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Myths about Ethnic Studies, the Practice

Posted in Absurdities by Arnold Pan on May 21, 2010
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I wanted to finish up the discussion on the Arizona Ethnic Studies ban by considering the state of Ethnic Studies in practice, as opposed to the way it’s imagined by the likes of AZ Superintendent Tom Horne and others who decry its mere existence.  The way the media portray Ethnic Studies and the conservative politicians try to make hay out of it would lead someone to assume that African American Studies, Asian American Studies, Chicano Studies, along with Gender Studies and Queer Studies (as Gradland aptly points to in a comment), are some kind of brainwashing juggernaut that controls all Liberal Arts education.  For those of us working in those fields and familiar with the way the university works, that’s a big surprise to us!

Myth–Ethnic Studies is everywhere!: Really?  Honestly, I’d love to live in the intellectual world that Horne and Ethnic Studies detractors imagine, where Ethnic Studies is taught everywhere and holds such sway over students, informing them about, you know, “downer” histories of oppression that are actually not discussed so much.  As I mentioned in my first snarky post on the matter, Horne makes it appear like the Tucson public school district is some bastion of Ethnic Studies, where minority middle school and high school students all gather together in their ethnic cliques to take these radical electives.  OK, so I have no first-hand knowledge of Tucson public schools, but I’ve got to believe this description is overblown, especially when a Tucson public school official claims the law might only affect 3% of the districts 55,000 students.

More about the reality of Ethnic Studies in practice, below the fold…

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Myths about Ethnic Studies, the Theory

OK, now we’ll get a little more serious about this AZ Ethnic Studies ban, digging into some of the assumptions and misconceptions about race and the study of race that the whole thing and debate is based on.  Though maybe I’m spending too much time offering an intellectual perspective, because, as Talking Points Memo suggests, the ban is probably just a cynical political ploy by the man behind it all, Tom Horne, who’s running for even higher office as Attorney General of the state.

1. “Reverse discrimination”: One of the common arguments against Ethnic Studies and Affirmative Action is they promote “reverse discrimination” that favors minorities and disadvantages non-minorities.  “Reverse discrimination,” as the name suggests, presumes a one-to-one correspondence between individuals and a zero-sum game between them: anything that benefits me, hurts you, never mind what aspects of our lived experiences and social backgrounds make up our identities.  The basic “logic” behind this line of attack is spelled out in the AZ law when it “declares that public school pupils should be taught to treat and value each other as individuals,” with the premise being that all individuals should be treated equally and appreciated for their individual merits.

To pursue this line of argument a little further, the false claim being made here is that an Ethnic Studies class undermines the respect for the “individual” because it’s about race, ethnicity, and group identity–never mind that any civics class that’s about national community or class about U.S. history also depends on some notion of group identity.  This model of “group identity vs. individualism” is also the assumption behind anti-Affirmative Action positions that suggest any reference to race as a group identity infringes on individual rights.  OK, all this seems (falsely) “logical” enough, right?

See how the myth of “reverse discrimination” is debunked below the fold...

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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… (more…)