I actually started writing this a few days ago when it hit the news. Sorry for delays.
Ah, Arizona. If New Mexico is the Land of Enchantment, the way you’re acting, you are the land of defensive paranoia.
Adding on to the need to ID immigrants (to which Flagstaff is refusing to carry out, bless them) is a ban on ethnic studies courses that “advocate solidarity” or are “designed primarily for pupils of a particular ethnic group.” There are other things it bans, but those are the ones that struck me because they’re the mild ones that don’t make good headlines.
The other ones are more agreeable because they are so negative: no one wants their students or children in a class that “promotes resentment” towards a certain race or group of people, nor would we want classes that “promote the overthrow of the United States government.”
But Arizona currently believes it is more than important to say as such. Paranoia much?
Please read the bill for yourself. It’s very short, and the second half is entirely devoted to truancy. Found an easy to read through copy at the newsroom of the silver fox of news reporting. The language is stunning. But in case you don’t…
The bill is rather interesting in two regards: first, the explicit need to condemn poor class environment in vehement terms; second, the resulting gentler terms to condemn class design and identity. It makes for a great fallacy: if you agree with x (say, not overthrowing the US) then you must also agree with y too! The tail end of the section on ethnic studies throws in a bunch of caveats:
1. Wait… we don’t mean Native Americans, cause there’s a law about that.
2. Wait… we don’t mean performance grouping or ESL classes, cause there’s law about that too.
3. Wait… we don’t mean history classes where you have to teach the history of an ethnic group as content (so long as everyone can take it) (also cause that’s required by law).
4. And we also don’t mean controversial topics in history either.
Oh yeah, and we take away 10% of your funding if you fail to comply.
My question: comply with what, exactly? Technically, you’re allowing history courses (or lit too) which are ethnic studies, you have to discuss identity in EL classes from time to time, and you have shown a necessary exception to the law in local American Indian tribes. The real crux appears to be in the lines about having the classes open to everyone and the design of the class being for everyone. It’s like the (popular) misconception about women’s studies only being for women, or a “girl’s class.” It can turn away otherwise interested male students if they feel attacked, which can happen, or they may not realize that good courses are open to them. It’s perception.
Same thing in ethnic studies. My fiance once took a very interesting- but rather awkward- course on minorities in the U.S. in college. The class was well taught and attracted a wide variety of students. But in his section, he was a minority in being white, being a male, being an upperclassman, and being the only science major (biology!) in the lot of 20 undergrads. Just try discussing an article on the biology of race when the only classmate with that background happens to be from from the majority culture… it can happen to any well meaning person though the class was never intended to put the white man on the spot.
My point is that the authors of the bill are probably coming from a place like that. No matter what ethnic background they are. They’re afraid of being lost and loosing their validity, whether or not that fear is justified, whether or not they are already empowered over others. The authors probably are, however, white, empowered, afraid of loosing it, and not justified. Arizona’s other recent legislation documents this well. The language in the bill makes it quite plain that the authors have quite an amount of fear and paranoia about the issue, so I would never go as far as saying that they are at well meaning: this is really a bill that should not have needed to be written. It’s an expression of the fear of alienation, not an action that would ensure the openness of classroom climate to all Arizonan students.