May 19, 2010 (San Diego’s East County) – One week after signing a controversial immigration bill that opponents fear will lead to racial profiling by allowing police to question anyone believed to be in the U.S. illegally, Arizona Governor Jan Brewer has signed a new bill that outlaws ethnic-studies programs in public schools. The move has sparked outrage among some educators and students, while drawing praise from other quarters.
The bill bans any curriculum that is “designed primarily for pupils of a particular ethnic group” as well as any course fostering “overthrow of the United States government” or “resentment toward a race or class of people.” (An exception is made for teaching about genocide, such as the Holocaust.)
Arizona superintendent of public instruction Tom Horne claims ethnic-studies programs encourage “ethnic chauvinism” that could encourage secessionist sentiments among Hispanic students.
“I understand his intent, but I sharply disagree with his (Arizona’s) proposed solution,” said Doug Deane, education chair for the San Diego East County Chamber of Commerce. “America is great not because it assimilates immigrants into one large homogeneous collective; we are great as a country because we recognize, accept and even celebrate our differences. We know that each of us brings something different to the table and that makes us the strongest nation in the history of the world.”
Deane said he is “troubled” by what he seems happening in Arizona. “The politics of demonization has crept into our school system and it threatens harm to our children,” he told East County Magazine. “Arizona’s public education system is caught squarely between Arizona’s conservatives and radical immigrants’ rights groups such as La Raza. Both sides are blaming each other for Arizona’s economic and social problems, and apparently, ethnic studies is one of the possible victims.”
He attributed the problems in Arizona in large part to the federal government failing in its responsibility to secure our borders, as well as corruption issues. “One defense contractor after another bilks the U.S. government for billions of dollars, and instead of building a safer border, they have created expensive boondoggles,” noted Dean, who suggested that “extreme conservative” movements such as the Tea Party are fueled by mistrust of the government as well as economic concerns.
Ironically, Arizona’s ethnic-studies programs targeted for elimination under the new law were instituted to resolve a race-discrimination lawsuit against Tucson public schools—a suit that was settled in 1978. In that case, an African-American couple and the NAACP sued alleging racial bias in the makeup of schools, staff, and more. Hispanic community members also filed suit, making similar claims. The district adopted new hiring practices and made efforts to balance the demographic makeup of classes—and also started programs in African-American and Mexican-American studies.
House Bill 2281, the measure which bans ethnic studies classes, has sparked widespread protests. A May 19 article in the Arizona Republic states that “student outcry has been so strong it left some administrators unnerved.” Some 200 students walked out of classes and packed into Tucson Unified School District offices last week when Horne was slated to visit; his meeting was swiftly canceled. Students chanted “Tom Horne, we wish you’d never been born” and “Our education is under attack; what do we do? Fight back!”
Classroom instruction had included teaching methods of civil rights leaders including Martin Luther King, Jr., Gandhi, and Cesar Chavez. Although administrators indicated Horne had never visited a classroom, he referred to the courses as “propaganda” and said protests show the courses offer “a very low intellectual level” of instruction.
The Wall Street Journal, meanwhile, reports that the Arizona Department of Education has gone even further, telling principals to remove teachers who speak English with an accent from teaching students who are learning English. So California’s Governor Arnold Schwarzengger better not seek out a new career as an ESL teacher in Arizona.
“This is just one more indication of the incredible anti-immigrant sentiment in the state," said Bruce Merrill, a professor emeritus at Arizona State University who conducts public-opinion research.
Now, the San Diego Examiner reports, Arizona’s tough legislation has inspired one California Congressman to call for children born to illegal immigrants to lose their citizenship status, while in Iowa official wants to implant microchips in illegal immigrants.
The new laws, while stirring outrage in some quarters, are consistent with Arizona’s history of being unfriendly towards minorities. Over the last 100 years, the state ran schools to assimilate Native American children against their families' wishes, had Japanese internment camps during World War II, and was one of the last states to make Martin Luther King Day a holiday.