Friday, May 14, 2010

Hola, Arizona!

The governor of Arizona just signed a bill into law this week that bans ethnic studies courses in public schools. Arizona, are you just trying to piss people off? Yes, it’s an election year, we understand that, and many of your politicians are in the fight of your political lives to keep your jobs, but if the immigration bill - which was clearly an effort to attract right wing conservative voters rather than a serious effort to address a real problem devastating your communities - wasn’t bad enough, now you’ve gone and done this?

This new law is bad. Read more about it at But it’s not only bad, it’s stupid and mean-spirited and motivated by politics and personal vendettas by lawmakers who are old enough to know better. Apparently, this all started when Tom Horne, who is now running for attorney general, got upset when a Hispanic rights activist told some high schoolers in Tucson that Republicans hate Latinos. She was wrong to say that. It was an unfair comment and a gross generalization, but Tom, sticks and stones…just because you didn’t like her comment, doesn’t mean you have the right to go after a long standing program which teaches ethnic history and cultural studies. Students, all students, should be taught about a variety of cultures. Ethnic minorities in particular, whose histories and cultural legacies are often omitted in school curriculum and text books, desperately deserve courses which expose them to their own experience and allow them to learn about their culture and communities. However, this new law now forbids any school in Arizona from teaching ethnic studies courses which are deemed subversive because they:

Promote the overthrow of the United States government.
Promote resentment toward a race or class of people.
Are designed primarily for pupils of a particular ethnic group.
Advocate ethnic solidarity instead of the treatment of pupils as individuals.

What’s going to be the penalty for teachers who continue to teach ethnic studies classes in Arizona? Will they be forced to eat tacos and do the Mexican hat dance until they vomit and drop? Come on, Arizona, really?

I’ve taken my fair share of ethnic studies classes from African American studies to Chicano studies to Native American studies. I can honestly say that I never once heard anyone suggest that we overthrow the government or that the white man was “bad”. What I did hear and learn in those courses was an exploration of the history and culture of those different ethnic groups within the context of the challenges and successes each group faced because of the environment, geography, cultural values, the economy and interactions within their own ethnic group and with those outside of their group.

If we start banning classes in public schools because we subjectively deem the content inappropriate or subversive, what’s next? Shall I get out my Bic lighter and start burning some books? My vote would be to torch Twilight first, not only because I don’t think it’s well written, but because I don’t like its portrayal of women. We can dig up the list of old books which have upset people over the years and start torching those, too. The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, The Color Purple and The Diary of Anne Frank. Would you call these subversive books which promote the overthrow of the U.S. or put down white people? These books, along with classes that educate about a variety of ethnic cultures and viewpoints, should be allowed in our classrooms.

Arizona, you’re on a slippery slope and your footing wasn’t good to begin with – do we all remember that you were the last state to agree (begrudgingly) to honor Martin Luther King Day as national holiday? Now why was that so hard for you, Arizona? And even after it was signed into law in 1983 by Ronald Regan, Arizona senator John McCain, who voted against the bill, supported the state’s refusal to honor the holiday until he felt too much political heat and reversed his stance. Apparently, ethnic politics in Arizona has a long standing history of being on the wrong side of the culture wars and this is another one of those times.

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