Arizona Law Targets Ethnic Studies

Arizona has passed another reactionary bill, signed into law by Governor Jan Brewer on May 11, that aims to eliminate Mexican-American Studies and all ethnic studies programs in Arizona public schools. House Bill 2281 declares that a school district or charter school in the state cannot include in its program of instruction any course or classes that include any of the following:

1. Promote the overthrow of the United States government;
2. Promote resentment toward a race or class of people;
3. Are designed primarily for pupils of a particular ethnic group;
4. Advocate ethnic solidarity instead of the treatment of pupils as individuals.

And the new law has teeth; any violations of its provisions will be punished by having 10% of their state funds withheld from the school district or charter school.

This new law comes on the heels of Arizona’s reactionary anti-immigrant law, SB1070, which legalizes racial profiling by requiring police to stop and question anyone who they suspect is undocumented. That was followed by an announcement by the state’s Department of Education that teachers with heavy accents must be removed from classes for students still learning English. Many have interpreted this as targeting immigrant teachers who were first hired under a program to teach bilingual education, a program later abolished as part of the overall anti-immigrant climate. This attack on ethnic studies represents yet another “brick in the wall” of an officially sanctioned white supremacy and American chauvinism in Arizona, while encouraging its spread around the country. Arizona has become an ugly battleground, and testing ground, for a new “Jim Crow,” reviving an official second-class status for the 30% of the people of Arizona who are Latino.

The author of this new law is Tom Horne, Superintendent of Public Instruction for the State of Arizona’s Department of Education, and Republican candidate for state attorney general. Horne has made it no secret that the law is specifically aimed at eliminating the Tucson Unified School District’s (TUSD) Mexican-American Studies program and ethnic studies programs in general. Roughly 56% of the TUSD district’s 55,000 students are Latino, and about 3% of the students take these classes, which offer a rigorous course of study that gives students college qualifying credit. But Horne said the new law will put an end to this; it “would ban La Raza (Mexican-American) studies because it’s a course that’s aimed primarily at members of one race, and we have testimony that this has promoted resentment toward one race.” And he also said the law would end other ethnic studies courses as well. ((5/1/10 Arizona Republic.))

Students “should not be taught that they are oppressed”

Horne has been point-man for a years-long campaign to wipe out ethnic studies classes and courses in the secondary schools. In June 2007, on official state Department of Education stationary, Horne wrote “An Open Letter to the Citizens of Tucson,” arguing that the TUSD Ethnic Studies Program should be terminated. He charged that “ethnic studies in the TUSD teaches a kind of destructive ethnic chauvinism…” He said “…students should be taught that this is the land of opportunity, and that if they work hard they can achieve their goals. They should not be taught that they are oppressed.”

In other words, in the view of Arizona’s Superintendent of Public Instruction the purpose of public education is to tell students what to think — not to enable them to develop the ability to be critical thinkers. “Truth” — for Horne and those like him whose starting point is protecting and preserving this system — is whatever set of ideas correspond to achieving their goals. What is being demonstrated now in Arizona is that raw power dictates what “narrative” about this country’s history and present-day reality will be taught — that “might makes right.”

Horne’s letter went further; it singled out for attack particular books used in the curriculum, including Occupied America: A History of Chicanos by historian Rudolfo Acuña, a book which received the Gustavus Myers Award for an Outstanding Book on Race Relations in North America, and has been used as a standard text in college-level curricula for Chicano (Mexican-American) Studies for many years. And Horne targeted the student group MEChA for attack as well.

State Senator Russell Pearce, author of SB 1070, made this point even more openly in his amendments to a bill in the state Senate, SB 1108 — a bill that had nothing to do with education — approved by the Arizona Senate’s House Appropriations Committee in mid-April. It would withhold funding to schools, including on the college level, whose courses “denigrate American values and the teachings of Western civilization,” and would bar teaching practices that “overtly encourage dissent” from those values, including “democracy, capitalism, pluralism and religious tolerance.”

Pearce too targeted Mexican-American Studies at the TUSD, and included provisions that would ban student groups like MEChA on any public campuses. The Senate bill would have confiscated books and teaching materials that are deemed “anti-American.” Pearce also singled out Acuna’s Occupied America, saying it amounted to “sedition.” It appears these provisions did not make it into this final law, but they reveal the whole climate around this dangerous offensive.

The origin and importance of ethnic studies

As the national liberation and anti-imperialist struggles of the 1960s developed and a revolutionary current emerged, one powerful expression was the hard-fought student strikes demanding courses, departments and schools of ethnic studies. While the students of oppressed nationalities had to fight just to get into the universities, what they confronted when they got there was an educational system which distorted or suppressed those aspects of history and present-day reality that challenged and put the lie to the bullshit about America’s “shining example,” and its “special place” in the world. They began at San Francisco State University in 1968, which saw the longest student strike in U.S. history, led by the Third World Liberation Front (a joint effort of African American, Asian American, Chicano, and student organizations of other nationalities). That strike established the first School of Ethnic Studies.

Ethnic studies programs, which later expanded to include women’s studies, gender studies, etc., established a foothold where oppressed nationality students especially could for the first time learn about, and be part of, discovering their own history; the struggle and resistance; and the contributions to art, culture, science, etc. of Black, Chicano, Native American, Asian and other oppressed peoples in this country. This contributed significantly to bringing to light the truth that America’s ultimate global domination rested on the foundation of the kidnap of millions and millions of African peoples and their enslavement in the “new world,” the genocidal destruction of the Native American peoples, and the theft through war of 40% of the territory of Mexico as the start of a process of conquest that ultimately spanned the globe.

An essential element in the reassertion of the white supremacy and American patriotism on the rise today is the need to restore that “official narrative” about America and its “special role” as the “good guys” in the world. To these reactionary forces, the Mexican-American and other ethnic studies programs on the secondary school and college campuses are an obstacle that must be eliminated.

Whether or not those in power in Arizona succeed in banning ethnic studies outright, the reactionary assault on education that’s now been given the official stamp of approval by Arizona’s new law, is already having a chilling affect on those coming under attack, and it is taking a tremendous toll. In the face of attempts to put them on the defensive, the faculty and administrators have denied the charges against their programs with assurances that the allegations are untrue. Now each teacher entering a classroom will have to teach while looking over one shoulder, facing the choice of self-censorship, or risking state intervention for telling the truth. It is the responsibility of people everywhere to strenuously oppose the whole reactionary offensive that is gaining momentum in Arizona.

5 comments on this article so far ...

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  1. Mulga Mumblebrain said on May 24th, 2010 at 10:43am #

    Hispanics are simply beginning to suffer that form of academic and educational McCarthyism that Arabs and Moslems have suffered for years,courtesy of the Zionist thought police. The method of operation,with its totalitarian obsession with education as crude indoctrination into Rightwing groupthink, is a standard fascist technique.The same modus operandi is evident in the Texas curriculum and text-book controversies currently unfolding. The Rightwing mind is closed and paranoid, and, being the ideology and psychology of the mentally insufficient and proudly ignorant, does not believe in reason or the search for truth. Truth is revealed, coming from God or some other faery Godfather (itself a pathopsychological projection) and inquisiteveness and questioning are to this type a sign,not of intelligence, but of heresy. Add to this deep,deep,obscurantism,the ever-present toxin of racism, an absolutely omnipresent feature of Rightwing agitation, and you have a recipe for a coming catastrophe. Hispanics can certainly look forward to being used by the Right in the US as a kicking boy, just as black Americans have since emancipation. The mobilisation of race hatred and downward social antipathy are old tactics to mobilise the votes of angry, White ‘losers’, who must be diverted from recognising the real architects of their decades of economic retrenchment, now culminating in the depredations of a new Depression. Better to blame the ‘wetbacks’ and get stuck into some serious scapegoating and demonising, than have the underclass, growing vaster by the hour, recognise that their travails are the result of a deliberate, ages old, conspiracy by the parasite element of humanity. This will get very nasty, as the US economy implodes.

  2. Rehmat said on May 24th, 2010 at 6:20pm #

    Arizona’s new tough law against illegal immigration has prompted furious reaction from Jewish groups against Christian groups who oppose the law – for comparing the law with Germany’s Nazi era. Cardinal Roger Mahony, head of the LA Roman Catholic Archdiocese claimed that the law “encourages people to turn on each other in Nazi and Soviet-style repression”. Rabbi Marvin Hier, founder and dean of the LA Wiesenthal Center responded that comparison of the Arizona immigration law with Nazi era “diminishes (importance of) Holocaust“.

    Personally, I believe that people from the third world, whose natural resources are still being looted by the Western colonial powers, should be given the right to immigrate to the rich countries as cheap labor – as long as they don’t work for the interests of a foreign country. Furthermore, the immigration policy should not be baised toward certain groups, such as Arabs or Latinos. Unfortunately, that’s not the agenda of the pro-Israel Jewish support for pro-immigration laws. It’s all for the benefit of the Zionist entity, which needs to be painted as “moral and supporter of human-rights in the third world” while portraying Arabs (Muslims) being the evil ones. Dan Stein, executive director of Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR) showed his true color by putting radio and TV advertisement, last Summer, in response to Senator Spence Abraham (R-Mich), an Arab American for supporting more visas for foreigners with high-tech skills. FAIR’s advertisement read: “Abraham’s proposal could make it easier for (Arab) terrorists like Osama Bin Laden to export their way of terror in any street in America”.

  3. lichen said on May 24th, 2010 at 6:38pm #

    The “american dream” is definitely a delusion–students, young people are most definitely being oppressed, and they should know it–by the school system, by society. Where we could have a place where everyone was guaranteed a living wage from a 30 hour work week at a democratic workplace with paid vacation, free healthcare, guaranteed housing, a clean environment, healthy food…instead we have a miserable wasteland of exploitation where slavery and environmental destruction are euphemized as “hard work” and everyone is brainwashed to believe they will win the lottery. These ethnic studies programs were certainly not a bad thing.

    Also, everyone has an accent, so firing people with ‘heavy accents’ is intellectually dishonest.

  4. Mulga Mumblebrain said on May 25th, 2010 at 12:37am #

    Thanks Rehmat for your research.To find that Zionists are fore -square behind this racist legislation comes as no surprise whatsoever. After all they are equal opportunity despisers of all goyim. And is the Zionist barbarity towards the Palestinians not a decades long experiment in racist cruelty and sadism, from which lessons in keeping huge populations imprisoned, terrorised and eternally suppressed are daily being learned.And, as Israel’s co-operation in Iraq, lending the US techniques in torturing Arabs and Moslems and having Mossad run the intellectual decapitation campaign, by murdering hundreds of Iraqi academics and cultural leaders, designed to drive Iraq backwards from modernity, shows, the Zioamerican Reich intends to institute a globalised apartheid system.The 90% majority not controlled by Zionism will be useful only as a source of human organs, labour in the blood diamond mines or as cheap domestic serfs.

  5. lichen said on May 25th, 2010 at 3:51pm #

    The situation in Arizona has nothing to do with israel. And it is a sick, right wing notion that people should be allowed to be exploited as cheap labor; everyone everywhere should make an equal, living wage in democratic workers cooperatives.