Arizona bans teaching courses that breed resentment of a race or class of people or advocate ethnic solidarity

Alyssa Hadley Dunn, a clinical assistant professor of urban teacher education in the College of Education at Georgia State University,  sent me a note about a “teach-in” at GSU to make people aware of the ban on the teaching of ethnic studies in Tucson schools, a decision based on a controversial — and some say overreaching — new Arizona law.

I have spent the morning looking at the law, its origins and the public debate around its passage. I agree that the broad language of the law creates minefields for teachers. And I also suspect that the courts will be busy for several years dealing with the fallout from its four provisions.

The new Arizona law prohibits instruction that: a) promotes the overthrow of the United States Government; b) promotes resentment toward a race or class of people; c) is designed primarily for people of a particular ethnic group and d) advocates ethnic solidarity instead of treatment of pupils as individuals. Schools in violation risk losing state funding.

A group of  teachers in Arizona has sought to overturn the law, saying in their motion: The prohibitions are too vague and broad and violate the first amendment rights of teachers, schools and students. Since every provision of the law violates the constitution, the motion calls for the law to be overturned in its entirety. It is fundamentally argued that this law is designed to limit the material and ideas allowed in the classroom and thus restrict the first amendment rights of teachers to teach and students to learn.

The law has now led the Tucson schools to ban a popular Mexican American Studies program begun in 1998. At the middle school level, the Mexican American Studies classes were electives and included literature, mathematics, Chicano studies and an independent study course. At the high school level, MAS classes were offered in literature, American history, American government/social justice, and Chicana/Art, and could be used to satisfy graduation requirements.

In a recent 37-page decision, an administrative law judge upheld the decision to end the Mexican American Studies program, ruling that it violated Arizona’s new law.  For balance, you can read a critique of that legal ruling here.

Here is what Dr. Dunn sent me about the effort of Georgia educators to make people aware of what is happening:

Last week, the Tucson Unified School District, after a long legal battle with the state, decided to prohibit the teaching of ethnic studies, specifically Mexican American studies, in their public schools. The argument was that such courses encouraged divisiveness, not unity. Teachers were prohibited from teaching anything where “race, ethnicity, or oppression was a central theme.”

Events are still unfolding and the district asserts that books were not officially “banned,” but what we know for certain is that students watched as classroom books were confiscated during class, boxed up, and brought to a district storage facility. These confiscated items included award-winning Paulo Freire’s Pedagogy of the Oppressed, major contributions to the Chicano(a) studies movement, texts on critical race theory, and Rethinking Columbus by Rethinking Schools.

The issue is about more than censored books; through this ban, Tucson is also banning certain histories and pedagogies. We believe that classes like this often provide students with their only glimpse into the history of their people. Education about multiculturalism combats exactly the type of fear and divisiveness that they are spreading with the ban. Ethnic studies and multicultural education are about empowering students to recognize histories of power, privilege, and oppression and then acting in socially just ways to change their worlds. They are not meant to pit “one group against another,” but to demonstrate the interconnectedness of humanity without whitewashing history.

As educators in Georgia, we want to address the underlying issues at work in this legislation and inform local teachers, professors, students, families, legislators, and community members about the implications for Georgian education. We have planned “Teach, Think, Do: A Teach-in on Tucson” for Saturday from 11 a.m.- 2 p.m. at Georgia State University’s College of Education (30 Pryor St., Atlanta).

At this free community event, participants will engage in dialogue about the legislation, hear from “virtual keynote guests” via webcast (including author Jeff Biggers and Tucson teachers and students), and work in small break-out sessions to plan curriculum, discuss the censored texts, and plan legislative action. Free lunch and materials will be provided. Event coordinators include faculty and students from Georgia State, Emory University, Clayton State, Kennesaw State, and Georgia Gwinnett; teachers from local districts; and members of community groups focused on education. More information can be found on our Facebook page.

Along with further dialogue about censorship, academic freedom, and multicultural education, we hope this first event can help ensure that Georgia schools remain safe and inclusive places for all students to learn in ways that honor their voices, share their histories, and encourage them to be change agents for social justice.

(For more information on the ban, check out these responses from writer Jeff Biggers, Rethinking Schools editor Bob Peterson, and Tucson teacher Curtis Acosta. Also see this coverage from Democracy Now and the resolution from the American Library Association.)

–From Maureen Downey, for the AJC Get Schooled blog

88 comments Add your comment

HS Public Teacher

January 30th, 2012
10:49 am

I agree that this is a very vauge law. If someone wanted to, they could prohibit the teaching of many courses and many subjects based on this law as written. It can go too far!

cris

January 30th, 2012
10:53 am

Germany in the early ’30’s anyone? Bad economy, blame it on “undesirables”, banish “lesser” cultures? Couldn’t happen here, could it?

say what?

January 30th, 2012
10:56 am

This law seems to have the -isms covered, racism, sexism, ageism, all bundled in one. anything not sanitized by politicians and their appointed officials will not be taught. Sadly this law encourages disrespect of persons and groups of people.

ProfessorMom

January 30th, 2012
11:05 am

There’s never been a bigger boost to book sales than banning a book. Go out and buy your copies today! Read them for yourselves and THEN decide what’s fair and reasonable. That’s is, of course, what learning is all about, no? The State has no right to censor literature and learning.

What’s amazing to me is that this the political RIGHT–the same group that wants to limit government interference in business–want to flex government in every other aspect of our lives. I just don’t get it!?!

Kara

January 30th, 2012
11:08 am

Very relevant, important, and timely for Georgians to work together to prevent such a censorship here! Especially in light of the movement by some in TN to censor any acknowledgment of the founding fathers and slavery! I am looking forward to this event on the 4th! Collectives versus individuals working together are necessary in this day and age of fear and accountability in education.

ProfessorMom

January 30th, 2012
11:09 am

[...] background-position: 50% 0px; background-color:#222222; background-repeat : no-repeat; } blogs.ajc.com – Today, 11:09 [...]

Good Mother

January 30th, 2012
11:12 am

If we implemented this ban in Georgia we wouldn’t be able to teach any history at all.

For example, the provision that studies cannot be taught that ” promotes resentment toward a race or class of people”

History is all about the opression of people and each group of oppressed people will likely feel some resentment. Those groups include absolutely everyone except rich, white men. Women, Jews, blacks, the handicapped, Native Americans all have a history of being oppressed in the United States. If we do not teach anything that might make someone feel resentful, then we cannot teach any history at all.

I understand the problems that ethnic competition creates in a school but certainly banning history is not going to solve that. I mean, if we tried to erase the “bad” parts of history in Georgia, we might have teachers making up silly questions on tests such as “How many slaves does it take to pick 56 oranges off a tree…” oh wait….

skipper

January 30th, 2012
11:13 am

Ethnic studies…….basically courses wedged in by the left not to give a voice to minorities or the oppressed but in fact to serve as a sounding board for teachers to make folks feel guilty. (Most who write on this probably never had the “pleasure” of taking one of these classes!) Next thing you know, the Left-handed One-Eyed Ethiopian Co-Pilots Association will lodge a complaint that they have been mis-handled historically…………

bobmatthews

January 30th, 2012
11:29 am

Include all cultures in a broad class,include language history and foods ,politics should be as part of history!

Zari

January 30th, 2012
11:29 am

Thank you for writing about this critical issue! I am appalled and outraged that this legislation was passed in Arizona and very afraid that the same could happen here in Georgia. As a former middle school history teacher and current graduate student in education, I plan on attending the Teach In at GSU to find out more about how this happened and how I can take steps to prevent it from being repeated here.

Warrior Woman

January 30th, 2012
11:33 am

@skipper – You are so right!

Look at the material being taught, the cost of the class, and the number of students benefitting. According to the superintendent of public instruction, the course served less than 1% of TUSD’s student body. TUSD school board member Miguel Cuevas noted there was no evidence the course had any curriculum. Participants in the class had no improvement in education outcomes over those in standard social studies classes. There have been complaints that the course was biased, in conflict with historical fact, gave class credits for participating in protests, and taught reconquista. None of these are appropriate in a high school classroom.

Beverly Fraud

January 30th, 2012
11:34 am

From: Arizona Dept. of Education
To: Arizona educators

Please note,

The new curriculum, in its entirety will consist of students singing Lee Greenwood’s “God Bless the USA” from opening bell to closing bell, with breaks twice a day to recite the Pledge of Allegiance.

Ashley

January 30th, 2012
11:37 am

If we erase the bad parts of history , they would only question marks left. Every culture and diverse society has good parts and bad parts, if we learn about the horrors of history through the annuals of time, we can prevent them from re-occuring. It would appear the state of Arizona wants everyone to wear rose-colored glasses. I guess the state of Arizona would also ban parts of the Bible…..since violence and oppression happens in that book also. The gov’t trying to control the freedom of thought, sounds very totalitarian.

ProfessorMom

January 30th, 2012
11:37 am

Skipper…if you read more about the issue in AZ, it’s not the “left” that heads up ethnic studies courses. It’s most often members of those ethnic groups. Even the state dept. has a director of ethnic studies who is Chicana. So be careful when you make generalizations…you may just sound stupid.

WAR

January 30th, 2012
11:39 am

so arizona has decided to only teach math and science courses? if you read this law this could mean no US history, world history, American lit, world lit, and social studies. only in arizona where you can feel threatened by a president of your own country. im not surprised.

ProfessorMom

January 30th, 2012
11:39 am

Warrior Woman, the study that the AZ board member spoke about was conducted by a for-profit company that was hired to do the study by that same AZ board member. It was biased from the beginning.

Ashley

January 30th, 2012
11:40 am

I should have said , there would only be question marks left.

Pluto

January 30th, 2012
11:40 am

Dang and I thought diversity was gonna make us stronger. I am still having trouble understanding that one, someone help. Yep it looks like the lawyers are going to make a little money on this one alright. Does this mean Black History Month is history?

WAR

January 30th, 2012
11:41 am

warrior woman

please note that every course does not have a curriculum. just thought you should know that.

WAR

January 30th, 2012
11:43 am

skipper

who in the he!! are the Left-handed One-Eyed Ethiopian Co-Pilots Association and why are they allowed to fly planes?!?! everyone should file a complaint with the faa, tsa, and any other authority who can get these people out the cockpit.

WAR

January 30th, 2012
11:44 am

skipper

who are the Left-handed One-Eyed Ethiopian Co-Pilots Association and why are they allowed to fly planes?

WAR

January 30th, 2012
11:46 am

pluto

nope. black history month was not created by the left, democrats, or unions. its not a federal mandate either. be careful with this one and research the origin. trust me.

Mountain Man

January 30th, 2012
11:46 am

Now maybe they could pass a law saying it is wrong to profile people based on their skin color.

WAR

January 30th, 2012
11:48 am

i profile my neighbor every time she goes to the mailbox.

WAR

January 30th, 2012
11:56 am

i understand now why georgia ranks in the cess pool bottom of education. we are under the impression that if we dont talk about our differences and the effects our history has on us now, we will somehow live a kumbaya life void of color, racism, prejudice, discrimination… but its our differences and history of this great nation that makes us who we are. its the controversy in the books that create the needed dialogue to discuss things that embarrass us, unite us, and sometimes makes us. the dialogue usually begins in the home and carries over into the classroom. its not always done perfectly, but it must be done. thats what makes us Americans.

Old Time Educator

January 30th, 2012
12:14 pm

Way too vague! I can see it now – all physical education and health classes canceled because those in less than perfect shape are looked down upon by the jogging, vegan, low carb / low fat / no sugar population. In fact, as the law reads just about any class could have those that are “resented” or “looked down upon.” A lot of money will be wasted getting this over turned.

OTE

Atlanta Mom

January 30th, 2012
12:18 pm

The new Arizona law prohibits instruction that:
a) promotes the overthrow of the United States Government—sounds to me that I better not teach about the American revolution—some students might get the wrong idea
c) is designed primarily for people of a particular ethnic group –better not teach about the exploration of America—that’s all about white European history

skipper

January 30th, 2012
12:23 pm

@ProfessorMom

Nobody said anything about heading it up….I said wedging it in. Apparantly you are (or may be) a teacher. I come from a family of educators and you can cover history accurately without having total courses that are “taught” (if I may) from some strange perspective. Yes, I realize that in the past some things were tilted and wrong. However, having a class that often is TOTALLY a whitewashing of the good AND bad that has happened so that a particular group can over-emphasize their importance is probably why we as a nation are falling behind. Other nations (those pulling ahead of us) are concentrating on what it takes to get ahead.

Charles Mazaira Sotelo

January 30th, 2012
12:26 pm

Please understand and don’t underestimate what is happening in Arizona. Former School Superintendent Tome Horne was (and still is as Attorney General) part of the extreme right wing of the Republican Party that has a choke hold on Arizona Politics. Newly elected School Superintendent Mr. Huppenthal is a hand picked crony of Mr. Horne and will continue the assault on the Hispanic population, including our children attending Arizona schools as house bill 2281 banned ethnic studies from TUSD. Just look at the politics of former Senator Pearce (lost in recall election in 2011, first time that has happened in Arizona in 100 years) for his extreme far right politics and author of SB1070. I’m sure everybody has seen Governor Brewer finger pointing in President Obama’s face recently, she along with the rest of our extreme far right Legislators can’t seem to find enough ways to continue their attacks on the Hispanic community. They seem to always find a way to blame illegal immigration as their smoke and screen for their continued attacks but the majority of our Arizona population is seeing the light and we will, with the gratitude of the Nation, rid ourselves of these extremists come the next election. We need to unite not divide in these difficult times!

Not Blind

January 30th, 2012
12:27 pm

Should public schools be teaching race centric classes ? Something is wrong when the whole class is made up a mostly one ethnic group. Sounds to me that the Arizona law is addressing a real problem. It’s way too easy for someone with a bad agenda to take advantage of race based ‘courses’. You also need to be sure that ‘history’ books are fact based and not bias based.

Not Blind

January 30th, 2012
12:45 pm

@Sotelo- It will definitely be interesting to see how history books of the future deal with the country’s illegal alien debacle. Illegal immigration and the misapplied or misguided birthright citizenship clause have enabled the hispanic community to illicitly gain numbers and therefore political clout far beyond that which they would gained via legal means.

Pluto

January 30th, 2012
12:47 pm

@ CM Sotelo Glad to see you come from an objective and sound point of view. I don’t think you could have used extreme or far right or wingnuts anymore and kept your objectivity. I think ALL politicians have had their hands in the sausage making process which has resulted in the state of our education system we now face. Get off your high horse.

skipper

January 30th, 2012
12:52 pm

At Sotelo,
You don’t have to be a far-right hater to want LEGAL immigration! Mexico has tougher laws than us on immigration! Go through the normal processes, and quit trying to politically-correctly excuse bad behavior! Border States like Arizona of course catch the h#ll and will react……they are having to DIRECTLY deal with the problem that the feds have refused to do! You got any solutions except for using the hate-bait card as an excuse for illegal behaviour?

Ivan Cohen

January 30th, 2012
12:57 pm

History books: fact based and not bias based. Stop right there! Just who would happen to be providing these “facts”? Something is wrong when minorities be they Black, Latino or Asian have to acquire the mindset and values of the White Anglo-Saxon Protestants. Oh yeah, there they are in their respective neighborhoods, the Black, Latino and Asian “Dick and Jane”. See all of them have a dog named Spot. Arizona is definitely becoming known as a “trendsetter”. That designation used to belong to California.

To Not Blind from GM

January 30th, 2012
1:00 pm

To Not Blind you say “Should public schools be teaching race centric classes ? Something is wrong when the whole class is made up a mostly one ethnic group”

Consider this: I remember being in elementary school and learning State history. It was written completely from the perspective of the Europeans. The history of the state began when the Europeans settled or invaded (depends on your perspective) what is now the United States.

Even back then I wondered why they called the “Baton Rouge” Indians the quote “hostile red sticks.” Even as a fifth grader I thought well, of course, they’re hostile. Someone is coming over and hurting them and stealing from them.

If the history was written from the perspective of the native people of America the history would have started much earlier. My state history “began” when Europeans settled/invaded North America. That’s not accurate. There were people here before the Europeans.

History texts often have a particular view point — the European view point, which means, white man history.

By contrast, in college we had humanities electives known as “North American Indians” which is told from the view point of the North American Indian. Their story is different and doesn’t “start” when the Europeans settled/invaded North America.

This kind of point of view is also evident even in shows about animals. Listen carefully as the story of a particular animal is often told from the view point of the male animal. You’ll often hear the narrator say things like “In order to attract a mate the male peacock will spread his feathers to demonstrate how beautiful he is and so on…

You rarely ever hear the story from the female point of view such as “the pea hen chooses the best mate so that her chicks have the best chance for survival. She looks at the male with the prettiest feathers…and so on.

Most history is taught from the Western European male point of view. We need history and literature taught from other points of view to promote understanding and tolerance and harmony. Banning a book or banning a study does not help to promote ethnic and racial harmony. It has the opposite effect. We have to live together and we have to interact. We might has well do it peacefully and happily or we’ll just end up like those in the Middle East, always at war killing one another.

Inman Park Boy

January 30th, 2012
1:03 pm

Does anyone really suppose that a teacher’s personal first amendment free speech rights allow him/her to say ANYTHING they may wish in a classroom? What utter nonesense.

Dumb and Dumber

January 30th, 2012
1:05 pm

This way Arizona school-children cannot be taught about their own legislature’s anti-Mexican immigration laws. Sure wouldn’t want the “little pitchers” learning about that…they might not take the legislature too seriously…..

Not Blind

January 30th, 2012
1:07 pm

Ivan, Public schools should not have a variety of history courses that are aimed at different races. Every student should get the same course regardless of their race/ethniticity. If any student wants to delve into a more deeper [ or more race centric ] study of history they should be doing it on their own time. Too many authors, educators, pundits or whoever want to revise history to suit their own agendas.

skipper

January 30th, 2012
1:11 pm

Well, Ivan, if they named the dog Rodriguez they’d be branded racist hate-mongers. The same as if it was Rashaad or Ling-Ling. Those are hard facts! “Yo quiero Taco-Bell” even got trashed. Most illegal hispanics have an accent or do not speak English much at all (I said illegals) so I suppose this was a blow to them? The white community don’t rise up against stereotyping by Larry the Cable Guy or Jeff Foxworthy; just go with it and get a life. If someone speaks ghetto, its racist; Hispanic accent racist/biased…. what are Dick and Jane to do? If they try your suggestion the author will be sued! If we quit getting so prickly about it and keep things legal, they’ll work out!

Not Blind

January 30th, 2012
1:12 pm

Dumb, kids get far too much exposure to bias from their families they should not be getting it from their school teachers or the curriculum.

misterbill

January 30th, 2012
1:25 pm

“We believe that classes like this often provide students with their only glimpse into the history of their people. ”

Gee, I don’t see classes that teach the history of the Irish Rebellion or Italian or French history that lock the children in to an educational; environment that encourages isolation from American citizens.

I studied American history in my day. My parents did also and they were the children of immigrants. Their parents came here legally via Ellis Island and my grandfather had enough proficiency in the English language to become a part of America almost instantly.

No one set up classes in Italian history, so my aunts and uncles were not , educationally, segregated from Americans students. Their country and their heritage did not get taught to them at the expense of American students and citizens.

The undocumented students are here illegally-they need to go. The costs they impose upon Americans is significant. There are many teachers who look at them and want to , because of the generous nature of teachers, do everything for them.

That “everything” you give the undocumented comes from the pool of everything that belongs to Americans and you short change the American students. If you go to Mexico, you will not find the schools setting up special classes to teach the history of foreign countries for those who do not come from Mexico.

In sum, you take American money from hard pressed economic times and spend it in helping children to grow up to be reconquistas.

milootoole

January 30th, 2012
1:32 pm

Ivan-

Do you suppose that in Russia (or any other country, for that matter), they have teachers who extol the customs of foreign countries? Do you suppose any country in the world teaches the history of other countries as a daily function of the students in their schools?

I suppose in Armenia , they have a grand time teaching Turkish students Turkish culture.

You exhibit a global attitude.

skipper

January 30th, 2012
1:33 pm

@misterbill;
Well said!

milootoole

January 30th, 2012
1:43 pm

Maureen,
I usually agree with you and find you to be an open minded person o matters educational. In this issue, I completely disagree. There are many things in the article that I challenge. I will pick one:
“Education about multiculturalism combats exactly the type of fear and divisiveness that they are spreading with the ban.”

Multi-culturism is divisive. It defeats love of country, invites people to isolate themselves from others and destroys the union of American spirit. IT IS NOT THE JOB OF PUBLIC SCHOOL TO TEACH MULTI-CULTURISM. They should teach the three “R”s.

Further, the schools have challenged religious freedom for American children, yet turn around and try to elevate multi-culturism as a lofty goal. Why is teaching some other countries culture in a public school any different from teaching Islam, Bahia, Mormon or Catholicism??

Keep the political aspirations out of our children’s classrooms and improve their readin’ riting, and ‘rithmetic. We will have a better educated group of children when they complete elhi.

Nat Turner

January 30th, 2012
1:56 pm

And Skipper, history is always taught from a white perspective. I took history classes, and the only time that blacks were brought up was during slavery and in the 1960s. Martin Luther King being one of them. The rest of the time, it was about white people.

It must be nice to live in a world where you only get uncomfortable when another race is taught about their contributions to the building of the United States. As a matter of fact, the only time the Chinese were mentioned was when they came to build the railroads in the West. That was maybe a paragraph or two.

Multiculturalism and these ideas will never take off. Some white person will always state that they are being slighted because the class is taking too much time talking about latino history or too much time talking about blacks.

practicalperson

January 30th, 2012
2:10 pm

“We believe that classes like this often provide students with their only glimpse into the history of their people. ”

Gee, I don’t see classes that teach the history of the Irish Rebellion or Italian or French history that lock the children in to an educational; environment that encourages isolation from American citizens.

I studied American history in my day. My parents did also and they were the children of immigrants. Their parents came here legally via Ellis Island and my grandfather had enough proficiency in the English language to become a part of America almost instantly.

No one set up classes in Italian history, so my aunts and uncles were not , educationally, segregated from Americans students. Their country and their heritage did not get taught to them at the expense of American students and citizens.

The undocumented students are here illegally-they need to go. The costs they impose upon Americans is significant. There are many teachers who look at them and want to , because of the generous nature of teachers, do everything for them.

That “everything” you give the undocumented comes from the pool of everything that belongs to Americans and you short change the American students. If you go to Mexico, you will not find the schools setting up special classes to teach the history of foreign countries for those who do not come from Mexico.

In sum, you take American money from hard pressed economic times and spend it in helping children to grow up to be reconquistas.

practicalperson

January 30th, 2012
2:11 pm

Sorry, I meant to only copy one sentence from that other post____ from MisterBill..

I wound up making a duplicate…

Professor and Mom

January 30th, 2012
2:17 pm

milootoole, I’ve taught lots of kids about the value of the U.S. BECAUSE it IS multi-cultural. And I’ve taught about the value of different ethnic, religious, and demographic groups BECAUSE they are human. Those the kinds of understandings are essential to good character, respect for others, and a democratic nation. That’s what multi-cultural education is all about.

I don’t think it’s possible to teach “readin’ riting, and ‘rithmetic” (as you put it) in a vacuum. Kids are smart. They’ll quickly ask questions like, reading what? (why can’t we read banned books?) writing for whom? (why can’t we write about that group of people?). Arizona is limiting children’s opportunity to engage in these critical discussions.

If we are preparing children to live in our country, we better prepare them to live with the people of our country–ALL of them! Not just the powerful elite that currently write the textbooks and own the testing corporations! I’m trying to teach kids to be critical consumers of learning through their reading, writing, and math–not just consumers…

St Simons - codewords are the new black

January 30th, 2012
2:20 pm

1) can’t teach socialism to the minorities – got it – clever disguise batman