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Why the Arizona Ethnic Studies ban is stupid (with snark!)

Posted in Absurdities by Arnold Pan on May 19, 2010
Tags: , ,

We’re probably (hopefully?) preaching to the converted here, but it’s gotta be said how stupid this Arizona Ethnic Studies ban is and what faulty assumptions it is based on.  I’ve seen a little coverage of it–like this CNN video where Michael Eric Dyson totally pwns the instigator of the AZ law, Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Horne, on the Anderson Cooper show–but I figured I should just read the bill for myself.

"Entering Arizona on I-10 Westbound" by Wing-Chi Poon (Creative Commons license)

Here are the “choice” bits, with snark added, of course:

Declaration of Policy

The Legislature finds and declares that public school pupils should be taught to treat and value each other as individuals and not be taught to resent or hate other races or classes of people.

Snark: Unless those “other races or classes of people” happen to be Chicano of working class backgrounds: In the LA Times, Horne himself acknowledges that the “bill was written to target the Chicano, or Mexican American, studies program in the Tucson school system.” So as Prof. Dyson explains, the irony of the situation is that the law, whatever the Declaration of Policy claims, actually promotes resentment towards Chicanos, Chicano history, and maybe Ethnic Studies as somehow Un-American, illegitimate, and–if this law stands–actually illegal.

More snark and stupid bureaucracy below the fold…

"Picture of the US-Mexico Border, taken from Nogales, Arizona" by Darkros (Public Domain)

Prohibited courses and classes: enforcement

A. A school district or charter school in this state shall not include in its program of instruction any courses or classes that include any of the following:

1. Promote the overthrow of the United States Government.

Snark: But it’s okay for conservative wingnuts to bring firearms to a Presidential event in Phoenix, because, you know, that’s for “protecting” the Constitution and it’s not a school campus anyway.

2. Promote resentment toward a race or class of people.

Snark: Again, as long as you’re not Chicano.  And don’t forget to bring your ID cards to class.

3. Are designed to primarily for pupils of a particular ethnic group.

Snark: Unless, of course, it’s an English or a History class, because white people don’t belong to a particular race or ethnicity, right?

4. Advocate ethnic solidarity instead of treatment of pupils as individuals.

Snark: Yeah, because minorities have always been viewed as “individuals” with all rights and legal protections through U.S. history.

F. Nothing in this section shall be construed to restrict or prohibit the instruction of the Holocaust, any other instance of genocide, or the historical oppression of a particular group of people based on ethnicity, race, or class.

Snark: See comments on “Declaration of Policy” and point A.2.  But otherwise, maybe at least Arizona has one on Virginia and “Confederate History Month” here.

If you watch Prof. Dyson’s take down of Horne linked above, a few things stand out.  First, Horne is really hung up on how teaching the history of minority groups is a “downer” and promotes “anger,” when students should really focus on uplifting events like the American Revolution and yada, yada, yada.  You know what’s a downer: War, which I’m pretty sure is taught in most high school history classes.

Another thing that stuck out from the clip is that they make it out like Arizona public schools offer a hell of a lot of Ethnic Studies options, as if so many minority students are flocking together to take all those many, many classes about black, brown, red, and yellow people that public schools are so renowned for offering.  Maybe I’m missing something and correct me if I’m wrong, but I didn’t know there were so many Ethnic Studies electives at middle-school and high-school levels–in fact, it seems that there are more choices at your neighborhood public school than at pretty much any big state research university.  Not to diss the good folks teaching Ethnic Studies in such a hostile environment, but I’m doubting AZ public schools are some bastion of progressive politics, especially if you consider the Superintendent running the show.

Overall, this sounds like a law that actually enforces nothing.  As an official of the Tucson school district told the LA Times:

Tucson Unified School District officials say the Chicano studies classes benefit students and promote critical thinking. “We don’t teach all those ugly things they think we’re teaching,” said Judy Burns, the president of the district’s governing board.

She has no intention of ending the program, which offers courses from elementary school through high school in topics such as literature, history and social justice, with an emphasis on Latino authors and history. About 3% of the district’s 55,000 students are enrolled in such classes.

Hey, if Arizona wants to make a big deal banning stuff that doesn’t really exist in the first place, then open up–and lose–a big public debate over the value of Ethnic Studies, that might be a good thing, in a bassackwards kinda way, right?

We’ll be more serious about this tomorrow, when we explain away the myths about Ethnic Studies that are the foundation of the Stupid Arizona Ban.

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2 Responses to 'Why the Arizona Ethnic Studies ban is stupid (with snark!)'

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  1. gradland said,

    The misunderstanding and misinformation related to certain disciplines really blows my mind–back in 2009 Georgia lawmakers flipped out over sexuality courses, particularly queer theory courses, that were taught at state colleges and thus funded with taxpayer dollars. CNN’s reporting didn’t do much to combat the idea that such courses were essentially teaching students how to be prostitutes or perform certain sexual acts, or simply “teaching them to be queer.” While I think the mainstream media is doing a *slightly* better job reporting on the Arizona ethnic studies debate, you’d still think from some of the stories that ethnic studies departments were recruiting centers for disenfranchised immigrants intent on overthrowing the government.

    • Arnold Pan said,

      Great point, gradland! The other thing is these stories make you think that Ethnic Studies and Queer Studies programs are everywhere, as if they were so prominent and influential on campuses. In reality, a lot of schools don’t even have such programs and the ones that do, even at big schools, are probably struggling administratively more than the rest of the humanities and social sciences. People make them out to be such bugaboos, when they aren’t–But more on that next time!

      By the way, great new posts on alternative careers–we’ll follow up on them here soon!


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