On May 11, Arizona Governor Jan Brewer passed a law that prohibited public schools from teaching ethnic studies to students. The ban will be enacted on Jan. 1st next year. To elaborate more on the issue, USF held a teach-in last Thursday discussing Arizona’s law.
The purpose of the bill is to “prohibit public schools from including courses or classes, which promote the overthrow of the U.S. Government.” Though the term “ethnic studies” is not clearly defined in the legislation, Professor Evelyn Rodriguez of the Sociology Department said it is clear that the Arizona lawmakers are targeting Mexican immigrants.
Philosophy Professor Ronald Sundstrom provided context to proponents of the ban.
Although he does not agree with opposition, Sundstrom recognized that the law encourages solidarity amongst individual racial groups. In the past solidarity has proved to be beneficial. A prime example was when black solidarity made way for the end to Jim Crow laws, making African-Americans first-class citizens.
Those who support the banning of ethnic classes in Arizona have also said that such classes would “encourage students to engage in revolutionary activity.”
Despite the ban, the number of students enrolled in ethnic studies classes has doubled to 1400.
Ethnic studies courses bring groups into conversation with one another. Diverse voices can tell America’s story and in turn promote visions for a better world, said Professor Stephanie Sears.
According to Professor Rodriguez, lawmakers think that Ethnic Studies is not scholarly, but only activism. On the contrary these goals do not threaten the U.S. Government.
To provide context on what ethnic studies is, Professor Rodriguez lead a comprehensive discussion during the teach-in.
Ethnic studies is a product of WWII; it emerged from the new social movement of the 1960s and post-1965 increases in U.S. immigrant populations. From Nov. 6, 1968 until March 20, 1969, students of the Third World Liberation Front of San Francisco State led a strike, urging the university to integrate ethnic studies into the curriculum. A ripple effect began as multiple universities across the nation did the same.
Sociology Professor Stephanie Sears opened the event. Although the legislation may seem absurd, Arizona’s background information illustrates how the state came to draft such a bill.
If such a law passed in Arizona, people question what would happen if California faced a similar situation. Media Studies Professor Susana Kaiser said people ought to put themselves in the shoes of Arizona public school students.
At USF, there is an array of courses reflective of the diverse student population. If federal law mandated a ban of ethnic studies, students would only be learning one perspective of the United States as opposed to multiple; by taking action now such a reality can be avoided.
The vagueness of the legislation has brought the ban into question.
Studying race is not racist because in reality, Professor Sundstrom said the history of the US in textbooks is ethnic studies in itself. Giving Arizona the right to the ban only gives the state more power to pass unjust laws in the future.
George Orwell said, “Who controls the past controls the future. Who controls the present controls the past.” In retrospect, the next step is be active on what the future holds for Arizona’s ethnic studies ban, paying homage to racial issues.
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