RIP Ethnic Studies

Despite repeated defeat with the AZ voters, Governor Jan Brewer signed a law banning Ethnic Studies in AZ. The bill, which was particularly designed to target successful Raza Studies at Tuscon United School District, makes it illegal to teach courses that are “designed for a particular ethnic group” or “advocate ethnic solidarity.” It also links these courses to terrorism by including a clause against classes that “promote the overthrow of the U.S. government.” In both instances, the implication is that only people of color have ethnic pride, that pride is anti-American and anti-intellectual. Embedded in SB 2281 is the power to create independent review boards that can comb through any syllabus, lesson plan, or textbook order to remove material deemed in violation of this law. The consequences for instructors engaging in academic freedom are as severe as the fate of the learning material itself. At this time, failure to comply with the law will result in as much as 10% of the school’s budget being removed by the State. Ironically, the program that inspired this bill and its failed predecessors was created by a court mandate after the State of AZ was found guilty of discrimination. Raza Studies at TUSD is funded through the desegregation budget created as a result of the State’s failure to provide equal access to education for Latin@s and other marginalized students; currently the courses are provided in a district that is 56% Latin@.

It is nearly impossible to argue that AZ is not doubling down on an Apartheid like state system implemented less than 20 days ago with this newest addition of legal discrimination, SB 2281. The anti-ES bill intentionally targets a program that has a long history of

  1. connecting students to education
  2. helping to place students in higher ed
  3. creating critical thinkers whose knowledge and skills have been praised by higher ed recruiters

Essentially, Arizona’s government is willing to sacrifice student success now and in the future in order to remove certain people’s histories and cultures from the classroom. Like the pass law known as SB 1070, the racism underpinning SB 2281 serves to mask the economic, social, and intellectual impact of discrimination on the entire state. On the one hand, studies programs have been shown to create a wider range of critical thinking skills and interdisciplinary knowledge (the ability to understand and use material from multiple vantage points and disciplines) than other programs of study. They also help to retain students who are otherwise alienated from the educational process, including students from a wide cross-section of cultures and races looking to have a more inclusive educational environment. Identity Studies Programs also create and/or cultivate leadership as many of these programs embed development of and praise for leadership skills in their curriculum; part of that leadership, directly benefits the community as many of these programs also include service-learning, local internships, and civic responsibility opportunities as well. While these benefits maybe seen as “special programs” benefiting the “few” by people engaged in white entrenchment, statistics prove that there is a correlation between high employment rates, low crime rates, and educational attainment that behoove any local or state legislature to embrace educational programs that increase knowledge rather than dismantle it. While some may find the leadership component of these programs “frightening” because they fear a nation with brown (and black) people in government, the reality is that many of these leaders work to better communities across districts and to create safe places and programs for all citizens.

Ethnic Studies programs also generate considerable state revenue, some of which I mentioned in the previous post. In addition to the previous mentioned connections between revenue and education, this new law specifically threatens revenue generated by targeted programs that bring in Federal dollars and/or international prestige.

While the Superintendent, who has been on a personal crusade to remove Raza Studies for years, claims SB 2281 is only to stop a single program at the high school level, the Bill covers the entire state putting both individual classrooms and entire programs at risk. Programs like the Hispanic Center for Excellence mentioned in a previous post, which is a federally funded program designed to recruit, train, and retain Latin@ physicians, certainly “promotes ethnic solidarity” and is indisputably “designed for a particular ethnic group.” In fact, unlike Raza Studies, which is open to all students and has been cited as a place some white students found their voices and learned to love their educations alongside Latin@ ones, the Hispanic Center of Excellence does not recruit white students. While Raza Studies is funded almost completely by the State, the Hispanic Center of Excellence represent a national effort that both alleviates the funding burden and connects Arizona to other states, including physicians, professors, schools, and hospitals, engaged in the program. By applying SB 2281 equally, Arizona could not only lose a needed program but needed connections to other institutions that help create a wider field of knowledge, wider placement of AZ grads, and all of the economic and social capital that breadth represents. Not to mention the losses in the general health and well-being of the AZ population as communities continue to go under-diagnosed or treated due to a lack of cultural competence in the state.

On the other hand, SB 2281’s language could be applied to any educational program that the current government deems inappropriate on the basis of race of ethnicity. While the racism behind the law assumes that the only programs teaching ethnic pride are about people of color, the fact is Ethnic Studies programs exist as a corrective measure to the teaching of a single groups’ ethnic pride and history over that of everyone else involved in the building of this nation. While I’m sure Jan Brewer had visions of permanently removing the Brown Berets or the American Indian Movement from the curriculum, it probably never occurred to her that the law could be used to prevent “standard” history as well. Think of the examples:

  1. The Civil War – since the South was directly challenging the Federal government this would fall under the “over throw of the U.S. government” clause
  2. Parts of Contemporary Republican history – since these include the statements/leadership of several governors who have threatened sedition
  3. Most history of code breakers during major wars – in WWI Japanese Americans worked to break codes and translate documents, during the Vietnam war Native American Windtalkers created code that helped win the war, any unit about either of these groups would violate the “designed for/abt a particular ethnic group” clause
  4. The Buffalo Soldiers – see above
  5. The Harlem Renaissance – while this may get a pass given that funding for many of the arts came largely from extremely wealthy white patrons any course specifically about canonized artists, poets, musicians, etc. would once again bring up the “particular ethnic group” issue
  6. Irish immigration to the U.S. – not only are they a particular ethnic group but they are IMMIGRANTS too!!!
  7. The history of the railroads – while you could teach about the financial backing behind the rail roads, lessons involving who built the rail roads and how they were treated or the connection between the railroads and the genocidal politics behind Buffalo tours would get us back to that ethnic issue again …
  8. British Lit – as taught, this seldom includes Black British authors and therefore is targeting only one ethnic group
  9. American History under SB 2281 – since the ultimate goal is to remove reference to people of color this would create history courses that focused exclusively on one ethnic group or in the case of including a handful of poc in the curriculum, the ethnocentrism of the courses would fall under the designed to create pride amidst a single ethnic group clause
  10. American Literature – see above
  11. Social Studies would also be truncated as the civil rights movement(s), abolition, the Mexican-American war, Wounded Knee, etc. and even more modern examples like the Battle of Seattle or the Tea Party movement would all violate this law in one way or another

In fact, teaching Arizona’s own history becomes extremely problematic under this law given its clash of cultures from inception, it white supremacist publications by government officials and state newspapers throughout its founding and subsequent existence, and current links to eugenicist think tanks. All of these materials violate the new law.

The Legislature has attempted to cover themselves from lawsuits by claiming that programs open to all students and history courses about specific ethnic groups will not be subject to removal except in so much as they “violate tenets of the law.” There is very little language in the bill determining how any of these programs or courses could access exemption under the circumstances. Instead, the intended application of the law, to shut down Raza Studies, shows that these exemptions are legal maneuvers designed to keep the state from running afoul of Civil Rights Law while still defying it. Raza Studies is open to all students and does teach about a specific ethnic group that was mandated by a successful lawsuit against the state. If they are not exempt under this clause in the bill, it is unlikely that any program will be in practice regardless of the language. In the same way that no brown person will likely be safe to travel freely in Arizona regardless of supposed changes to the language of SB 1070 to protect Civil Rights.

The ability of both students and faculty to protest these decisions has also been severely circumscribed by SB 2281. The bill calls for the implementation of sanctions and expulsions for any student or faculty member “disrupting the classroom” on the basis of the new law. Including the ability to continue with an expulsion hearing even after students have withdrawn from a particular district due to sanction:

If a pupil withdraws from school after receiving notice of possible action concerning discipline, expulsion, or suspension, the governing board may continue with the action after the withdrawal and may record the results of such action in the pupils permanent file. (SB 2281)

This section of SB 2281 and its subsequent powers given both the principle and the teachers to sanction student protest, and or expressed concern about missing material in their education, will have lasting effect on both students and the educational system. When similar sanctions were proposed in my state for students participating in immigration rallies during school hours 1000s of students failed to participate in walkouts or teach-ins for fear of being expelled and losing their chance to go on to college. The fear of having their futures “completely ruined” by the State was powerful enough to silence some of the strongest leaders for equal rights. Arizona is essentially placing a gag order on young people and holding their future education and employment hostage to do it.

There is a national rally called for the end of this month to march on Arizona for the repeal of SB 1070, I assume this call will be expanded to include SB 2281 as well. I will post the fliers when I get a clean copy. There is also a rally today outside the Tuscon United School District Office Building to protest the shutting down of Raza Studies. The school Superintendent plans to personally shutdown the program today at noon even though the law does not go into effect until December.

I realize that MALCs is still working on the best possible way to support its overall membership and the people left behind in AZ, but I will not set foot in AZ as long as these laws are in place unless it is part of a national march against the implementation of Apartheid in the state.

4 thoughts on “RIP Ethnic Studies

  1. Pingback: Tweets that mention RIP Ethnic Studies « Like a Whisper --

  2. Arizona has been working hard to make this happen for the past several years. It is one of those amazing twists where programs that were design to combat racism are now being labeled as “racist” by institutional powers wanting to maintain the status quo.

    • You’re right, the cry of “reverse discrimination” is becoming an all too familiar tactic …

      The whole assault on ES reminds me of the multicultural debates in the late 80s and how they rocked California higher ed. Despite the entrenchment around “great books” however, the curriculum and the makeup of the university did change and AZ would be wise to look at that recent history instead of clinging to a mythic past.

  3. This behavior in AZ has become despicable. While one can understand the stress their economy and State budget is most likely under due to inadequate controls over illegal immigration across the border with Mexico, these laws fly in the face of the Civil Rights Legislation of the 1960’s. This is not the 1800’s. Frankly if we look at the countries economy with a global view, for us to succeed long-term we need immigrants of any nationality who are willing to work hard at any level to get things going again. If we are to re-establish a robust manufacturing sector again, we need folks from other areas of the world to come here and work to help us accomplish this. Why? Too many American’s are not willing to work hard for a reasonable wage, and I am not talking below the poverty level here.

    Where is our President on this issue? As someone who has benefited immensely from the Civil Rights Legislation of the 1960’s isn’t it time we all step to the plate through your leadership and put a stop to this? Our future as a country is at stake, believe it or not. We are giving the world community the fodder to not respect us as a country of great equality. How can we stand against apartheid elsewhere when we allow it anywhere in the USA?

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