Monday, May 17, 2010

Ban Ethnic Studies?

by Ben Small

Arizona banned Ethnic Studies from the public schools last week, and needless to say, the media and some Hispanic students are up in arms, protesting the loss of their heritage, even mock-assassinating state leaders. What's next? some say. Shooting Hispanics on sight?

But this isn't really a racial or ethnics origin discrimination issue. Arizona is broke, and closing schools, laying off teachers, almost doubling in-state tuition at state universities, and putting a sales tax hike on tomorrow's ballot. In this background of rising costs and a shrinking tax base, the state wants to focus more on core subject matters in its public schools, eliminating some electives. At both Arizona State and the University of Arizona, whole departments have been erased and others merged. And because of union contracts, the State cannot terminate tenured university professors and replace them with much cheaper adjuncts.

But it's the banning of the Ethnic Studies programs that has caught most of the attention, and this action, combined with Arizona's recent illegal immigrant legislation, has liberals across the country demanding Arizona boycotts. In response to those boycott calls, other groups have set up web pages to support Arizona, and some conservative-leaning groups are arranging Arizona conventions to replace dollars lost by boycotts.

There's never a dull moment in Arizona these days.

But the Ethnic Studies ban raises some interesting issues. Is an Ethnic Studies Program a right? If so, must every student have a right to an Ethnic Studies program? As you might imagine, most Arizona Ethnic Studies programs focus on Hispanics, especially those of Mexican derivation. I've yet to see a Caucasian Studies program anywhere, and if one was set up, I surely expect somebody would object. But what if there's one Chinese student at a school? Or a Pakistani? Must a program be set up for those students, too?

Are employers looking to hire someone who graduates with an Ethnic Studies major? I doubt it.

I'm not cynical enough to think Ethnic Studies programs aren't useful. Everyone should be proud of their heritage. But who's responsible for teaching heritage? Aren't there other institutions that can and do fill in the gaps? Church groups, for instance? And what about parents? Shouldn't parents have a role in teaching their children to be proud of their heritage?

Private schools, of course, can teach whatever they want. Catholic schools have been private since their inception, and it's not only the rich who attend them. We have plenty of rich Hispanics in Arizona. No doubt, if pressed, some of these folks would help establish private Hispanic schools... if there were such a need. Hispanics have been in Arizona for hundreds of years. Indeed, their presence here was a major reason William Randolph Hearst pushed Congress to make marijuana illegal and funded the movie Reefer Madness as a scare tactic. Hearst wanted to chase Hispanics away.

That worked well, didn't it?

A good friend is a Tucson high school chemistry teacher. He tells me that students take Ethnic Studies in his school district because it's an easy A. And since Ethnic Studies and other feel-good programs were adopted, enrollment in hard science courses has dropped. Meanwhile, companies like United Technologies (my former employer), General Electric, Microsoft and other technology-based companies and the industries they serve can't find enough new engineers and scientists to replace those retiring.

So they import them.

Banning Ethnic Studies programs doesn't mean the textbooks which support them aren't still available. People who want to learn about the subject can just buy the textbooks, or even borrow them from local libraries. And ethnicity is covered history classes; it's part of the Melting Pot genealogy of our country.

When my father pulled my sister and me out of Catholic school because our Monseigneur threatened to ex-communicate my mother if my father took us to see Martin Luther in the Fifties, we had to go to Catholic education classes outside of the public schools. Can't Ethnic Studies be handled similarly? Or would that interfere too much with a student's party-time?

Many parents today don't spend enough time with their kids. They don't know where they are; they don't know what they're doing. These kids are easy prey to gangs, and in Arizona, most gangs are of Hispanic origin. If Ethnic Studies are so critical, maybe parents should get involved. Maybe bringing these studies into the home will bring parents and kids closer together.

But these days, pathos is king. The media loves to blow an issue out of proportion. They'll show demonstrations and protests, but from camera angles that magnify the numbers present. I drove by the protests last week. There were maybe thirty or forty kids, but the evening news portrayed it as hundreds.

Egads. Somebody call Al Sharpton.

Meanwhile, Arizona's getting back to the basics, those courses and curricula that will prepare one for college or a job. And in this job market, isn't that more important?


Jean Henry Mead said...

Have other courses of study also been eliminated? I keep hearing about physcial education, art, music and other traditional classes eliminated in many schools (outside of Arizona) that are far more important than ethnic studies.

Unknown said...

Oh yes. But they don't make headlines.

Mary@GigglesandGuns said...

Well spoken. It is time to do this not just in Arizona but across the board.
Everyone knows (or should) that the media writes what they are told by those who sign their checks.

Mark W. Danielson said...

Politicians continue to re-write history to shape the world as they see it. Hitler burned books, Mao banned books, our own history has been distorted in favor of political correctness, so this latest bid in Arizona doesn’t come as a surprise.

Patricia Stoltey said...

As long as no one is banning books, and all students are free to read anything their parents approve, why on earth do we need ethnic studies or women's studies or anything like that? Just teach students how to read and how to think and ask questions. And a little P.E. and music wouldn't hurt.