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Aug 21, 2010 11:00 pm

Should Arizona Repeal Its Ethnic Studies Ban?

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Food for Thought

Jonathan Zimmerman

if Arizona schools really treated students as individuals, they would engage them in the controversies of the state's history - starting with the Mexican War. Contemporary critics of the war included Abraham Lincoln and Henry David Thoreau, who famously spent a night in jail to protest it. Would [state schools] Superintendent [Tom] Horne be at ease with a classroom debate on whether Lincoln and Thoreau were right?

I think not. If a mostly Hispanic classroom sided with the war's critics, it might violate Arizona's new ethnic studies law. Mexican American kids condemning U.S. imperialism? What could provoke more"resentment toward a race or class" than that?

By the same token, it's hard to imagine ethnic studies classes engaging in real debate along these lines, either. According to reports, some use Occupied America: A History of Chicanos, by the respected Mexican American historian Rodolfo Acuna, as their main textbook.

I like Acuna's book, but - like every historical account - it has a distinct perspective on the past. You can get a flavor of that perspective from the title of its chapter on the Mexican War:"Legacy of Hate: The Conquest of Mexico's Northwest." Section headings include"The Invasion of Mexico" and"The Myth of a Nonviolent Nation."

Jon Wiener

What exactly is wrong with Arizona schools offering Chicano Studies classes? Van Susteren asked Tom Horne, Arizona superintendent of public instruction, who sponsored the bill and who is running for state attorney general (you may be able to guess his political party).

The problem, Horne said, is that when schools offer Ethnic Studies courses to students, “they're dividing them up just like the old South.”

Well, not really: the problem with the old South was not that black students took black studies classes for an hour a day; the problem was that black students were prohibited by law from attending white schools. The problem was that all black students were sent to separate black schools which were inferior to the white schools....

Linda Chavez

The impetus for the Arizona bill is a program used in the Tucson Unified School District that provides ethnic studies courses for Hispanics, blacks, Asians, and Native Americans. Critics of the program claim that the courses, especially those aimed at Mexican Americans, have become forums for political propaganda. And the school district's own website provides evidence the critics are right.

Among the goals listed for the Mexican American Studies program are the following:"Advocating for and providing curriculum that is centered within the pursuit of social justice. ... Working towards the invoking of a critical consciousness within each and every student. ... Providing and promoting teacher education that is centered within Critical Pedagogy, Latino Critical Race Pedagogy, and Authentic Caring."

The idea of the public schools promoting"race pedagogy" of any sort should send shivers down the spine -- and is there such a thing as"inauthentic" caring, whose antidote this program pretends to be?...

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More Comments:

Tim Matthewson - 10/23/2010

One can only guess at what scares ethnic studies critics. Perhaps critics are afraid that groups studied might begin to act like white conservatives -- they might act like they are entitled and deserve equal rightss? That is, they might act as poorly and offensively as whites.

Jon Martens - 5/28/2010

Having been in my fair share of ethnic and gender studies classes, I've come to the opinion that they are nothing but hate factories. They serve no other purpose.

If a school doesn't feel that its history and literature teachers can fairly treat the subject, then they should get new history and literature teachers.

s jean ayers - 5/26/2010

These courses have always had the danger of becoming little more than propaganda factories. And they crowd out more important classes in history and literature, of which they might better be a part.

Odell - 5/26/2010