Arizona’s new law banning ethnic studies in public schools is stirring tremendous controversy. Learn about what the proponents and opponents are saying.
Arizona has made national headlines not once, but twice, in the last few weeks. First, the state was the subject of numerous protests over an immigration law that allows police to require documentation from any individual stopped in the state for another violation. Opponents of the bill are concerned that recent decisions will lead to racial profiling in the state.
More recently, Arizona Governor Jan Brewer signed another bill banning "ethnic studies" in elementary and secondary schools. Once again, her decision has raised the ire of many, including UN human rights experts. However, proponents of the bill state that the ban will actually improve race relations among the various cultures living in Arizona, rather than deepening any divide that may exist.
Step Two: Ethnic Studies in Schools
Currently, Arizona schools offer a number of different ethnic studies programs, including specialized courses for African-American, Mexican-American and Native American classes that teach subjects such as history and literature
that originates from those cultures. The studies are designed to explore the role of various ethnicities in American history and their contributions in literature.
An article on Politico
cites one portion of the bill, which reads, "Public school pupils should be taught to treat and value each other as individuals and not be taught to resent or hate other races or classes of people." Brewer has not released an official statement since the bill was signed, but a spokesman for the governor's office says that Brewer supports the bill's goals, according to a report on MSNBC
While this bill signing was news to many, it has been in the works for some time. Arizona school superintendant Tom Horne has been attempting to remove the ethnic studies curriculum for two years because he believes the ethnic studies courses are "harmful and dysfunctional," according to a previous report on AZ Central
"The job of the public schools is to develop the student's identity as Americans and as strong individuals," Horne stated in June of last year. "It's not the job of the public schools to promote ethnic chauvinism." In response to the signing of the bill this year, he told Fox News that he believes the ethnic studies curriculum divides kids along racial lines, instead of respecting each child as an individual.
Horne believes that some of these studies are teaching Latino students that they "are an oppressed minority," according to Syracuse
. He believes that public schools should treat students as individuals, rather than endorsing "ethnic solidarity".
Significance of the Bill
Governor Brewer says that the new law will prohibit classes that promote "the overthrow of the U.S. government," or "resentment toward a race or class of people," according to the Politico report. The bill also removes classes "designed primarily for pupils for a particular ethnic group."
However, neither the governor, nor other proponents of the bill, was able to cite specific examples of when the overthrow of the government was taught or endorsed by any teacher of an ethnic studies class.
Opposition to the Bill
There are many who disagree with the new bill, including teachers who have taught in the ethnic studies program. Augustine Romero, head of the district program and one of the course teachers, told AZ Central last year that the courses connect students to their cultural past and their roles in American history. Romero said, "The legislation is very mean spirited. These courses should be recognized and applauded and people should be finding ways to implement this methodology, rather than attacking it because it doesn't fit into their narrow box of how things should be done."
Sean Arce, director of the district's Mexican-American studies program, said students perform better in school if they see in the curriculum people who look like them. According to the MSNBC report, Arce responded, "It's a highly engaging program that we have, and it's unfortunate that state legislature would go so far as to censor these classes."
Other opponents of the bill include six UN human rights experts who released a statement saying that all students have the right to learn about their own cultural and linguistic heritage.
There are about 1,500 high school
students enrolled in the Tucson district program, and some of the ethnic studies classes have waiting lists. Elementary and middle school students are also exposed to the ethnic studies curriculum in their own classrooms. More than half of the student population in Arizona is Hispanic, which means the district boasts about 31,000 Latino students, according to MSNBC.
Only time will tell whether banning ethnic studies will spread to other states, but there is plenty of opposition across the nation that may stop this trend at Arizona’s state borders.