January 12, 2011
Literature class outlawed in Arizona
This makes me so upset that I somewhat doubt my ability to write coherently about it.
Arizona Orders Tuscon to end Mexican-American Studies Program (New York Times)
The attorney general of Arizona has decided that a Tuscon magnet school’s Latino literature class an illegal propagandizing and brainwashing program, under a law which he himself wrote, seemingly for the specific purpose of targeting the Tuscon school district’s ethnic studies programs, after a perceived personal insult by a high-profile guest speaker:
It was Mr. Horne, as the state’s superintendent of public instruction, who wrote a law aimed at challenging Tucson’s ethnic-studies program….Mr. Horne’s battle with Tucson over ethnic studies dates to 2007, when Dolores Huerta, co-founder of the United Farm Workers, told high school students there in a speech that Republicans hated Latinos. Mr. Horne, a Republican, sent a top aide, Margaret Garcia Dugan, to the school to present a different perspective. He was infuriated when some students turned their backs and raised their fists in the air.
According to the Times article, the law explicitly forbids programs that “promote the overthrow of the United States government,” suggestions that “portions of the Southwest…once part of Mexico should be returned to that country,” “promotion of resentment toward a race,” and programs that “are primarily for one race or that advocate ethnic solidarity instead of individuality.”
I’ve long had mixed feelings about ethnic studies programs. And I haven’t attended Tuscon’s Latino studies class, so I can’t claim to know what’s going on. But I doubt very, very, very much that students in a high school literature class are actually being indoctrinated to support the overthrow of the government of the United States. And if denigration of individuality is the real problem, well, AG Horne, you might as well outlaw high school.
It seems far more likely that Horne is terrified by the prospect of a minority group, which he sees as a threat to his version of Americanism, taking justifiable pride in the literature of their own heritage, examining their place in American history and their hopes for its future, and that those hopes might conflict with his own. He’s not afraid of a bunch of Latino high schoolers plotting to topple the US government; he’s afraid of them having a narrative of their place in society that’s valuable, unique, and powerful.
And he’s counting on misinformation, ignorance, apathy, and xenophobia to protect him from any real consequences for his astonishing and vindictive attack on students’ First Amendment rights and academic freedom. He knows he probably won’t face any appreciable outrage from the state’s citizens, because not many people will see themselves in the group of young Latinos he’s maligning. Not many people will perceive any threat to the freedoms or safety from intimidation that they take for granted in this action, because they aren’t part of a controversial literature class alleged to be inciting disloyalty and racial discord. But they should. Because if this can be done to any of us without the protest of our neighbors–being legally targeted for what we are, read, or learn–then it can be done to all of us, for any reason.