Are Certain Types of Ethnic Studies at Arizona Colleges and Universities Really that Menacing and Why?
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What is really happening at some Arizona colleges and universities nowadays? Just come to think of it: the first red flag sign was prohibition to celebrate the Martin Luther King Day. Another step was taken by the Arizona legislators; they initiated an extremely harsh legislation aimed at all persons suspected to be illegal immigrants.
And they strike at the colleges in Az - according to the bill approved and signed by authorities of high schools and university of Arizona they have to reject their students the possibility of taking certain types of ethnic studies (in the first place this initiative strikes the Tucson school district, but nothing stops it from being applied to the rest of Arizona, not only high schools, but the university as well).
As was reported by the Associated Press the legislative initiative that was signed on Tuesday (5/11/2010) is aimed at annihilation of ethnic solidarity propagated by some educational programs at Arizona universities and colleges, including the University of Arizona as well. Those programs were designed primarily for students of a particular race. According to legislators those educational programs might promote resentment toward one or another of ethnic groups. Among the prohibited classes one finds such programs as African-American studies, Mexican-American studies and Native-American studies. Before this recent prohibitive legislative initiative this type of Ethnic Studies was available for students at some colleges in Az, in particular at the Tucson Unified School District (for more details a reader is invited to refer to the original Associated Press article written by Jonathan J. Cooper and dated 5/11/2010). Surely this extreme prohibitive measure had to be justified in some plausible manner and teaching ethnic solidarity was designated as the whipping boy, since, presumably, it might somehow propagate resentment toward ethnic groups different from that under consideration. Tom Horne, the Arizona schools and university chief declared those programs as guilty of so called "ethnic chauvinism." This definition was backed additionally by reports of some students of ethnic group different from the groups at issue: they accused instructors and students of ethnic antagonism directed at students who do not belong to the ethnic group under question.
So, these were the reasons presented to the public as justification of the prohibition of such "ethnic solidarity" courses. But if one takes a closer look at the issue one would have to acknowledge the existence of plenty of reasons on the other side! It should be realized that the putative liabilities are obviously outweighed by an ample number of benefits to students that are provided by Ethnic Studies programs. To understand this notion we have to give the issue a more detailed consideration: in the first place, let us try to see the problem under question from the point of view of the Arizona politicians. But in the first place, to show that my judgment is not biased and I do not hold any hostile feelings against the state of Arizona, its colleges and universities, I would like to make a few remarks of my own.
I have always cherished positive feelings toward the Arizona law enforcement community and the Arizona as a whole; it has always made an impression of a rather decent enough state on me. The natural beauty of Arizona, the picturesque ruggedness of its desert landscapes, the tremendous incomparableness of the Grand Canyon area, which is second to none: The people of Arizona have always seemed friendly and intelligent, I made many friends in Arizona and I even have relatives living there. There was a car accident into which I and my wife happened to be involved and an Arizona State patrolman rendered us valuable assistance in that case, though he had even to got beyond the call of duty to help us! I consider and will continue to consider Arizona a great place and its residents - as most friendly and good natured people. At the same time I might consider taking my passport along when I think about my next trip to Arizona, just to be on the safe side!
Considering lots of the most positive qualities of Arizona State, it is most curios - to say the least - to observe the course of actions that has been adopted by Arizona politicians lately. Let us call a spade a spade, the actions of some of Arizona politicians can be without any exaggeration considered plainly antagonistic toward certain racial and ethnic minorities. Just consider some facts and events: Arizona politicians were strictly against commemoration of the memory of Martin Luther King, the great civil rights leader and fighter. That was an open and doubtless insult to African Americans, as well to all those people who gave their efforts to win the values and achievements of the civil rights movement in the 1960s and 1970s and who sincerely recognize those values. Another escalation of racial hostility happened lately after the approval of legislative initiative requiring that anyone who "appears to be here illegally" should be bound to produce credentials in order to prove that they did not cross the borders of the United States and Mexico illegally. The facts of real drug smuggling at the border with Mexico and police problems with drug cartels were produced as a justification of this new law aimed against ethnic minorities. Can you imagine how many persons will fall under the description of "Appear to be here illegally"? And what ethnic minority group can be the target of this initiative, after all? May be all those northern Europeans and Canadians? Hardly so, even in case they have student or work visas that have become expired. No doubt, in Arizona there are a lot of such persons, just believe my word! But more realistically the target of this legislation can be found among poor people with Mexican or Central American appearance. Just because they are poor working class people with unsuitable exterior and you better believe it.
And if we return to the educational problem of ethnic studies issue, who can explain what could be wrong about Native-American Studies? Why should they be forbidden? Who included various groups of Native-Americans - Navajo, Hopi, Apache and others - who can be found in and around Arizona into the category of undesirables? What have they done? Surely, they have suffered the longest at the hands of the more powerful white invaders, but that happened lots of time ago and obviously was not their fault, was it?
I have never had a chance to benefit from any kind of ethnic study program but I am strongly convinced that learning more about our history and social realities without shying away from the ugly facts of our history and the present time would have been a profitable experience for me altogether. Unfortunately I have never had the privilege of an ethnic studies course of any kind. A did a lot of studying in earlier days, I spent lots of time in all kinds of classes: elementary and secondary schools, military technical training in the U.S. Air Force; then there was a college with all levels of programs and a university in California. I have paid my due to a wide range of technical training, which governmental agencies and private corporations made available to me. But I must confess that none of ethnic studies courses existed in my high school days. So, I am not in position to speak about any ethnically inspired distortion of facts or values in such classes judging by my personal first-hand experience. And when I was at the university the ethnic studies courses had become available but still were not very particular in the curricula of the universities. Besides I was concentrated on obtaining my degree on online bachelor degree programs, so I attended just the courses necessary to achieve it, no time left on any ethnic studies offered.
Though my judgment is not based on my first-hand experience, I have made some research into the issue, I have talked a lot with students, who have taken such courses, and I did some necessary reading into the matter and came to well-grounded conclusion about beneficial influence of such educational programs. I have not come across any allusions to the alleged negative consequences (distortion of history and hostility to the oppressors of past periods of history) from the students of such ethnic minority programs. On the contrary, there is evidence of gaining much educational benefits without any hostile experience on the part of the representatives of the ethnical minority group. Do you really think that it would be beneficial if people are kept ignorant about some gruesome facts of our history, such as inter-ethnic and inter-racial interactions, tensions, oppression of one group by another? The lessons of history should be learnt, and learnt well. And all I heard from other students, of all ethnic backgrounds and races - it was that they were very much interested and grateful for learning about the lessons of history. The same goes strong for Arizona universities and colleges.
The attitude towards educational programs of history and social studies classes in my high school years was as follows: the only important contributors to our great history that really counted were white males (mostly of Europeans descent); history of USA was approached as if everything that happened in the country was decent, noble and worth of extreme admiration. What about my ethnic group? Mexican Americans and other American of Hispanic background virtually did not exist, no mention or remark was made of them. The same was true for African Americans ("Negros," in the 1950s) or of the Native Americans ("Indians," in the 1950s). The acknowledgement of their place and contribution in USA history was simply not acceptable. We were not taught almost a thing about such ugly facts and periods of USA history as oppression of Native Americans, the annihilation of their ancient and original cultures. The true history of slavery, racism, bigotry, oppression of minorities and women was thoroughly neglected. The reason was obvious - the notions of patriotism and good citizenship appeared incompatible with gruesome and often disgusting truths, so the truths were sentenced to oblivion. You say our government and international corporations propagated exploitation and poverty of entire nations beyond our country? Then you happen to be a poor patriot of USA. The educational establishment of those times made believe those things never happened!
It is quite possible that the political establishment of Arizona State is on the go to make an attempt to resurrect that kind of official attitude towards historical education and relationships with ethnical minorities. The true attitude to facts of the invasion of Europeans is destined to clash in the minds of students with the official versions of history. This version sings an anthem to the heroic European explorers; describing in most noble details the exploration of the New World, hardships of discovery, settlement, "civilization," and enduring exploitation. Introduction of ethnic studies threatens to blow up the official version, calling the attention to all unsavory, ugly aspects of American history.
The propagators of the oppressive legislation try to convince the public that Native-American students should be spared the emphasis on the experience of Native Americans since it is not a happy one. That is understandable, since native Indian cultures and civilizations perished under the crushing hand of European settlers. Of course, on the one hand the intention of the Native-American ethnic courses might be good, the students will benefit from better knowledge of the historical and cultural experience of Native Americans. On the other hand the facts of this experience do not exactly flatter the history of USA. They might feel proud to be members of the ethnical group, but at the same time they might feel resentment and even anger against those who treated American natives in such a brutal and oppressive way. The educational establishment of Arizona suggests leaving the sleeping dog sleeping, just in case.
The African-American studies and Mexican-American studies (sometime called "Chicano studies") may be treated in the similar way and with a similar purpose. The struggle against slavery, struggle for equal human rights for African-Americans, failings of our laws and institutions until the recent past will inevitably given too much attention in those educational ethnical programs. They say it would be for the best to skip those hazardous periods of history. The same is true for Mexican-American studies. Though they duly concentrate on recent and modern attempts of treating everyone justly, regardless of ethnicity and skin color the past volumes of ethnic bigotry and injustice towards Hispanic minorities again may cause resentment regarding the past oppressors and their brutal practices.
The Arizona political establishment is trying to stick to a wiser - as they understand it - attitude of sweeping under the rug all facts and events which - from their perspective - do not exactly strike into students the true patriotism and sincere love for their country. The safest policy would be to bypass it at all! By the way, have you forgotten that this wonderful country did not hurry to grant women the voting rights and the women were devoid from electoral rights till as early as the 1920s? The studying programs with detailed concentration on the experience of women and the Feminist movement should be given thorough consideration, after all, should it not?
This mythical "whitewashed" history promotes the popular notions that have been already embedded into naive minds of many young and impressionable students: USA is the best society in the world that propagates freedom and opportunity for all; it never imposes its will in its international relations, the only thing it does is bringing freedom and democracy to others nations. In other words the USA is not capable of doing anything wrong; it does only those things which are good and noble. And it will continue to act this way.
May be the young and impressionable students should be saved the unbearable disillusionment as a result of taking a course and learning the reality, the true facts of history and social relations of their native country. In this a credit should be given to the politicians of Arizona. For the good of all concerned it would be better to stay away from such course, otherwise many can get confused and hurt if they are exposed to the types of things taught in Ethnic studies courses.
It very much looks like the kind of thing that can be happening in the former Soviet Union or in some totalitarian theocracy. They try to keep people ignorant about things that can harm the established order of things and keep rewriting history time and again. They accept only one correct attitude towards history and social studies, and this is the government-approved attitude, the rest should be annihilated.
It should be realized and acknowledged that study of Ethnic Courses is just a piece of legitimate education. Its objective is to bring up informed people on the basis of realism and enlightenment. And this objective is not antagonistic to our democratic form of government. Although it can quite be possible that this objective contains a threat for the Arizona political establishment. The conclusion is obvious: voters of the state of Arizona should think twice next time when electing individuals of this kind to their government offices.
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