It’s a bad, sad time for education in Arizona.
Judge A. Wallace Tashima of the US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit last Friday upheld all but one aspect of the law prohibiting Arizona school districts from offering ethnic studies courses. The ban specifically targeted the Mexican-American studies program at some Tucson public schools.
(The judge declined to issue a permanent injunction on a small portion of the law, and said the court has jurisdiction on any future proceedings, if warranted.)
The controversial ban went into effect on January 1, 2011. It prohibits public schools from offering courses that promote the overthrow of the United States government, advocate ethnic solidarity and foster resentment toward a race or class of people. In Tucson, students studied history and literature from a Mexican-American perspective.
Opponents said that ethnic studies classes divide students.
However, the law is obviously politically motivated: as many educators have pointed out, ethnic studies classes are open to all students.
This is just more of the same from the Arizona government, which has brought us Jan Brewer and her xenophobic immigration bill, and Sheriff Joe Arpaio with his brutal treatment of immigrants. Too bad a federal judge had to agree with their narrow-minded perspective.
The challenge to the new state law was initially launched in 2010. Eventually, teachers and students at the Tucson Unified School District brought a lawsuit against Arizona’s school superintendent, John Huppenthal, and other state officials.
Authorities instrumental in the law’s passage said Monday that they feel vindicated in their efforts to ban what they deemed to be racially divisive courses in public schools.
Arizona Attorney General Tom Horne, who helped craft the law and personally argued the case in Tucson, called the decision “a victory for ensuring that public education is not held captive to radical, political elements and that students treat each other as individuals — not on the basis of the race they were born into.”
Actually, it’s quite the opposite of what Horne chooses to believe. Instead of alienating students of various cultural and ethnic backgrounds, this curriculum actually connected all students, including those with Native American, Mexican-American, Asian-American and African-American heritages, to their cultural past and to the roles these cultures have played in American history.
A double bonus: district data showed that students who took the courses performed better on standardized tests.
But with Attorney General Horne, we have yet another white male Republican who refuses to admit that times and demographics are changing in the United States, especially in a border state like Arizona.
Just check the facts: the estimated Hispanic population of the United States as of July 1, 2011, was 52 million, making people of Hispanic origin the nation’s largest ethnic or race minority. Hispanics constituted 16.7 percent of the nation’s total population.
In Arizona, however, Hispanics and Latinos made up 30.1 percent of the population. Is this almost one third of the state’s population not supposed to learn about its culture and heritage?
Sorry, Mr. Horne, but after years of speculation, estimates and projections, the Census Bureau has made it official: white births are no longer a majority in the United States.
Teaching about only white historical figures, authors, playwrights and musicians does not reflect the cultural diversity that this generation sees in its schools; this is aside from the fact that teaching only about white figures presents a lie to students that only white people did anything of import throughout our nation’s history.
White students also need to know about the true history of their state and country, not just the white version.
Ethnic studies is a necessary part of understanding this country, which is probably why it’s under attack in Arizona.
Eventually, the state will be forced to change its attitude, but how long will it take?
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