Banning Ethnic Studies in Arizona: Implications for AAE
In the midst of the Arizona immigration law controversy, another proposal has come into the mix: the banning of ethnic studies in schools. This article discusses the debate over the role of ethnic studies in society. House Bill 2881 states that public school pupils should “not be taught to resent or hate other races or classes of people,” and prohibits a school district or charter school from including any classes or courses 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.”
Opponents to the bill claim that it “promotes resentment toward a race or class of people”, seeing it as “some kind of anti-Latino bias”. However, State Superintendent of public education Tom Horne claims that through this bill, he is “trying to get the schools to treat students as individuals and not as exemplars of the race they were born into.” Arizona regional director of the Anti-Defamation League, Bill Strauss, claims ” it is appalling that a group of people will set out to ban a program about which they know so little.”
So the debate surrounding the bill raises an important question: does an ethnic studies program lead to racial tensions or racial unity? Both sides may have reasonable arguments. On the one hand, teaching ethnic studies educates others about different races and ethnicities, while on the other hand, it can lead to racial solidarity among minorities, maybe even exclusion. The bill prohibits anything that “advocates ethnic solidarity”, which seems very problematic. Why is ethnic solidarity a bad thing? Ethnic solidarity is not automatically equivalent to racial exclusion and segration, as this bill seems to suggest. For example, Civil Rights Movement resulted in racial solidarity and unity; yet, ironically, it was in response to racial exclusion and prejudice–not the cause for it. This bill then seems to use logic in direct opposition to what history tells us. Many prejudiced assumptions and stereotypes are based on ignorance. Today, we have the means, technology, and political structure to inform the public about racial and ethnic differences as a way to promote an understanding between races, as well as to foster relationships that are no longer based on ignorance. Banning ethnic studies seems to be going in the opposite direction.
Some would argue that this bill seems to promote complete assimilation of ethnicities into American culture, or, more specifically, into white Anglo-Saxon culture. The bill explicitly states its opposition to “ethnic solidarity”, and the lack of ethnic studies would most likely lead to an emphasis on American history and culture. Given the array of ethnic groups in the U.S., this would certainly seem exclusionary to many people, which is the oppposite of the bill’s stated goal: to avoid racial exclusion.
The banning of ethnic studies could lead to opinions and beliefs about other races based on ignorance. This would only hurt the struggle for African American English to be acknowledged and accepted as a legitimate dialect. If people lack knowledge about other races, they will be unaware of African American culture and linguistic features. They would therefore be more likely to disregard and ignore African American English and its role in young children’s development and success in the classroom. Banning ethnic studies in Arizona would therefore be a crucial impediment to the goal towards academic success for young AAE speakers.