ethnic studies Archives - The Jose Vilson

ethnic studies

On January 1st, 2011, Arizona instituted a set of directives against certain segments of educational curricula in the state. This bill follows the already tenuous relationship between underrepresented people in their state and their government, with officials like Governor Jan Brewer in the forefront. People reporting on the bill have called it a “ban on ethnic studies,” a misleading title if I ever read one. While it serves well to draw attention to this story, the ramifications of this obfuscating bill reach far greater than the small district in Tuscon this bill was meant for.

Reading this bill, I noticed this section here (Subsection A):

A. A SCHOOL DISTRICT OR CHARTER SCHOOL IN THIS STATE SHALL NOT INCLUDE IN ITS PROGRAM OF INSTRUCTION ANY COURSES OR CLASSES THAT INCLUDE ANY OF THE FOLLOWING:
1. PROMOTE THE OVERTHROW OF THE UNITED STATES GOVERNMENT.
2. PROMOTE RESENTMENT TOWARD A RACE OR CLASS OF PEOPLE.
3. ARE DESIGNED PRIMARILY FOR PUPILS OF A PARTICULAR ETHNIC GROUP.
4. ADVOCATE ETHNIC SOLIDARITY INSTEAD OF THE TREATMENT OF PUPILS AS INDIVIDUALS.

Compare that to the language of this piece a few sentences down (Subsection E and F):

E. THIS SECTION SHALL NOT BE CONSTRUED TO RESTRICT OR PROHIBIT:
1. COURSES OR CLASSES FOR NATIVE AMERICAN PUPILS THAT ARE REQUIRED TO COMPLY WITH FEDERAL LAW.
2. THE GROUPING OF PUPILS ACCORDING TO ACADEMIC PERFORMANCE, INCLUDING CAPABILITY IN THE ENGLISH LANGUAGE, THAT MAY RESULT IN A DISPARATE IMPACT BY ETHNICITY.
3. COURSES OR CLASSES THAT INCLUDE THE HISTORY OF ANY ETHNIC GROUP AND THAT ARE OPEN TO ALL STUDENTS, UNLESS THE COURSE OR CLASS VIOLATES SUBSECTION A.
4. COURSES OR CLASSES THAT INCLUDE THE DISCUSSION OF CONTROVERSIAL ASPECTS OF HISTORY.
F. NOTHING IN THIS SECTION SHALL BE CONSTRUED TO RESTRICT OR PROHIBIT THE INSTRUCTION OF THE HOLOCAUST, ANY OTHER INSTANCE OF GENOCIDE, OR THE HISTORICAL OPPRESSION OF A PARTICULAR GROUP OF PEOPLE BASED ON ETHNICITY, RACE, OR CLASS.

The writers of the bill clearly tried to include language to confuse people into thinking this bill doesn’t bolster the legacy of the dominant culture in this country. Yet, in more pragmatic terms, it fails the logic test, something I’m sure the lawmakers let happen on purpose. For instance, how can a class specifically addressing Chicano culture not be designed in one way or another for pupils of a particular ethnic group, especially in K-12 education during a child’s formative years? Learning about the legacy of Cesar Chavez and Dolores Huerta, a student might violate the tenets of Subsection A: the student might advocate for ethnic solidarity, might feel resentment toward a race or class of people, and perhaps might want to overthrow the United States government.

Even the word “might might not be enough.

After all, once a community empowers its citizens to think of the underrepresented cultures in this country, they might ask questions, like why The Black Panthers had to exist in the face of Black oppression, why John Lennon’s message of peace often (and literally) put him in the crosshairs of the FBI, or why Frederick Douglass and John Brown were so important to the discussions of slavery in this country as Abraham Lincoln. If nothing in this bill restricts or prohibits the instruction or discussion of controversial topics in the history of the United States, then wouldn’t the discussion of these groups and figures have to violate Subsection A in at least 2 out of 4 ways?

Unless of course, this law prohibits actual discussion. Then, this bill should state that, when discussing these topics, the teacher should read a few prescribed facts about the topics, sugarcoat it, have the teacher say “I went through this struggle, too” with no deep comparison or contrast, then give a multiple choice test where all the answers are given word for word before the test. That’s how I learned history for the majority of my years.

Plus, I also question what their definition of “overthrow” means when, throughout history, anyone seeking social or cultural equality has been called every synonym for anti-American, even as they ascend to the top of the most American post possible. Indeed, the current status quo promotes unity under the dominant culture’s perpetual dominance and its histories sacrosanct to the American identity instead of embracing the diversity of our histories, struggles, and progress in empowering everyone accordingly. When it comes to the solidarity of those who desperately need to understand their identity in the American context, lawmakers create bills to ensure division and directly peg those who seek community as anti-American.

Thus, it’s not a ban on ethnic studies; it’s a ban on education progress from the status quo. That’s a crime within itself.

Jose, who’s laying it all on the table …

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