Arizona Governor signs law banning ethnic studies programs in public schools

When we thought it couldn’t get any worse in Arizona, this happens:

Arizona Governor Jan Brewer has signed a bill that will end ethnic studies classes in the state. Her action came one day after UN human rights experts released a statement criticizing the bill on the grounds that all people have the right to learn about their own cultural and linguistic heritage.
The bill bans classes that “promote resentment toward a race or class of people,” “are designed primarily for pupils of a particular ethnic group,” or “advocate ethnic solidarity instead of treating pupils as individuals.”
Also prohibited: all those classes that “promote the overthrow of the U.S. government.”
The author of the bill, Tom Horne, the state superintendent of public instruction, is running for the Republican nomination for state attorney general. He told local media that his target is the Mexican-American studies curriculum in Tucson public schools. The bill however applies to all public and charter schools from kindergarten through 12th grade.

So wrong, on so many levels.

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  • Bethany

    Call me nuts, but if you want to put a fine point on it, anything typically anglo would be an ethnic study.
    Arizona was originally inhabited by natives of Mexico, and Native Americans. Ergo, Jan Brewer is the “ethnic” one, and studies of the English language, American History, etc., should probably be nixed immediately, yes?

  • gaeba

    I can’t figure out what the point of this legislation is, anyway, besides being detrimental to the teenagers of ethnic backgrounds. Research has shown that a strong ethnic identification is critical to the development of adolescents, and their self-esteem. This is only going to serve to help immigrants (legal or undocumented) fit more nicely into the preconceived notions that close-minded bigots happen to hold of them.

  • Tabitha

    So, they can’t study about our white Founding Fathers? Or all those white presidents? What about Christopher Columbus (a Spaniard)?
    They won’t learn about slavery (african Americans) or the slave-owners (white) or the abolitionists (various races and ethnicities)?
    You get my point. White, Anglo people have an ethnicity too! And I guess that’s the only ethnicity that matters in Arizona!

  • smiley

    Well, what *is* so wrong about banning classes that “promote resentment toward a race or class of people”? Surely, Feminsiting should applaud such a thought, no?
    And classes that are “are designed primarily for pupils of a particular ethnic group” sound quite ‘otherising’, ‘racist’ and ‘divisive’ don’t they?
    As for advocating “ethnic solidarity instead of treating pupils as individuals”, well, I’d say
    it goes against the grain of what America stands for. Right? Do you you judge someone by the colour of his or her skin? By his or her name? Or by his or her innate goodness.
    The OP really does not convince me that there is anything scandalous in the bill.

  • paperispatient

    Teaching kids about racial inequality and oppression does not promote resentment towards a group of people, it promotes an understanding of (and perhaps a [rightful] resentment towards) systemic and institutionalized racism.
    Ignoring race completely in a country where racism is very much alive is irresponsible, and trying to teach kids to be colorblind in a society in which your race and ethnicity (and the oppression you can face because of it) can affect every aspect of your existence in no way prepares them to graduate and go to work or to college.

  • bradley

    This is more proof that education will never be safe from political meddling until we take it completely out of the state’s hands.

  • Mechelle

    From the way the politicians who oppose these ethnic classes describe them, it would seem as if there is good reason to ban ethnic studies.
    But as well all know, sometimes politicians can skew things and make them seem more alarming than they really are. Just watch Fox News or listen to some people talk about how feminism is destroying America or that feminism promotes -hatred- of men (remember how people say, “I’m not feminist…I LOVE men!”) or if we allow gay marriage families will be destroyed. This is even more extreme when they have hatred or a prejudice towards a certain group.
    You -could- say, feminist classes targeted towards females are the same as ethnic classes targeted toward a certain ethnicity because they both focus on the history and achievements of this certain group.
    Seeing as how many schools do not teach history from a multicultural perspective, these classes are the only way people of a certain group (women included) can learn how they have contributed to the history of this country or in the arts, etc. Otherwise you won’t hear a thing. As for advocating ethnic solidarity…
    Have you even taken an ethnic studies course or anything targeted towards a certain group of people? In my college you can take them and many people who are not part of the targeted ethnic, sexual orientation or gender will take these courses because it is a great way to learn an alternative and sometimes more inclusive view of everything. If this bill were targeted towards feminist or courses towards sexual orientation, gender, etc. would you be so inclined to believe everything the politician says or wondering what is so wrong about banning them?
    Let’s just say that these classes -do- promote hatred. (Which in my experience they do not, I truly believe the politicians are exaggerating a bit like they always do…look at the “death panels” that health care reform will bring) Why would they? Well, after realizing that your group of people have done more than you realized and realizing how your groups achievements are ignored, why would you not have anger? In that case, if someone feels “hatred”, banning the only courses where they can learn about their history won’t do anything but cause more hatred because then their hatred is justified, especially when they have to go back to the same ole courses they took before that ignored them.
    To be honest, it is a shame we have to have certain classes to even learn certain things about different groups of people besides white males. Instead of banning these classes, they should think about including these groups of people into their regular curriculum to begin with as they are not invisible, but I doubt they even thought of that.

  • Athenia

    I think the legislators know they are full of it because they added this clause:
    Also, it’s from my understanding these ethnic classes are voluntary–you don’t have to be of a particular ethnic group to join the class.

  • Rochelle

    smiley, it allows the banning of classes that promote “ethnic solidarity” which can apply to many ethnic studies classes that promote understanding, cooperation and solidarity between people of the same and different ethnicities. It is broad and easy to interpret in a way that is overly inclusive of the types of solidarity are being discussed.
    On a related note, Los Angeles City just voted 13:1 to BAN official travel to Arizona and to limit future contracts to the tune of about $8 million!

  • ucsbclassics53

    Well, what *is* so wrong about banning classes that “promote resentment toward a race or class of people”? Surely, Feminsiting should applaud such a thought, no?
    That line has been used by those who defend institutional racism and accuse those from backgrounds other than the dominant group of stirring up resentment and trouble. The fact is ethnic studies is not about promoting resentment towards a class or race of people as the myth would have it be. It is not about hating Anglo-Americans any more than it’s about playing the race card. For years, these groups have been marginalized and why be afraid of getting their point of view? This is but an excuse to silence these voices who do bring up a difficult but necessary truth for those who have benefited and are privileged from institutional racism. Are the ethnic studies classes open to just the members of that particular ethnic group?
    Treating pupils as individuals sounds great in theory and so too judging someone by the color of his or her skin. However, that noble rhetoric has been co-opted by those who have a stake in keeping institutional racism (systematic practices and policies within institutions that disadvantage certain racial and ethnic groups) alive to squelch ANY challenge to the status quo. We are told that racism is a thing of the past and that we are told that to bring up racism is just to be an agitator or to play the race card. They have co-opted that rhetoric to silence any dissent when it comes to the dominant group’s preferred definitions of racism which are regulated to the past as a relic, never to be touched again, because it supposedly does not exist.
    Why is it that only when the pillars of institutional racism are challenged does it become controversial and contentious?

  • cattrack2

    In the abstract you’re right Smiley, no course should promote the resentment of other races or classes of people, but this law isn’t abstract. This law is targeted specifically to kill courses which only seek to educate students about the challenges and contributions of minorities in America.
    Then there’s the practical aspect to this. First, the history is the history and facts are facts. Resentment is up to the individual. Does this mean you can’t teach about slavery because it will make blacks resent whites? There goes the Civil War. Will teaching about the Mexican-American war make Mexicans resent Anglos? There goes Manifest Destiny. Will teaching about the Crusades make Muslism resent Christians? There goes Europe. Will teaching about 9/11 make Christians resent Muslims? There goes Asia …And, while we’re at it, perhaps we should just ignore the genocide of the American Indian. What’s left is a ‘history book’ about 5 pages long. Great, the kids can get everything they need from USA Today.
    And with regards to your statement, “As for advocating “ethnic solidarity instead of treating pupils as individuals” well the American ideal of the Melting Pot is 100% compatible with ethnic pride. The Irish are proud of being Irish, the Jews proud of being Jews, and the Italians proud of being Italians. Why should blacks and Hispanics not be proud of being black and Hispanic??? The problem is that traditionally our typical History classes ignore the lives of minorities and women. Its typically been HIStory and not OURstory.


    Yes, all people have a right to learn about their heritage. This bill does not stop that. It just stops teaching that in public schools.
    My issue with ethnic studies classes is that they are NOT available for everyone. If you want to learn about your heritage and your family came from Mexico, well tough luck cause the only ethnic class here is African-American studies.
    I don’t think such classes promote any negative messages or foments rebellion. However, the case is that even before this bill “all people” did not get the opportunity to learn about their own heritage.
    As it is, if someone is truly interested in their heritage, they should head to the library, search online, or talk to some relatives. With the internet you can even talk to people living in the country of your ancestors if that pleases you. A more personalized, individually suited heritage study would be better.
    Perhaps a class with no particular ethnic designation, where students would be given the time and resources to do their own study would be best, and with some kind of massive project or presentation on it towards the end.
    /my 2 cents


    Just keep in mind the federal government is not immune to jackassery either.

  • ucsbclassics53

    I am totally going to have to borrow OURstory…I do want to teach social studies, but not the watered down HIStory presented in the standards…My history professor at UCSB said history has been presented as dead white men and that needed to change.

  • Ms. Marx

    It’s a good thing white people don’t have an ethnicity, because I’m pretty sure my math, history, english, and science classes were entirely directed at them. And my (Marxist) economics teacher would have been in a lot of trouble.

  • paperispatient

    However, the case is that even before this bill “all people” did not get the opportunity to learn about their own heritage.
    I’m not sure if I think that’s a good enough reason to support the bill. Race and ethnicity are a part of history classes whether you make it explicit or not, it’s just that it’s easy to miss because so much of the material centers on old white men and we don’t always think of white as a racial category the way that we do other categories.
    I’m inclined to think that offering some classes about different ethnicities and heritages is a step in the right direction, even if you can’t offer a class that’s relevant to every single person’s background. It’s valuable to learn about your own heritage, but it’s also really valuable to learn about other groups in society of which you’re not a part. I’ve taken four or five Black studies classes during my college career, and I think the kids in my hometown would have benefited immensely from such a class being offered in high school. I’ve never had the opportunity to formally learn about Jewish heritage and culture, but I’ve learned a lot from the Black studies classes I’ve taken and I would hate to see similar classes not be offered just because there are so few Jewish studies programs. (I know I’m talking about college and the post is about primary and secondary schools, but I think it’s still a relevant point.)

  • Toongrrl

    What the hell is up with Arizona!!!

  • stardance

    Christopher Columbus was Italian. He sailed under the Spanish flag.

  • Suzann

    This is apparently an ( over-the-top shark-jumping) response to one specific class in Tuson which (from some not so reliable) reports that (if the quote was true) was also well over the shark.
    In a sane world someone would have had a word with the school principle, who would have had a word with the teacher, who would have explained to the students that “comments made by this particular speaker do not reflect official school policy – or really much of anyone’s” and the students could have learned a positive lesson on how – once your mouth clears the shark – no one listens to you any more.
    Too bad that some administrative types are too scared or too lazy to … you know… actually *run the school*.
    But that – plus a few other administrative follies ( such as declaring certain students not sufficiently ethnic to take certain classes) came together at a point of blacklash and… bingo. Law.
    Now again, a *responsible* ( or even half-awake) school administrator would simply reply that: “Oh, no, none of our classes would ever teach hatred, genocide, or armed rebellion. Those things are bad and also illegal.” And law or not, that would be the end of it. (Maybe, if one wanted to be on the safe side, the class could even come with a disclaimer. “None of the instruction given in this class is intended to encourage criminal acts.”)
    Instead we here see an administration ( and a general blog-o-verse) that finds that space over the fin apparently irresistable. For those Arizona educators who misplaced their clue this morning? The correct response is never “*whhhaaa* But we LIKE teaching hatred and terrorism.” The correct response (see above) is “We would never ever consider doing those bad things” followed by “If the facts lead to acts, those aren’t our fault and certainly not our intention. Why not change your end so the facts get friendlier?”
    Oh – and there also comes a time when the awake figure out they are being baited. If next week Arizona passes a law against growing four-foot feathers from your nose? Figure they are just waiting to laugh at your ‘outrage’.

  • LalaReina

    The folks running things in Arizona are like the anonymous idiots you come across on sites like Youtube except they own their stupid in public