The bill that Brewer signed today “prohibits classes that advocate ethnic solidarity, that are designed primarily for students of a particular race or that promote resentment toward a certain ethnic group.”
The Tuscon School district offers a Mexican-American studies program, in addition to courses in Native-American and African-American studies. The focus is on ethnic history, literature, and information about the influences of these particular groups. However, law makers who promoted the bill believe that these courses teach students that they are oppressed by whites.
I’m a product of public schools that did not have ethnic studies, but I remember as a young high school student that I was always eager to read books by Hispanic authors such as Rudolfo Anaya, Ana Castillo, or even the great Colombian author Gabriel Garcia Marquez and was ready to immerse myself in the studies about my culture. I sought it out on my own, and fortunately, my parents encouraged it. But many students don’t have those resources or parents who encourage discovery and learning about their culture in addition to exploring other ethnic groups and traditions.
Regardless of what one thinks about ethnic studies and whether it is a valuable discipline or not, completely shutting these courses down may do more harm than good. I was able to speak with Cindy Mosqueda, a Ph.D. student in higher education and blogger at Loteria Chicana. Mosqueda was a Chicano studies student at UCLA as an undergraduate, and she indicated that in her experience ethnic studies was not about teaching ethnic superiority nor was it a continual lesson in being oppressed.
Mosqueda expressed, “In fact in fact, we were encouraged to take classes outside the department, and I got to know students of other ethnicities better that way.”
While I have never formally immersed myself in ethnic studies from an academic perspective, I can appreciate the teaching of different ethnic traditions and the notion that there should be multiple points of view taught in the public schools. We have never been a ‘one curriculum fits all nation’, and completely shutting down these ethnic studies courses might turn off students who are marginal students — the ones who might benefit from learning about their history and reading the works of authors from their ethnic group. The generic public school curriculum is boring enough as it is. The history books already censor and omit so much that shutting down ethnic studies is a small minded solution for Arizona’s public school children. With the signing of this bill, Governor Jan Brewer ratcheted up the level of scrutiny her state will face from all who care about diversity and equitable policy.