Arizona lawmakers would have us believe that teaching ethnic studies is code for segregating students, teaching them racism, revolution, and victimization. They have spent the last several years trying to enact a ban on ethnic studies courses in Arizona schools. In May 2010, they passed such a law and the governor signed it. Dos Vatos Productions filmed an entire year of Ethnic Studies classes (an American government and a Latino/a literature course) to find out what really was happening in the classes. Mexican-American students have a national graduation rate of 50%, but students who take the Ethnic Studies courses have a graduation rate of 93% and a college attendance rate of 82%.
The film is called Precious Knowledge and we had a screening at the University of Kentucky Wednesday evening, sponsored by the
I bought a copy of the dvd and am thinking about showing it in my course. It documents such a powerful clash of ideas about race and talking about race. Tom Horne, the superintendant of schools and now Attorney General repeated over and over again that he had marched with
The two major voiced criticisms of the classes where that they were un-American because they criticized the Founding Fathers for being racist and that they used the book Pedagogy of the Oppressed by Paolo Friere, which has footnotes by Lenin, Marx, and Che Guevara (whom one lawmaker called a “thug”), which led to the lawmaker’s presumption that the classes were teaching students to be revolutionaries and telling the students that they are oppressed. One commenter in the newspaper feared that the classes were teaching violence against white students.
According to the clips of the classes that were shown, they seemed very much like college history classes teaching Race, Class, and Gender analysis. It made me wonder if the Arizona lawmakers would go after the University of Arizona or Arizona State next. Matthew Whitaker of ASU has started a new Institute called the “Center for the Study of Race and Democracy.” Just based on the name, a lawmaker drafted a bill challenging the existence of centers–it was clear from the language of the bill that the CSRD was targeted.* Here is the purpose of the center:
The Center for the Study of Race and Democracy serves as a leading interdisciplinary, problem-solving venture committed to engaged scholarship, and informed dialogue involving the topics of race and democracy. The CSRD serves as a hub of scholarly activity at Arizona State University, and a source of expert opinion and professional support on matters of race and democracy at the local, state, national, and international levels. Researchers and practitioners affiliated with the Center are tasked with expanding the study of race and democracy beyond the black/white binary, understanding that race and participatory democracy intersect with gender, class, religion, sexuality, and nationality.
The CSRD facilitates scholarly research and publications, interdisciplinary study, discourse, and debate on cutting-edge issues related to race and democracy, broadly construed. It also provides experiential opportunities for faculty and students to engage in public service through, for example, local, national, and international programs, internships, and fellowships, and the Center administers community service projects that serve underrepresented institutions in the greater metropolitan Phoenix area.
The Center held a Healing Racism Public Dialogue Series. Their forums “bring together academic experts, community leaders, and interested citizens for engaging and productive discussions that encourage critical thinking and positive change.” Dr. Whitaker explained, “you will rarely find a gathering in Arizona that is this diverse.”
The students in Tucson responded to the challenge to their classrooms with demonstrations, pickets, a run between Tucson and Phoenix in 113 degree heat (it’s about 100 miles), and a sit-in at a government building. My thoughts go to education. Horne is a Harvard educated lawyer, who, at least by his rhetoric, believes he is fulfilling
How do we teach the next generation of Tom Horne’s without alienating them? I think we must find a way to teach about the importance of race, without students only hearing political correctness and turning off their ears.
A final note–in the film, one Tucson teacher says that all students are just lazy and uninterested in learning and that is why there is such a low drop out rate. One of the Ethnic Studies teachers, Mr. Gonzalez, contradicted him and said that he had never met a student alienated by learning, but had met many students alienated by school. Per Andrew’s question about contemporary university education, I think we, too, have to find a way not to alienate students by the university, but instead engage them fully in the process (that includes every type of student–Anglo, black, Latino/a, Asian, Indian, men, women, gay, straight). Every semester I learn a little bit more of how to do that. Being heavy handed and didactic is not the best way, but asking questions leaves it up to the students to find their own answers. We have to let them, while still testing them. It is a difficult balance.
In one of the classes, the students repeated together a poem that is the foundation of the Chicano/a civil rights movement every day. Here it is:
Tú eres mi otro yo—you are my other me
Si te hago daño a ti,me hago daño a mí mismo.
If I do harm to you, I do harm to myself.
Sí te amo y respeto,me amo y me respeto yo.”
If I love and respect you, I love and respect myself.**
*This information came from a conversation with Dr. Whitaker. I didn’t find the name of the bill.
**The poem was repeated several times in the film. I found a copy of it here.
***The first photo is from the