Undermining ethnic studies

Most readers of this blog have probably heard about the new Arizona law that, depending on whom you ask, “bans ethnic studies“,  “rein(s) in ethnic studies“, or “curbs chauvanism (sic) in ethnic studies“.

I thought it might be a useful exercise, though, to tamp down the rhetoric and just look at the actual text of the provisions.  So here we go:

The legislature finds and declares that public school pupils should be taught to treat and value each other as individuals and not be taught to resent or hate other races or classes of people.

This isn’t an active part of the law — it’s just the declaration of policy.  Courts might take a look at this as part of their determination of whether there’s some sort of nefarious, impermissible legislative intent at work, but it’s mostly just for show.  Still, nothing objectionable here.  I think pretty much everyone agrees that hating races or classes of people is bad, unless you’re talking about child molesters, businessmen, Nazis, clowns, communists, Republicans, terrorists, or the Jews.  (People seem to disagree about hating those classes of people.)  Moving on.

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.

While it’s certainly politically protected speech to advocate the future (though perhaps, depending on context, only nonviolent) overthrow of the United States government, there’s a very big difference between the government’s prohibiting speech on the one hand, and the government’s producing its own speech on the other.  I can’t see that this provision is really problematic.

2.  Promote resentment toward a race or class of people.

This seems horrifically vague to me.  What is a “class” of people?  I don’t see it in the definitions for Title 15 of the Arizona Revised Statutes… though perhaps it’s defined elsewhere.

Now, we might think that promoting resentment is never a good idea, towards any group of people whatsoever.  But that just puts us in a further bind: what’s “resentment”?  One would hope that the law would be interpreted by courts not to require the actual word “resentment” to show up in a lecture or textbook in order for the offending course to qualify.  But beyond that, I have a hard time imagining how a jurist could make a determination that a course was promoting resentment.

3.  Are designed primarily for pupils of a particular ethnic group.

This seems problematic, also.  Good pedagogy might demand that certain courses be designed for certain ethnic groups.   Now, later on we are assured by section (E)(2) that the law does not prohibit:

The grouping of pupils according to academic performance, including capability in the English language, that may result in a disparate impact by ethnicity.

But there’s more to a course designed for a particular ethnic group than language issues.  I’m imagining something like a group of immigrants moves to Arizona and their kids start attending school and it turns out that what they really need is a primer on existing in a society with television and electronic media.  So the principal designs a quick and dirty course for these immigrants to help them through the culture shock they are experiencing.

Sorry.  Can’t do that!

Moving on.

4.  Advocate ethnic solidarity instead of the treatment of pupils as individuals.

I can only assume that the person who wrote this provision was either a moron or was just being careless.  Imagine that I made the following illegal: “Persons shall not smell flowers instead of baking pies.”  Anyone arrested for smelling flowers would, rightly, complain that they weren’t not baking pies by virtue of the fact that they were smelling flowers, so they can’t be said to be doing one instead of the other.   Likewise, one can easily imagine that it is possible to advocate ethnic solidarity while at the same time advocating the treatment of pupils as individuals (whatever that means).

After a few passages relating to procedural issues, we come to the other substantive part of the provision: things that aren’t prohibited.

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.

Necessary to avoid federal preemption, I think.

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.

WHAT THE BLOODY BLUE BLAZES? If I am reading this statute correctly, the ONLY place a course can be prohibited is in subsection A.  So… a course is not prohibited under this section, unless it’s…. prohibited under this section.  Is that it?

I’m going to pray that the actual law that was signed by the governor had this problem fixed.

4.  Courses or classes that include the discussion of controversial aspects of history.

Ah… finally.  The release valve from all of our problems.  Classes might be prohibited.  But not if they include a discussion of the controversial aspects of history!  Let’s count the number of things wrong with this provision.

First, there’s no requirement that the discussion of controversial history have anything to do with the material that led to the course’s being prohibited under Subsection A in the first place.  In other words, I can have a course entitled “Why Mexicans should slaughter all those oppressive white people” and as long as I include a discussion of a controversial aspect of history, I’m in the clear.  Now, I’m being somewhat facetious.  Presumably a court is going to read some sort of requirement into this provision that the controversial aspect be what brought it under scrutiny in the first place.  Let’s hope so.

Second, though, one might think that because the sorts of things that are being banned here are inter-racial grievances, and because most grievances happened, you know… in history, and because most grievances require, you know… disagreement about the characterization of such past acts, that every course that qualifies for prohibition under this section is going to do so in great part because of its discussion of “controversial” aspects of “history.”

I’m just sayin’.

So there we are.  That’s the text of the law.  And as much as I might sympathize with the sentiment behind it….. my verdict is this: sloppy, sophomoric, and not long for this world.


  1. superdestroyer says:

    A class or course of study designed for one ethnic group would violate the Supreme Court ruling of Gratz. Remember that black only dorms or separate admission standards for Hispanics is now unconstitutional. Having a Hispanic version of history for Hispanic students would fall into the same problem.

  2. Michael, thank you for posting this. Good job. Well done.

    Superdestoryer, thanks for your post. I’ll look into that ruling. My school is going to have a class for Asian girls only next year. Since Title IX has been gutted, there’s no violation there. The law is the same, but the interpretation and the policy of enforcement has changed. Maybe that’s the same story with the Supreme Court ruling.

    This is the only section of the Arizona law I thought stepped over the line:

    “4. Advocate ethnic solidarity instead of the treatment of pupils as individuals.”

    Arizona is flat-out strange. I vaguely remember reading an article that theorized why. It attracted for economic reasons a certain kind of people in the 50’s. I think now would be a good time to find that article and reread it and find other articles on the same topic.

    Michael, once again, thanks for a job well done.

  3. Michael E. Lopez says:


    Under Gratz, the law *may* be unconstitutional, but I think that saying that it “would violate” Gratz is overstating the case.

    Gratz was about admissions and actual treatment of students based on their ethnicity. (Note also that its being heard at the same time as Grutter makes its holding all the more limited.)

    This (the Arizona) law isn’t aimed at students or their treatment — it’s a substantive control on curriculum. I think it would be a bit of a stretch (though certainly one that could be made by a properly activist judge) to say that designing a course for a particular ethnicity is the same thing as telling someone of a particular ethnicity that they are going to receive separate treatment.

    Now, one could of course argue that “They’re making courses for Group A but not for Group B” but that’s not obviously discriminatory, and I think that, to the extent that it is, the arguments in its favor might actually end up much closer to Grutter than to Gratz.

    Which isn’t to say that I don’t find the existence of such courses to be despicable… I do. But that doesn’t make them unconstitutional.

  4. superdestroyer says:

    Michael E. Lopez

    You may want to look up the Virginia Commonwealth University getting into trouble for having a summer journalism program that intentionally excluded whites. They were threatened with lawsuits and lost. Just this last week, Ann Arbor Michigan had to dragged into the 21st century and reminded that black only classes, clubs, or field trips are illegal.

  5. Michael E. Lopez says:

    Two things:

    (1) I horribly mixed up some terms in my prior comment. Poor editing on my part.

    Obviously the LAW isn’t what’s under scrutiny in SD’s proposed Gratz/Grutter analysis. It’s the sorts of courses prohibited by the law. My analysis is about that, but the first and fourth sentences of my comment mistakenly state that I’m talking about the law itself. Which is obviously silly.

    (2) It’s not clear that the Emily Smith case has any bearing here. First, it was a settled lawsuit — there’s no precedential effect at all. Second, it’s the same sort of direct treatment case as Grutter and Gratz. Smith was allegedly denied entrance to a program because she was white.

    Here’s a way of thinking about this:

    The Arizona law prohibits courses designed in a certain way. Superdestroyer wants to say that those courses violate Gratz. But those courses would be prohibited by the Arizona law even if there were no students actually living in the state of Arizona.

    My point is this: for the courses to be unconstitutional under Gratz, there would have to be some sort of actual treatment of the students. But the discussion of these courses under the Arizona law is with respect to their design and content, not their implementation or administration.

  6. With respect to E(3), I think what it’s saying is that a course or class that “that include[s] the history of any ethnic group and that are open to all students” cannot be prohibited unless it also promotes overthrow, resentment, etc.

    The language is unnecessary, but not contradictory. The optimist in me says that it’s there to protect courses like “Mayan History” or “African History” while the realist/pessimist in me realizes it’s probably there to prevent flank attacks on courses like “History of the American Revolution” or “Expansion Westward 18xx-19xx.”

    An interesting question is whether a class that focuses on the US Civil War would be allowed under A(1). My assumption would be that the course as taught in, say, Massachusetts, would pass, while the version taught in Virginia might not. 😛

  7. Some years ago the sociologist David Reisman recommended that pre-college schools not include Social Studies (History, Civics, Psychology, etc) in the curriculum, since, he suggested, some teachers would not resist temptation to indoctrinate students.

    Dutch tolerance for religious schools worked until the advent of large-scale Muslim immigration. Perhaps a restriction on preaching inter-faith hostility or inter-racial hostility is required to make State (government, generally) funding of vouchers or charter schools work.

  8. CarolineSF says:

    So this would mean that schools in the South couldn’t cheer for the Confederacy, right?

    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.”

  9. I had to sign a document, that was witnessed, that I would not promote the overthrow of the United States government.

    This was a condition for getting a teaching credential in California, and I assume it still is. Who is going to vote for repealing such a thing?

    Malcom, I tried to indoctrinate my students for years but I had no impact on them so I finally gave up. I’m not sure it’s that easy unless one uses reverse psychology or something.

  10. What difference would it make how easy or difficult it is to actually indoctrinate kids in a public school? It’s such an obviously good idea that much of the political case for public education is based on the assumption that he who pays the piper calls the tune.

    It’s the district system, with the large degree of independence necessarily granted to school districts to fulfill their class discrimination function that lies at the heart of “problem”.

    I’m using quotes because it isn’t really a problem.

    The realization’s arisen that the indoctrination function of public education can be put into the service of any group that can convince a school board to look favorably on their cause. The political left’s trying to advance their agenda by “catching ’em young and training ’em right” and so are the creationists and the environmentalists. Everyone with a political ax to grind is naturally drawn to the public education system as a means of ensuring the triumph of their point of view.

  11. (Robert): “Malcolm, I tried to indoctrinate my students for years but I had no impact on them so I finally gave up. I’m not sure it’s that easy unless one uses reverse psychology or something.”

    A few disconnected thoughts…

    Some students develop an allergic reaction. I know three people who actively dislike classical music. They all took piano lessons as kids.

    It’s interesting to pull these words apart: “in-struct”, “in-form”, “e-ducate”. You reach into a student’s skull and form or structure their thought processes, or you pull (that’s the “duct” part, as in “ductile”) knowledge from (“e-“) them. “Education” at first sounds benign, but it’s not. The idea comes from platonic realism (idealism, really), that we have an innate knowledge of reality that we percieve incompletely, as though all we see of the real workd are shadows on a wall. The teacher brings students to a greater awareness of the “real” world that they already have inside them. It’s damaging in practice because teachers get to shift responsibility from themselves to students and leads to inefficient “discovery” methods as opposed to direct instruction. It’s arrogant in the unspoken presumption that the teacher (Plato) has this superior perception of the hidden “real” world.

    Richard Dawkins observes that children are naturally gullible. They have to be in order to survive into adulthood, since they would not survive predators or poisonous plants if they did not have access to accumulated knowledge. He speculates that this is a large part of the explanation for religion. Once it gets up and running, it reproduces itself from one generation to the next.

    I think schools are fairly successful in indoctrinating students. Look at the school account of social progress, which represents compulsory attendance laws, minimum wage laws, and child labor laws as positive. These laws deprive parents of education options outside of school, and clearly benefit the institution of tax-financed, compulsory government schooling.

    In a way, even P.E. and Shop teachers indoctrinate students. The institution of compulsory schooling indoctrinates students into the lesson of subordination.

  12. My failure to produce any socialists might be due to the fact I’m not a very good teacher. That’s always a thought. Or it could be I didn’t get them young enough. I don’t know.

    Malcom, thanks for that great post. Nicely written and I think I’ll need to reread it a few times.

    And allen, I’ll need to look at yours a couple more times, too.

  13. Miller Smith says:

    1. Only black/hispanic students may take Afro/Hispanic-American Studies.
    2. You will be taught to hate whitey and that whitey is the cause of all of your problems.
    3. You will learn that you are to think like all of the other members of your race and anyone who is a member of your race who thinks differently is a “Uncle Tom.”
    4. You will be taught that the Southwestern United States should be taken back by violent action.
    5. Government teachers and buildings paid for by mostly whitey will do all of the above.

    Yep…can’t see why we would want that stuff banned in America.

  14. Kevin Smith says:

    IN reading several of these posts I can only come to the conclusion that some of you are either not at all familiar with history education in Virginia or Not familiar with it in New England. I suppose both is a possibility. Having attended High School in Rhode Island, Virginia, and North Carolina (Marine brat) I can assure all of you that Virginia and North Carolina public schools do not advocate the overthrow of the US Government in teaching the Civil War.
    I can also assure you that in Rhode Island I was taught that to this day all southern whites are bigoted racists who hate all blacks (and yes this was the attitude and words of the teacher, who by his own admission had never left New England). Of course I was the only person in the school who DIDN’T treat the two black students in the school like sub-humans (they were also Marine brats, otherwise there would have been 0 blacks).

  15. I would suggest James Clavell’s “The Children’s Story” in which a new teacher completely brainwashes her class in about 22 minutes.

    It’s a short book that was made into an excellent film. The film can be found on YouTube.

    James Clavell’s daughter plays the lead role.

  16. so kevin, are you saying that all white people in new england are racist and all white people in the south are not? or are you merely pointing out an inconsistency in people’s stereotyping?

  17. Kevin Smith says:

    A severe inconsistency in the logic of some of the posts here. Also what is clearly a tendency for people who I am sure would tell you that they aren’t prejudiced to show a whole lot of prejudice. The tendency of many people who have never lived in the Southern US to prattle on about what people in or from the South are like never ceases to amaze me.

  18. Robert,

    Thanks for the pointer to Clavell. I read that story years ago and forgot the author. Did not know that it became a movie.

  19. Miller Smith says:

    Everything I wrote in my post above, Kevin Smith, is what goes on in the ethnic studies classes in my district.

    I want it to stop. I am tired of my kids coming into my class and giving me disrespect due to my being a “cracker” after being ginned up by their ethnic studies teachers. I am GD tired of it and it better GD stop~!

  20. Welcome to Arizona education and politics….*sigh* It’s taking some doing to remind myself why I live in this state right now. BTW I homeschool.

    While not intimately familiar with what was occurring down in Tucson (the courses termed “la Raza” offered by the Tucson Unified School District to High School and maybe Jr. High School – I’m not sure) is what brought about State Superintendent Horne’s wrath. I do however, believe, they were open to all students, not just Hispanic students.

    If I remember correctly, a similar bill to this was brought before former Gov. Janet Napaletano who vetoed it (same with SB 1070).

    I honestly don’t know what the legislators were thinking when they wrote up this law, or what Supt. Horne wants with this legislation. I’ve seen him give some interviews about it, and I still don’t really understand the point. Maybe he felt there were some in the TUSD who were teaching the overthrow of the government and an Hispanic Power movement or something?

    If there were some rogue teachers, then they should be dealt with individually. But teaching Hispanic history and culture and maybe bringing up a controversial subject or two? (I guess critical thinking is for other subjects?). I don’t see how that is harmful for anyone of any ethnicity.

  21. Miller,

    Simply put, I don’t believe you. Either you are grossly misrepresenting the truth (i.e. LYING) or are paranoid delusional.

  22. BadaBing says:

    Miller, you have concisely delineated the curriculum goals of the Cultural Diversity class I had to take to get my California teaching credential.

  23. Kevin Smith says:

    Miller, you appear to be confused. Where exactly did I refer to your posts? I was commenting on others claiming white southerners teaching the civil war as advocacy of the over throw of the US government.

  24. Mr. Smith claimed:
    “Of course I was the only person in the school who DIDN’T treat the two black students in the school like sub-humans..”

    Really? The ONLY person? I’m sure you’re right: ALL northerners are closet racists, and all southerners are just misrepresented “real Americans” who don’t have a racist bone in their bodies.

  25. jab,

    Believe it. The UH Curriculum Research and Development Group published a Hawaiian History textbook which discusses imperialism generally and draws all its examples from European predation upon other countries. I asked Art King why this text gave no exapmles from Asia (China, the Mongols, Japan) or pre-Columbian America (Inca, Aztec) and he said that these countries had never intruded into te Pacific. This is false (Japan) and deceptive, since the text gave Rome and modern Italy as examples, and neither had ever invaded Pacific territory.

    Even if every example is accurate, the text is biased. Consider, by an analogy, a criminal psychology class which draws all its examples from case studies of black-upon-white or black-upon Asian crime. Would you not agree that such a selection suggests a racial bias?

  26. I can’t believe people think Mexicans are nefarious. It’s pretty revolting. I live in Northern California. There were ESL programs for newly arrived kids to learn the language, quick and dirty style.

    I read Sup. Horne’s statement, he said when you come to America, you learn about American history. Period. I’m not sure why he thinks Arizona, a state with a rich history of Native Americans, Mexicans, Spanish settlers, freed slave immigrants and east coast transplants, shouldn’t teach about parts of their ancestry. He seemed to allude to the fact American history was only the history of white folks. Which is loony tunes.

    To the poster above me:
    All history is biased. ALL history. And you might wonder why people teach about European oppression (Hawai’i comment above) and it could be because they’ve linked that to the racism and sexism perpetrated by people today, whose governments and ancestry is grounded in European colonialism. Which is not to say Japan shouldn’t be included. But when this kind of elitism, colonization and overthrowing of legitimate 3rd world nation leaders is STILL happening under the European system, I can see why that kind of colonialism is perhaps more relevant than Japan’s.

  27. Richard Aubrey says:

    You can indoctrinate more effectively by what you omit. How many, say, college juniors can name the two countries which invaded Poland in 1939?
    Stalin killed more people than Hitler, yet is not held up as exemplifying murderous tyranny except by people who don’t mind being called McCarthyites. Nobody suffering from BDS called Bush a “stalin”.
    The existence of the poor in the US is a scandal. Probably five billion people in the world are worse off than American poor. You’ll find that where, exactly, in social studies?
    You see my point, I’m sure.

  28. Richard, and I think Mao killed more than Stalin.

    But history involves more than numbers.

  29. Richard,

    I’ve noticed you like to pull factoids from your nether regions…

    Any evidence AT ALL that Stalin is NOT held up as “exemplifying murderous tyranny?” I consider myself pretty damn liberal, and the vast majority of my friends are too… and I’m pretty damn sure that every single one would consider Stalin as one of the most evil men in history.

    “You see my point, I’m sure.”

    That would be no, unless you’re just channeling Glenn Beck.

    But I guess you were going with the usual right-wing boilerplate idiocy that liberals sympathize with Stalin because we are all a bunch of unmitigated Communists (like our current president, of course!)

  30. Richard Aubrey says:

    I didn’t say libs sympathized with Stalin. They sympathize with themselves; and Stalin, and Mao, and Pol Pot, and Mugabe, all have lib lipstick–some from generations back–all over their nasty butts. The connection needs to be obfuscated. So Hitler is the baddest bad guy in recent history.
    You might look to Ron Radosh and his efforts to get Pete Seeger to admit Stalin was a bad guy. Took pete more than half a century.
    However, liberal, lefty, or loony, nobody to my knowledge, while suffering from BDS called Bush a “stalin” or, ref Robert, a “mao”. If I’m wrong, give me cites.
    Yes, indeed, Robert, history is more than numbers. The ideology of the mass murderer is considerably more important than the number of murdered. We get that.
    Who was the first black prime minister of Rhodesia/Zimbabwe?
    Hint, he recently passed away.
    Some on this post may know, but not from reading K-12 textbooks.
    My point is that ommission is a more effective technique of indoctrination than misleading the kids.
    A parent sitting at dinner with the kids can remark, “He said WHAT?” and repair the thing. The parent would have a hard time knowing what was not said, unless the kid gave considerably more info than kids are likely to give at dinner.

  31. Kevin Smith says:

    JAB, yes I was the only person in the school who even spoke to them. And My post was only referring to my experience with that group. Never said anything about all northerners. Obviously your mind draws generalities where they are not stated.

  32. You couldn’t possibly undermine ethnic studies programs. How would it be possible to go beneath them?


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