California’s Diversity: Past and Present
Lessons for the Fair Education Act of 2011


Lesson 1: Diversity in California


In this lesson, students examine the history of diversity in California. First, students read and discuss an introduction to the major groups that make up California’s cultural diversity. They then examine case studies of instances when California’s public policy was changed to accommodate an ever more diverse society: the Eliezer Williams case, the Sylvia Méndez case, and the case of the SB 48 law itself. Finally, they role-play a state legislative committee that will make recommendations about the need for new civil-rights law.


One to two class periods


Students will be able to:

  • Define diversity.
  • Examine the array of cultures that make up contemporary California society.
  • Express reasoned opinions on the benefits and challenges of diversity.
  • Evaluate important historic public policies that addressed challenges brought about by California’s diversity.

Compliance With the Fair Education Act

This lesson was designed to comply with requirements under California Senate Bill 48 (“SB 48”), signed into law as the Fair Education Act in 2011. The act amended California Education Code Section 51204.5 to read as follows:

Instruction in social sciences shall include the early history of California and a study of the role and contributions of both men and women, Native Americans, African Americans, Mexican Americans, Asian Americans, Pacific Islanders, European Americans, lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender Americans, persons with disabilities, and members of other ethnic and cultural groups, to the economic, political, and social development of California and the United States of America, with particular emphasis on portraying the role of these groups in contemporary society.

The act also amended California Education Code Section 60040 to direct governing boards to “include only instructional materials which, in their determination, accurately portray the cultural and racial diversity of our society….”

Common Core State Standards for English Language Arts

RI.8.1. Cite the textual evidence that most strongly supports an analysis of what the text says explicitly as well as inferences drawn from the text.

RI.8.4. Determine the meaning of words and phrases as they are used in a text, including figurative, connotative, and technical meanings….

SL.8.1. Engage effectively in a range of collaborative discussions (one-on-one, in groups, and teacher-led) with diverse partners on grade 8 topics, texts, and issues, building on others’ ideas and expressing their own clearly.

SL.8.4. Present claims and findings, emphasizing salient points in a focused, coherent manner with relevant evidence, sound valid reasoning, and well-chosen details; use appropriate eye contact, adequate volume, and clear pronunciation.

RL.6-8.2. Determine the central ideas or information of a primary or secondary source; provide an accurate summary of the source distinct from prior knowledge or opinions.

RL.6-8.4. Determine the meaning of words and phrases as they are used in a text, including vocabulary specific to domains related to history/social studies.

RI.11-12.1. Cite strong and thorough textual evidence to support analysis of what the text says explicitly as well as inferences drawn from the text, including determining where the text leaves matters uncertain.

RI.11-12.4. Determine the meaning of words and phrases as they are used in a text, including figurative, connotative, and technical meanings….

SL.11-12.1. Initiate and participate effectively in a range of collaborative discussions (one on- one, in groups, and teacher-led) with diverse partners on grades 11–12 topics, texts, and issues, building on others’ ideas and expressing their own clearly and persuasively.

SL.11-12.4. Present information, findings, and supporting evidence, conveying a clear and distinct perspective, such that listeners can follow the line of reasoning, alternative or opposing perspectives are addressed, and the organization, development, substance, and style are appropriate to purpose, audience, and a range of formal and informal tasks.

RL.11-12.2. Determine two or more themes or central ideas of a text and analyze their development over the course of the text….

RL.11-12.4. Determine the meaning of words and phrases as they are used in the text, including figurative and connotative meanings….

Materials and Preparation


A. Reading and Discussion: Cultural Diversity in California

1. Focus Discussion. Write the word “diversity” on the board. Ask students what the word means to them. Accept reasonable responses. (Students should generally understand that diversity refers to a society in which the people come from many different backgrounds. For example, people have diverse religious, political, ethnic, and racial backgrounds.)

2. Distribute Handout A: Cultural Diversity in California. Explain that it describes the ways in which California is diverse today. It will also show them how California’s diverse groups have a history in the state. The reading should take approximately ten minutes.

3. After they have finished reading, hold a discussion using the For Discussion and Writing questions.

  • How has California always been a diverse society? Explain.

    Look for examples from the reading of early contact between Spanish and Native Americans, Mexican American cultural heritage, Asian Americans, Gold rush migrants, and others.

  • What do you think are the benefits of a diverse society? What are the challenges?

    Accept reasonable responses.

  • In 1965, U.S. immigration law changed. Specific quotas, or maximum limits, on immigration from many Latin American and Asian countries ended. In your experience, do you think that has had a big effect on California’s society? Why or why not?

    Accept reasonable responses. Look for: There has been an increase in Latin American and Asian immigration, along with more widespread contact with the cultures of those regions.

4. Then discuss the following with students:

With California’s diversity, majority and minority groups live side-by-side. A majority is a group that is greater than half. A minority is less than half. What if the majority has a negative opinion of a minority? Or what if the majority ignores the needs of a minority?

When there is discrimination (unfair bias) against a minority, lawmakers often make new policy to address the problem. It can be a new law or a court’s judgment.

B. Activity: Civil Rights Committee

1. Tell students that in this activity, they will role play state lawmakers gathering facts for a new California civil rights law. The law’s purpose is to strengthen civil rights in California.

2. Divide students into small groups. Distribute to each group one of the three handouts (A, B, or C). It is fine if more than one group uses the same case study, provided that each case study is used by at least one group.

3. Review with students what each group will do. Each group will role play a committee of lawmakers charged with examining the history of California’s civil rights. Each group should:

a. Read one of the three case studies: the Méndez case, the Williams case, and the SB 48 case.

b. Discuss the problem in each case study. (What unfairness or discrimination was happening?)

c. Decide what the policy was in each case study. (Remind them that the policy is the official decision about what should happen.)

d. Recommend what additional policies, if any, might be necessary to achieve equal protection for all under the law. If no recommendation is made, explain why not.

e. Be prepared to report its recommendations and reasons for them.

4. Have the committees report their recommendations, discuss them, and hold a vote as the class on what additional policies to adopt.

C. Debriefing

Debrief the activity. Questions to ask:

  • Was there anything surprising to you in what you learned today?

    Accept reasoned responses. Students may say that they did not know that school desegregation in America began in California.

  • Why is it important to know about the cultural and political contributions of diverse groups?

    Accept reasoned responses. For example, students may say that they have learned to appreciate people who are different than they are. Students may also say that knowing about diverse contributions helps explain the present-day world.

  • How can public policy address issues of diversity?

    Accept reasoned responses. Students may say that law (or policy) can be used to outlaw discrimination.


The California Three Rs Project co-sponsored by Constitutional Rights Foundation,
California County Superintendents Educational Services Association, and the Religious Freedom Education Project at Newseum

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