Tom Horne, Arizona superintendent of education, was reportedly offended that Dolores Huerta allegedly told Tucson High students that Republicans hated Latinos. So he made it his mission to erase history.
Horne got his way two days ago when Governor Jan "George Wallace" Brewer signed HB 2281, a bill that intends to ban ethnic studies. Never mind that the bill is so stupidly written that it is legally suspect.
The bill will prohibit any course of instruction that will supposedly do the following:
1. PROMOTE THE OVERTHROW OF THE UNITED STATES GOVERNMENT.
2. PROMOTE RESENTMENT TOWARD A RACE OR CLASS OF PEOPLE.
3. ARE DESIGNED PRIMARILY FOR PUPILS OF A PARTICULAR ETHNIC GROUP.
4. ADVOCATE ETHNIC SOLIDARITY INSTEAD OF THE TREATMENT OF PUPILS AS INDIVIDUALS.
By these standards, most American History courses that Horne would prefer could be thrown out on the grounds they are designed for white conservatives, ignore the accomplishments of individual non-whites (like, say, Martin Luther King, Jr.?), advocate the solidarity of some whites, and make the rest of the kids -- whatever their color -- resentful of rich, racist whites.
Horne says he decided to pursue this ban because of Huerta's speech, which was supported by Tucson Unified's Raza Studies program. But even this story is to be doubted -- because he apparently doesn't take to facts to well. He once referred to Dolores Huerta as Cesar Chavez's ex-girlfriend. Good work on knowing anything about the history you'd like to ban.
In fact, a day after the bill was signed, he was set to meet with school officials in Tucson about the ethnic studies programs there that he has already demonized for three years. Great time to try to find out exactly what is being taught.
Instead, students walked out of school to protest the bill's passage.
All of this says a lot about Arizona Republicans these days, doesn't it? Never do the policy research when the poll research will do.
You see, Horne is running for the Republican nomination as attorney general. The ethnic studies ban is, in all likelihood, the last policy "work" he will have done. The other, of course, is his outright ban on English teachers who speak with "bad" accents; read: Latino and Asian, not Australian or Russian.
Horne is stepping down from his Superintendent post soon to run full-time. Brewer, too, is a short-timer. She was appointed to fill Janet Napolitano's seat and is up against a crowded primary election in August. Yup, elections have brought on fear and loathing season in Arizona.
So what do Arizonans get? Racial profiling and de facto apartheid. Education for the 19th Century. Official accent discrimination.
With HB 2281, Horne and Brewer have not even pretended to do anything that is pedagogically useful. In the name of fighting "chauvinism", they have not even pretended to welcome reasoned debate -- as the right does, say, on climate change or evolution. They instead have voted to suppress histories. That's not fighting chauvinism, that's promoting ignorance.
The parallel here is the American Indian experience in the 1800s. In addition to being forced from their native lands, Indians were pushed into "Americanization" programs. Mexican Americans in the Southwest -- not to mention and Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders in Hawai'i and the West -- have similar histories to tell.
Ethnic studies programs, at their best, have kept these stories alive, have serve as a wellspring for new narratives of America. They are the reason the history the U.S. tells about itself is much more plural than it was in decades past.
Cultural conflicts are about erasing bodies and memory. One side would like to pretend that change never happened. The other is the change struggling to be made.
Politics is where it all goes down.
If there is any kind of upside to this story, it is that progressives may be re-energized to react. After record voter turnouts for youth, communities of color and progressives in 2008, the last two years have mostly seen a reversion to the disenchantment that had characterized the previous 16 years. The results have been big electoral losses for progressives.
Of course, Arizona is still a predominantly white and Red state. Latinos are only about 12% of the electorate, although they make up 20% of potential voters. But they can become an important bloc in the elections this year. Add in pro-immigrant and pro-diversity voters and it's clear: time and demography are just not on Brewer and Horne's side.
In addition to honoring progressive boycotts of Arizona, supporters of immigrants and diversity should bring the kind of energy, resources, and capital to Arizona's statewide elections this summer and fall that they brought to the presidential election in 2008.