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Texas Ethnic Studies Bill Protested By Latino Activists

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TEXAS ETHNIC STUDIES
Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, left, talks with Senate Education Committee Chairman Sen. Dan Patrick before speaking at the Senate Education Committee meeting at the Capitol in Austin, on Wednesday Feb. 27, 2013. Bush urged Texas to swing for the fences when overhauling public education, telling state senators Wednesday that he was able to transform foundering schools in his home state with big, if often unpopular, ideas. (AP Photo/Austin American-Statesman, Jay Janner) | AP/File

Texas has become the next battleground over ethnic studies.

Latino activists are protesting a bill filed by Conservative state Sen. Dan Patrick that would disqualify ethnic studies courses from counting toward core history requirements. SB 1128 would instead require students to take general surveys of U.S. and Texas history in order to graduate.

Opponents of the law have likened the Texas measure to an Arizona law used to dismantle a controversial Mexican American Studies program in Tucson.

“We’re here to snuff out Dan Patrick’s SB 1128,” Tony Diaz, also known as “El Librotraficante,” told HuffPost Live last week from the Texas legislature, where he was lobbying against the bill. “We’ve learned from our brothers and sisters in Arizona how hard it is to get a law off the books, so we’re here to nip it in the bud.”

Watch Tony Diaz's appearance on HuffPost Live. Article continues below the video.

Patrick told the Houston Press that he didn’t intend the law to target ethnic studies, but rather to preserve the intent of the original law, passed in 1955.

"We have passed legislation in the past that required, under law, that students should learn broad comprehensive history of our country," Patrick told Hair Balls. "But it would appear that this legislation's being circumvented."

Patrick, a talk radio host, heads the state's Senate Education Committee, where he has made a push to expand charter schools and offer vouchers for students who want to attend private school. He has backed measures in Texas modeled on Arizona’s controversial crackdown on illegal immigration, SB 1070.

Texas is 38 percent Latino, according to the Pew Hispanic Center. The University of Texas boasts a Center for Mexican American Studies and one of the largest Latin American library collections in the world.

But conservative-dominated Texas isn’t the most hospitable state when it comes to multicultural studies. The state GOP’s platform for 2012 opposes multicultural curricula on the grounds that they are “divisive.” The document also opposes critical thinking.

Activists point to a recent report by the National Association of Scholars as the inspiration behind the Texas law. The report criticizes Texas universities for offering what it views as too many classes focusing on race, gender and class, rather than military and intellectual history.

The paper gives 10 recommendations to educators -- among them, to “evaluate conformity with laws.” The authors encourage other states to enact laws similar to one in Texas requiring students to take two U.S. history courses, and says “better accountability is needed to ensure that colleges’ teaching lines up with legal provisions.”

University of Washington anthropologist Devon Peña, who earned his PhD from the University of Texas at Austin, slammed the bill in an article posted to Arizona activist blog Three Sonorans.

The irony, of course, is that when the Euro-American experience is normalized to be the “comprehensive” experience, that results in the privileging of the narrow views and experiences of a specific ethnic and racial group (whites) whose experiences are misrepresented as the one true measure of the history of the nation or the state. I guess the white male legislators didn’t think of that.

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