from the Armenian Genocide.”

The revised and newly adopted curriculum framework include:

  1. The addition of key facts regarding the Armenian Genocide and its causes;
  2. Reference regarding the clear link between the Armenian Genocide and the Holocaust; and
  3. Information regarding the unprecedented American humanitarian response to the Armenian Genocide—during which time, through the first US Congressionally sanctioned humanitarian organization, the Near East Relief, the United States and the American people from every state, raised over 117 million dollars, saved over 1 million refugees, and over 132,000 orphans.

“The Social Studies Framework is critical to the teaching of all content related to Social Sciences, and most important for all Armenians is the factual teaching of the Armenian Genocide and the support role provided by the USA Near East Relief.  To effect change on any framework takes years.  The ANCA-WR Education Committee started this work 2 years ago, and has teamed up with leaders in Genocide Education and elected officials to make certain that students learn the true facts about Genocide. Committee members have taken responsibility to write letters and meet and work with text book publishers to effect the necessary changes.  We are proud of the ANCA-WR staff, elected officials and individuals who gave days and hours of their time to reach this critical goal.  This is a milestone for California Genocide Education and one that should be celebrated.  The work now begins, not only to change the text books to match the frameworks but to also make certain that teachers teach the Genocide content and teach it thoroughly,” noted ANCA-WR Education Committee Chair Alice Petrossian.

Roxanne Makasdjian, a GenEd board member, played an integral role in the process and particularly in recommending language, and was instrumental in obtaining assistance from an authority on Armenian History, Professor Stephan Astourian who is Director of the Armenian Studies Program at UC Berkeley, in order to make sure that the language in the framework will be accurate. Professor Keith Watenpaugh, an Armenian Genocide scholar at UC Davis who specializes in Modern Islam, Human Rights and Peace, offered his expertise to the California History Social Studies Project, which is the organization within the UC Davis History Department which has been tasked with revising the Curriculum Framework.

“The Armenian Genocide is a significant and instructive moment in modern world history, said Makasdjian. “We’re gratified that our work to insure California’s History-Social Studies teachers are given more appropriate guidelines for teaching about it have been successful.”

Asatryan expressed appreciation for the many voices who have lent their support in an effort to enhance Armenian Genocide education in California’s public schools. She stated that “it was heartening to have the full support of exemplary leaders like Superintendent Torlakson and Steve Zimmer, President of the Los Angeles Unified School District Board of Education, among many other prominent education leaders and organizations lend their support to our efforts.”  In his letter to the IQC committee, Zimmer noted that “Our curriculum quite literally shapes our students’ understanding of the past and even more significantly prepares them to be the change agents who can build a better future.”

Administrators and educators may obtain lesson plans and teaching materials on the Armenian Genocide by contacting GenEd info@GenocideEducation.org or visiting teachgenocide.org.

The Armenian National Committee of America-Western Region is the largest and most influential Armenian American grassroots advocacy organization in the Western United States. Working in coordination with a network of offices, chapters, and supporters throughout the

Western United States and affiliated organizations around the country, the ANCA-WR advances the concerns of the Armenian American community on a broad range of issues.

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