Unraveling the ban on “ethnic studies”

It’s been interesting watching the reaction to Arizona’s new ban on teaching ethnic studies, which comes after  the state signed the toughest bill on immigration into law. With widespread protests over the immigration law ongoing, Republican Gov. Jan Brewer still managed to sign the ban into law last week.

Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer signs bill banning ethnic studies

Human rights experts have opposed the bill, which says schools cannot teach classes designed for students of a particular ethnic group, nor can they teach classes that promote the overthrow of the U.S. government. State Supt. of Public Instruction Tom Horne has said the bill was written to target a Chicano or Mexican-American studies program in the Tucson school district.  Horne, who is running for attorney general, maintains that the classes promoted “a destructive ethnic chauvinism.

School districts could have as much as 10 percent of their state funds withheld each month if they don’t comply with the law.  They can also appeal the mandate, which goes into effect Dec. 31.

Support for Horne’s actions has been hard to find in editorials and in the blogosphere. In San Francisco, columinist Michael Yaki said it bears “the ugly stain of racism.” Valerie Strauss of the The Washington Post’s Answer Sheet calls the move “one small-minded bill that pretends to be about education but is all about politics.”

The Arizona Republic dislikes the ban, but in an editorial expressed deep concerns about the ethnic studies classes that have not been reported elsewhere. The editorial describes a local battle that might be more complicated than it first appears.

The Hechinger Report would like to know a bit more about the types of ethnic studies classes school districts are offering across the U.S.  How are they being taught, and are they worthwhile? Are such classes typically integrated into a larger social studies or history curriculum? Are they worth defending? Are any other communities and school districts protesting these classes and, if so, why?

— Liz Willen

POSTED BY ON May 17, 2010