Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Some more thoughts on Ethnic Studies in Arizona

In 1853 the United States government purchased the area of Arizona from Mexico that contains the city of Tucson. Less than a decade later, Tuscon and the rest of southern Arizona and New Mexico tried to join the Confederacy.

It is doubtful that Tom Horne had that history in mind when he was quoted by the Associated Press today about the Tuscon school system's Ethnic Studies program, "It's just like the old South, and it's long past time that we prohibited."

Nor did he or any other proponent of the law forbidding such programs from Arizona schools feel it relevant to mention that the Tuscon curriculum is part of a court-ordered school desegregation settlement. The original lawsuit was filed on behalf of Tuscon's Mexican-American students in 1974. The school district was still in violation of a 1978 desegregation ruling a few years ago.

Old South, indeed. But, again, the problem is teaching anyone in Arizona about the importance of race in a state that has been rife with racial tension since its admission into the union.

This kind of law is so frustrating not because of what it affects in the classrooms of Arizona, but because it reflects how impossible any meaningful consideration of the relationship between race and citizenship is in many parts of this country. That conversation literally shut down tonight when Horne canceled a meeting with the Tuscon Unified School District because he'd have to face student protests. Why even bother with that meeting? This law is simply red meat thrown to those in Arizona who believe there is no reason to strike a balance in teaching the history of a state that until recently (by historical standards) was part of a foreign country and was largely acquired from that foreign country by force of arms.

To teach Ethnic Studies is not to create some Serbian-styled grudge against others in Arizona. It is, however, political in that it argues that some people are just as interesting and important as others. Having other people learn that, and fearing they will resent you in the end, must be a difficult way to live.

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