The last few days, my Twitter stream has lit up with justified outrage about the banning of ethnic studies–and related books–in Arizona’s classrooms. What has especially made news is the Tucson Unified School District’s seizure of the banned books.
Opponents of ethnic studies in Arizona’s schools claim that such curricula “divide [students] by race and teach its group about its own background only,” as the state’s former Superintendent of Public Instruction put it. Yes, teaching ethnic history does have the chance of instilling chauvinism and triumphalism. But so does teaching national history. So does teaching “great white men” history. So does teaching religious history. So does teaching, really, any kind of history.
But ethnic history, and any kind of history of a group or individual, also allows one to see the bigger story through the lens of that particular group or individual. It brings to light past–and present–injustices and triumphs. It instills a sense of history in many students–helping students of that ethnicity understand from whence they came, and helping students of other ethnicities understand from whence their peers came.
Since Tucson originated the Mexican-American studies program that led to the state’s ban, I couldn’t help but wonder–is Tucson’s overreaction a form of protest by the district against the state? Rather than inconspicuously removing books during off-hours, the district removed them in plain sight of students–interestingly, around the time of a holiday celebrating a slain civil rights leader, a holiday that Arizona refused to celebrate for many years.
This is pure speculation on my part. Perhaps it’s wishful thinking. Perhaps, as this Public Radio International story says, the district is mainly worried about losing funding from the state if it doesn’t comply with the vaguely-worded ban. But it does seem something here is up, more than meets the eye. If the district is indeed trying to make a stand by demonstrating to all the fallacy of the state’s law, good for it. If that’s not the case, well, at least the district’s actions have called attention to this significant issue. Hopefully some good will come out of this.