Let’s talk about the law that the state of Arizona passed last year shortly after its infamous anti-immigration legislation. The anti-immigration bill received most of the attention, understandably so, but this one feels more troubling to me. At its core this new law, which went into effect January 1, “prohibits a school district or charter school from including in its program of instruction any courses or classes that promote the overthrow of the United States government, 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 the treatment of pupils as individuals.” Check out this story of a Latino ethnic studies class at a Tucson, Arizona, high school to get a real-life sense for how this law will be targeting ethnic-based courses and programs. And below is a PBS news report on the issue from late last year.
On the one hand, it’s obvious that no public-school program should be teaching insurrection against the government or hatred against another race. But who gets to decide what constitutes those things? (Just a guess, it likely will not be folks of a non-white ethnic heritage.)
At its heart, this law seems to be driven by xenophobic fear and paranoia. It troubles me that it gives the state the power to imperiously assign sinister motives to courses and programs designed to expose students to aspects of American history that often get overlooked or ignored in the regular curriculum. While there certainly may be situations where these ethnic-based programs challenge the typical majority-culture American view on history and politics, it’s a stretch to suggest that this naturally promotes “the overthrow of the United States” or “resentment toward a race or class of people.” In fact, isn’t that kind of insulting to the teachers and students who participate in these courses?
I don’t know, folks. This one really bothers me. The American classroom should be a place where the reality of our history can be honestly discussed, debated, and wrestled with. This law feels just a tad “un-American.” But what do you think? Unlike the architects of this legislation, I’d love to hear some other perspectives.