Arizona ban spurs interest in Chicano studies

Tucson schools were forced to drop Mexican-American Studies classes after a state law banned courses that are “designed for a specific ethnic group,” advocate “ethnic solidarity instead of the treatment of pupils as individuals” or fan “racial resentment.” This month, a federal judge upheld the Arizona law.

The ban has revived interest in ethnic studies, according to the Los Angeles Times.

“Underground” libraries with Chicano literature are popping up across the Southwest and are set to open soon in unexpected places such as Milwaukee and Louisville.

. . . “It was only until it was banned that I really took this seriously and recognized the need,” said (Raquel) Velasquez, a 19-year-old originally from Tucson. She is one of 14 students at Prescott College taking a pedagogy class to help train them to become ethnic studies teachers.

Curtis Acosta now teaches English rather than Mexican American Studies at a Tucson high school. On Sundays, he teaches a Chicano literature class at a youth center. Ten students enrolled. Donations pay their tuition and Prescott College has offered college credits.

Bianca Sierra, a high school senior, said she’d never studied Chicano literature.

She says she likes her Sunday class better than her classes at school because she can relate to its subject matter on a personal level. For example, books she reads in her Chicano literature class have characters with names similar to those of her mother and grandmother or mention foods similar to those prepared in her home.

. . .  Instead of simply listening to the teacher lecture, the students gather in a circle and, along with Acosta, discuss and debate the subject matter.

“I like it because it makes me feel more invested in it, because they are asking you, ‘What is your opinion?’ I was never asked what my opinion was on an issue [in class]. You’re just not asked that in regular school,” she said.

No Chicano novels in the English curriculum? Were they all ghetto-ized in the ethnic studies class? And Tucson teachers never let students express opinions?

Ruling: Ethnic studies classes break Arizona law

Tucson schools must drop Mexican-American Studies or lose 10 percent of state funding, ruled an administrative law judge, who found the ethnic classes violate Arizona law. The 2010 law bans courses that are “designed for a specific ethnic group” or advocate “ethnic solidarity instead of the treatment of pupils as individuals.” It also bans fanning “racial resentment.”

Ignoring the history of  “oppression and racism” will promote resentment, a school district witness testified. But Judge Lewis Kowal found the classes went beyond “teaching oppression objectively” to “actively presenting material in a biased, political, and emotionally charged manner.”

“Teaching in such a manner promotes social or political activism against the white people, promotes racial resentment, and advocates ethnic solidarity, instead of treating pupils as individuals,” Kowal wrote. He cited a lesson that taught students that the historic treatment of Mexican-Americans was “marked by the use of force, fraud and exploitation,” and a parent’s complaint that one of her daughters, who was white, was shunned by Latino classmates after a government course was taught “in an extremely biased manner.”

A group of teachers are challenging the law in federal court, arguing it was motivated by “a racial bias and anti-Hispanic beliefs and sentiments.”

Tucson risks funding over ethnic studies

Ethnic studies classes could cost Tucson schools 10 percent of state funding, reports Learning the Language. Arizona Superintendent Tom Horne says he’ll withhold district funding to comply with a law that bans classes designed for a particular ethnic group. Horne, who’s running for attorney general, also asked Tucson to videotape all ethnic studies classes, though he’s especially concerned with La Raza Studies.

The district can appeal to an administrative law judge.

In a letter to Tucson’s acting superintendent, Horne says he cited statements from teachers showing the curriculum encourages resentment towards certain races. “They are telling students they are victims and they should be angry and rise up.”

Guestblogger Michael Lopez, who has a law degree, analyzed Arizona’s law.

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.

Sensible.

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.

Arizona vs. accents, ethnic studies

Arizona teachers who speak English with a strong accent or poor grammar won’t be allowed to teach classes for English Language Learners, the state education department has ruled. The decision primarily will affect elementary teachers recruited from Latin America to staff bilingual classes. When Arizona voters ended bilingual education in 2000, teachers were told to use English only. But some aren’t able to speak fluently or model good English, state officials complain. From the Wall Street Journal:

The education department has dispatched evaluators to audit teachers across the state on things such as comprehensible pronunciation, correct grammar and good writing.

Teachers will be given time to improve their English, but those who can’t meet the state auditors’ standard must be reassigned to mainstream classes or fired, says a state education official.

. . . Nearly half the teachers at Creighton, a K-8 school in a Hispanic neighborhood of Phoenix, are native Spanish speakers. State auditors have reported to the district that some teachers pronounce words such as violet as “biolet,” think as “tink” and swallow the ending sounds of words, as they sometimes do in Spanish.

Creighton’s principal says her foreign-born teachers are dedicated, experienced and understand the students’ culture. There aren’t enough mainstream early elementary classes for teachers with accents, unless they can teach higher grades. The school — nearly all Hispanic and all poor — is rated “performing plus” by the state. By middle school, students are catching up to state averages, especially in math.

In other Arizona news, a bill designed to ban ethnic studies classes has reached the governor’s desk, reports the Arizona Republic. State Superintendent Tom Horne, a candidate for attorney general, wrote the bill to abolish classes that:

• Promote the overthrow of the U.S. government.

• Promote resentment toward a race or class of people.

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

• Advocate ethnic solidarity instead of treating pupils as individuals.

Horne is targeting Tucson’s La Raza studies class, saying it’s “aimed primarily at members of one race, and we have testimony that this has promoted resentment.” He said students could be exposed to various cultures and traditions in social studies classes.

Tucson school officials say there’s nothing in their curriculum that would run afoul of the bill’s provisions. “In no way do we teach the resentment of any particular group of people,” said Sean Arce, director of the Mexican-American studies department in the Tucson district.

The district integrates Mexican-American studies into its offerings, from kindergarten through high school.  

Oh, and there’s that law about illegal aliens. Arizona’s new moniker: The Grand Ban ‘Em State.

College credit for 9th-grade ethnic studies

San Francisco ninth graders will be able to earn college credit for ethnic studies as part of a program to encourage students to plan for college, reports the San Francisco Chronicle.

“We’re not really looking for the 4.4 (grade point average) students,” (San Francisco State Education Dean Jacob Perea) said. “We’re looking for the 2.1 or 2.2 students.”

The class will be taught at the same level as ethnic studies classes at SF State, Perea said. Students who don’t earn a “pass” will be withdrawn.

The ethnic studies course “encourages students to explore specific aspects of identity on personal, interpersonal and institutional levels and provides students with interdisciplinary reading, writing and analytical skills,” district officials said in a news release about the expanded pilot program.

“I don’t ever learn about the accomplishments and contributions of the people who look like me and the members of my family,” said Balboa High School freshman Monet Cathrina-Rescat Wilson during public comment at Tuesday’s school board meeting. “How can I know who I can be if I don’t know who I am? Ethnic studies provides me with the foundation to learn who I am.”

If Monet studies the accomplishments of other people with the same skin color or ethnicity, she hasn’t really learned anything about who she is or what she might accomplish. Barack Obama isn’t going to write her college term papers for her; Cesar Chavez won’t do her chem labs.

I don’t know how challenging ethnic studies classes are at SF State, but it seems unlikely that C students can do college-level reading, writing and analysis in ninth grade. I predict the ethnic studies course will ask students to discuss their experiences and identity issues and watch uplifting videos, but won’t require difficult reading or writing. The danger of calling it a college-level class is that kids think they’re preparing for college when they’re not.