Thursday, May 13

Arizona's ethnic studies legislation

The latest half-baked bill signed into law this week attempts to shut down ethnic studies programs in Arizona high schools. The fact is that these program do on occasion widen the ethnic divide. But this is one of those situations where the politicians are throwing the baby out with the bathwater. They are trying to appease some xenophobic voters who see homogenization as the solution to all of Arizona's issues.

The reality is that people more readily embrace the wider world when they are aware of, and appreciative of, their culture of origins. Just as students learn a second language better if they first learn to read and write in their original language, so will immigrants become more appreciative of other cultures if they are comfortable and informed about their original culture.

Even if the origins of the bill are well-intentioned (I'm not so sure that they are) it once again sends the wrong message. That message is -- In order to be a good American you have to look like, talk like, and think exactly like the Americans of European origin. This line of thought fails to appreciate the diversity of people and histories which drive the American engine. And when you combine this new law with the infamous immigration bill it sends a strong message to Hispanics (and African-Americans who also have ethnic studies programs) that they are second class citizens.

Radicalization of ethnic studies programs can occur if the ethnic group feels like it is under attack. If schools would go out of the way to embrace and affirm the groups in these programs the radicals would cease to have a cause -- or an audience.

If there are tensions in the schools because of these programs (at times there are) we need to sit down together and go through the long process of building trust. Tension in a controlled environment, such as a school, can actually be an asset and a teaching opportunity -- if leadership is willing to treat it as such. Knee-jerk legislation brings nothing constructive to the table and undermines the educational process.
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