Additional Thoughts on Arizona’s Ethnic Studies Ban

My oped on the ethnic studies ban in Arizona appeared in this weekend’s USA Today.  Here were some additional thoughts that didn’t make the final cut.

  • The continuing fallout from Arizona’s controversial ethnic studies ban has outraged teachers, students and supporters of diverse education, reigniting concerns that the state’s regressive initiatives could spur similar actions nationwide.
  • When Arizona passed the HB 2281 law, which prohibits courses primarily designed for a particular ethnic group or that promote resentment, ethnic solidarity or overthrow of the US government, many feared the divisive ramifications this would have on school curricula that includes the histories and perspectives of American people of color.
  • Those concerns were recently confirmed when the Tucson Unified School District released an initial list of books banned from their curriculum. They range from longtime used anthologies such as “Rethinking Columbus: The Next 500 Years” and “Chicano! The History of the Mexican Civil Rights Movement” to Shakespeare’s “The Tempest,” which deals with themes of race, colonization and oppression. In response to the media outrage, Tucson officials claim the books are not banned, but merely being housed in a storage facility–where students and faculty presumably have no access to them.
  • Last year, the University of California, Santa Cruz and California State University, Los Angeles suspended their ethnic studies programs, citing budget cuts. (CORRECTION: The CSULA Asian American and ethnic studies programs were saved from proposed suspension in June, 2011. Thank you to Paul Browning, Public Affairs, at CSULA for alerting me of this error.) Other ethnic studies programs across the country are facing slashed funding or being completely phased out. In Texas, the state board of education voted to revise the guidelines for their social studies curriculum, which members claimed had moved too far to the left. The new revisions emphasize Christian conservative figures over liberal, secular personalities, and also minimize the contributions of Latino and other minority figures in American history.  Since Texas is one of the largest textbook buyers in the country, many textbook companies will adopt the state’s guidelines, which in turn forces smaller states to inherit these biased preferences.
  • If more states begin to unfairly target the work and progress that ethnic studies programs have already accomplished in their short existence, our students will lose. These racist initiatives can have a profound impact on what history can be taught to our students, when it doesn’t include stories of minorities and discrimination, for fear of promoting “biased, political or emotionally charged” ideas. Killing these programs when we are just beginning to experience their benefits would risk alienating our youth, who desire and deserve a curriculum that is reflective of the history and realities around them.