This study sought to create a holistic picture of Ethnic Studies as it relates to education through the voices and experiences of scholars who bridge Ethnic Studies and education. It examines Ethnic Studies through the conceptual lens of Safety Zone Theory (Lomawaima & McCarty, 2006). At the heart of Safety Zone Theory (SZT) is the concept that historically the U.S. federal government (and to an extent society as a result of this governmental framing) has designated certain elements of minority cultures as “safe” and other elements as “divisive.” SZT was originally applied to examine federal Indian education policy in the U.S. In this study, I expand that application to other minority and immigrant cultures within the United States. This research is significant because despite the minority population growth in the United States public school curricula typically only make reference to such groups and their histories a minimal side note (Loewen, 2007; U.S. Census, 2013; Zinn, 2003). For example, in 2010 the Arizona state legislature declared Ethnic Studies illegal on the grounds that it allegedly promotes “anti-American sentiments" (A.R.S. §15–112).
Using Seidman’s (2013) three-part interview protocol, leading figures in the field of Ethnic Studies as it relates to education were interviewed to gain their perspectives on the “life story” of this field. Again following Seidman’s (2013) protocol, narrative profiles were crafted for each participant. The profiles were analyzed individually for emerging themes; this was followed by a cross-case analysis. This multilevel qualitative analysis yielded a larger narrative of Ethnic Studies that helps us to understand its past and envision its future. My hope is that this research impacts future policy on Ethnic Studies and current curricula, particularly in states and school districts making decisions on the importance and need of Ethnic Studies as a part of the curriculum. Also, the research can aid preservice teachers and principals in learning to see the fullness of their students, the places they come from, and the value and funds of knowledge that they bring to the classroom. I also hope that this is the beginning of more studies on the impact of individual stories and the stories as a collective in regards to race and ethnicity. Demographics within the United States are changing at a rapid pace, and school is children’s introduction to society. As a mini-society/community, there is a responsibility to model what they are going step into in real life.