More on the Shocking Ban on Ethnic Studies in Arizona

If you are not familiar with the Tucson Mexican American Studies saga, Sunday’s New York Times editorial summarizes the current situation nicely and says in part:

The Tucson Unified School District has dismantled its Mexican-American studies program, packed away its offending books, shuttled its students into other classes. It was blackmailed into doing so: keeping the program would have meant losing more than $14 million in state funding. It was a blunt-force victory for the Arizona school superintendent, John Huppenthal, who has spent years crusading against ethnic-studies programs he claims are “brainwashing” children into thinking that Latinos have been victims of white oppression.

More background and a disclosure: I ran (sadly, unsuccessfully) against John Huppenthal for State Senate in 2006. That was also the year Republican Tom Horne was reelected to his second term as Arizona Superintendent of Public Instruction. Killing the Mexican American Studies program – often referred to as MAS or “ethnic studies” – was really Horne’s crusade from the beginning.

It all started in 2006, when famed labor organizer Dolores Huerta addressed a Tucson high school assembly. Huerta is known for being feisty and pulling no punches – ideal qualities for a labor organizer – and in her characteristic style at the assembly she made the blunt observation that “Republicans hate Latinos.”

Horne got wind of it, took umbrage, and sent Deputy Superintendent Margaret Garcia-Dugan, a Republican, to address the students and refute Huerta’s statement. Dugan was booed and some students turned their back on her. Superintendent Horne took even bigger umbrage at that. Rather than chalking it up to typical teenage recalcitrance and calling for disciplinary action of individual students if necessary, he decided that Tucson’s MAS program was to blame and that it needed to be dismantled. He enlisted Huppenthal and other eager Republican legislators in the effort.

Huppenthal was elected school superintendent in 2010, after campaigning heavily on a “stop La Raza” slogan in Anglo conservative Greater Phoenix communities hundreds of miles away from the Tucson schools where MAS is taught. Republicans swept every statewide office in the state in that election, in a result that could be attributed partly to the “tea party” momentum but mostly to SB1070 and relentless anti-immigrant rhetoric. Huppenthal won his race and Horne was elected Arizona attorney general. The two men immediately began implementing their plan to eliminate that dastardly ethnic studies program. The law prohibits teaching that “promotes resentment” and that doesn’t treat students as individuals. But it stems from one man’s personal grievance and his assumption that Latino students are all alike. Ironic, to say the least.

Meanwhile, Arizona State Representative Terri Proud, a tea party freshman, just introduced a bill that would allow Arizona public schools to teach an elective course about how the Bible and “Biblical principles” influenced Western civilization and American democracy. I guess there’s no worry about alienating students of other religions with that.

Whether or not the Tucson MAS issue, in itself, is important to you, everyone should be concerned about the disdain for education and a free flow of ideas displayed by Huppenthal, Horne, the Arizona Legislature, and Gov. Jan Brewer (R), who signed the law last year. Labor advocates should be especially alert to these heavy-handed attempts to censor education in the name of preventing “resentment” over injustice. One can easily imagine how programs that teach about the labor movement and the brutality that labor organizers and striking workers experienced would be found unacceptable by self-appointed thought police like Horne and Huppenthal.

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