“Why Arizona’s Ethnic Studies Ban Won’t Ban Ethnic Studies”

by David Safier

Nicholas B. Lundholm, a J.D. Candidate at University of Arizona's James E. Rogers College of Law, has published a 40 page discussion paper on the Ethnic Studies program, "Cutting Class: Why Arizona’s Ethnic Studies Ban Won’t Ban Ethnic Studies." You can download the paper by going to this page and clicking "Download" under the paper's title near the bottom of the page.

The paper is long and complex, and it goes over a lot of ground I'm familiar with. Truth be told, I only skimmed it. But one thing I picked up on was Lundholm's discussion of the four prohibitions in § 15-112. The law states, any class which violates any of the prohibitions cannot be taught in an Arizona public school. I'm not going to try and recreate Lundholm's logic directly. Instead, here is what his ideas suggest to me.

One of the prohibitions is that you can't:

"Advocate ethnic solidarity instead of treatment of pupils as individuals."

Why is advocating ethnic solidarity antithetical to treating pupils as individuals? Doesn't patriotism, which we teach aplenty in school and promote every morning with the Pledge of Allegiance, promote national solidarity? Unless advocating national solidarity (We are Americans and proud of it!) is contrary to treating pupils as individuals, advocating ethnic solidarity isn't either. It's a false dichotomy.

Another prohibition is that you can't:

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

Does this refer to resentment towards groups in the present or in the past? Lots of history lessons promote resentment toward a class or a race (whatever "race" means) of people — slave owners, for instance, or whites in America in general who were prejudiced against blacks and Hispanics in the past, not to mention Germans during World War II — based on behavior at earlier times, and teaching about those historical periods appears to be acceptable. Unless the curriculum of Ethnic Studies teaches that its students should resent whites as a race today, teaching the history of a time when Hispanics were overtly and generally oppressed in this country is simply teaching history. Just as I always felt waves of anger and resentment as a Jew when I was taught about the Inquisition or the Holocaust, I would expect students learning about mistreatment of earlier members of their ethnic group to feel anger and resentment toward those who mistreated them.

Another prohibition is that you can't:

"Promote the overthrow of the United States government."

That's so ridiculous as a description of Mexican American Studies, it barely deserves comment. The only people today who are actively promoting the overthrow of the U.S. government are members of the extreme right wing, including those Republican politicians who agree with them and/or pander to them.

The final prohibition is against classes that:

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

I would ask, if a high school had a course titled, "History of France," "History of China" or "European Literature,"  would classes like that have to be prohibited as well because they would probably be more attractive to French-Americans or Chinese-Americans or Euro-Americans? I doubt if anyone would raise an eyebrow if any of those classes were offered. Unless non-Hispanic students are discouraged or prohibited from taking Mexican American Studies courses, the fact that Hispanics are more attracted to those courses than people of other ethnicities is irrelevant.

We'll see how the legal battle over § 15-112 plays out. I think a fair-minded judge should come to the conclusion that Mexican American Studies courses don't violate any of the law's prohibitions. The judge could even rule the law itself is too vague to stand and should be wiped off the books.

0 responses to ““Why Arizona’s Ethnic Studies Ban Won’t Ban Ethnic Studies”

  1. David Safier

    Richard, thanks for the commentary. A point and a question:

    Huppenthal has made the distinction that ethnic studies at the college level may be appropriate, but those courses can give the wrong idea to innocent high school minds. So arguing for the value of those courses at the college level doesn’t faze those who object to the MAS program.

    My question, which you may know the answer to, since you were there, is something I’ve wondered about ever since I heard the question asked on quiz shows in the 50s and 60s: Who is buried in Grant’s tomb?

  2. I read Mr. Lundholm’s paper, and it’s a brilliant piece of work, most impressive coming from a J.D. candidate. (I’ve been a faculty member and administrator in law schools, and I could only wish more students had his abilities. I hope one day he will be a law professor.)

    It’s hard to see how anyone could quarrel with his predictions, given the ambiguity of the statute’s language. It’s clear to me that enforcing the law — that is, banning any particular program — really requires intensive monitoring of individual teachers’ class sessions.

    Surely the bill could not have been meant to outlaw Friere’s “Pedagogy of the Oppressed,” which is by now a classic if not old hat. (I read it on my own a long time ago, and then in a graduate class at Teachers College, Columbia University, that had nothing to do with anything ethnic or historical.)

    I *did* take a high school class in Latin American History in my Brooklyn, NY, high school in the spring of 1968, forty-three years ago, and I suspect some of the sources in the other volume covered by La Raza Studies were ones that were used in our class. (Incidentally, I doubt any of the students in that class was Hispanic — not that we used the term back in those days.)

    And at the public college I attended in the late ’60s and early ’70s, we definitely had ethnic studies departments that presumably fostered ethnic pride. I took an Afro-American [sic] Studies class (Afro-American Literature I, from colonial times to World War I), which fulfilled both a general education requirement and a requirement of my political science major. The two other ethnic studies departments were Judaic Studies and Puerto Rican Studies, and as a student member of the faculty council curriculum committee, I remember approving new electives in those subjects, such as “Music of the Puerto Rican People.” I can’t imagine any of the curriculum there would fall under the prohibitions of this statute.

    Indeed, it’s hard to imagine this statute prohibiting much of anything that actually occurs in an Arizona classroom. By necessity, its exceptions swallow its rule.

    BTW, I was especially interested the author’s noting that both Lincoln and Grant opposed the Mexican War. Last evening I was at the General Grant National Monument (Grant’s Tomb) on a special tour, and the National Park Service ranger, speaking about Grant’s life, noted that while he received medals for his distinguished service in the Mexican War, Grant opposed the action as a larger, stronger power trying to control a smaller, weaker one and as an assault on Mexican sovereignty. Would teaching this run afoul of the statute in that learning about the views of General Grant could stir up ethnic resentment?