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The other Arizona battle: A new law makes ethnic studies classes illegal

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Arizona’s HB 2281 was the brainchild of Tom Horne, the state superintendant, who apparently doesn’t like the Mexican-American studies program offered by the Tucson Unified School District (TUSD). He says that it promotes “ethnic chauvinism” and “divides students by race.”

TUSD’s Mexican-American studies program is in fact open to all students. Unfortunately HB 2281 is all about politics, not education, and Arizona’s students are the losers in this cynical game.

Furthermore, I doubt that anyone is teaching kids in grades K-12 to overthrow the US government. To be sure, I checked the website of the Tucson Unified School District. Nope, nothing about overthrowing the US government there.

While HB 2281 includes an exemption for the Holocaust, it makes it illegal to promote class resentment of any race or class of people. So how are teachers supposed to instruct African-American students about slavery? Or Asian-American students about the internment camps? Many great authors, including Dickens, Wharton, and Dostoyevsky, delve deeply into themes of class resentment. Does teaching them add up to “promoting race resentment?” Are their books to be stricken from curriculums in the Grand Canyon State?

HB 2281 has already led to storm of controversy. Everyone from United Nations Human Rights experts to Latino civic groups to students in Tucson have condemned it as misguided, discriminatory, and unfair.

I might be inclined to view Mr. Horne’s concerns as legitimate if he had ever actually sat in on a Mexican-American studies course – something he acknowledged to The New York Times that he has not done. Alternatively, if Horne is dissatisfied with Mexican-American studies in the TUSD, why not reform the program, rather than outlawing it? Why not commission an independent review of the curriculum?

I also question Governor Brewer’s motives. According to the National Education Association, Arizona ranks 50th in expenditure per pupil in grades K-12.

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