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Banning Ethnic Studies in Arizona: Implications for AAE

May 13, 2010

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.


4 Comments leave one →
  1. Zeke permalink
    May 13, 2010 9:18 pm

    If this bill really does outlaw the study of ethnic culture or history, that’s awful. If it just outlaws race discrimination in class registrations and the use of state college classes for plotting violent coups, then I’d be surprised that isn’t outlawed already. So it seems like a bad bill either way.

    Also, even if this bill doesn’t pass, it’s disturbing enough that someone has written a bill conflating ethnicity studies with anarchist plots. Arizona’s getting scary.

  2. Ayeska permalink*
    May 14, 2010 3:01 pm

    I completely agree with you Zeke.
    The banning of ethnic studies is the wrong way to go about solidarity in the US.
    We must first understand difference, acknowledge the historical laws created to oppress communities, as well as their implications on subsequent generations, in order to successfully achieve solidarity.

    As for Arizona, all I can think is: has the state learned nothing from the Civil Rights Movements that swept the nation a few decades ago?

  3. student permalink
    May 18, 2010 11:13 pm

    Arizona needs to encourage the free flow of ideas and encourage the study of many cultures, races and ethnicities. If they wanted to stop the banning or exclusion of a race in public education, they are going about it in an a very weird way. They should be encouraging the study of as many ethnicities and cultures as possible as to inundate the students with knowledge about the world around them.

  4. Chris W permalink
    July 6, 2010 1:02 am

    The bill is fundamentally flawed. It makes the assumption that learning about another ethnicity will automatically lead to resentment or hate against people, and worse, promote overthrow of the US government. Perhaps they should also eliminate history as a subject too! After all, they certainly wouldn’t want the Arizona people to be aware of the persecution that largely Euro-American ethnic groups pushed upon the many native groups of American while pushing westward to colonize and search for gold. Or, perhaps, they don’t want African Americans (slave descendants, as opposed to more recent immigrants) to be aware of the awful conditions that brought their ancestors to America and the perverse mentality that allows them to be treated like animals or worse. The list of ethnic groups and their demeaning situations coerced by a predominantly White government goes on and on, and apparently continues to go on as displayed by this bill.

    Historically speaking, and even presently, it is patently wrong to assume that teaching of ethnic studies causes such an obvious outcome. For example, we would need to cease the teachings of things as ingrained in primary schools as Thanksgiving, which boasts how fortunate settlers were to find Native Americans to help teach them about cultivating food in America and sharing with them.

    The irony, of course, is that by trying to eliminate “ethnic solidarity”, it will automatically lead to “ethnic solidarity.” Because Arizona would not and could not teach about ethnic differences, it would teach students the only “right” ethnicity…which means that any person or group outside of this American ethnicity is different, wrong, and bad. The blatant fear, ignorance, and stupidity behind this bill is truly astounding.

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