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The other Arizona battle: A new law makes ethnic studies classes illegal

Since when is it a bad to learn about different cultures?

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HB 2281 has already led to storm of controversy. Everyone from United Nations Human Rights experts to Latino civic groups to students in Tucson have condemned it as misguided, discriminatory, and unfair.

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I might be inclined to view Mr. Horne’s concerns as legitimate if he had ever actually sat in on a Mexican-American studies course – something he acknowledged to The New York Times that he has not done. Alternatively, if Horne is dissatisfied with Mexican-American studies in the TUSD, why not reform the program, rather than outlawing it? Why not commission an independent review of the curriculum?

I also question Governor Brewer’s motives. According to the National Education Association, Arizona ranks 50th in expenditure per pupil in grades K-12.

The Phoenix Business Journal recently reported that the state is No. 2 in the nation in foreclosures. The state’s recent immigration law has led to convention and tourism losses estimated at $90 million. Doesn’t Brewer have more important things to do besides ensuring that Arizona’s schoolchildren do not learn about the Aztecs in a state that is one-third Latino?

Ethnic studies courses are important because mainstream curriculums often overlook the contributions of minorities. They help put the salad bowl that is the United States into perspective.

Ideally, all students would learn about Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and César Chávez along with other great Americans. But until that day comes, niche classes fill the void. On top of that, researchers have found that minority kids are more likely to succeed academically as a result of a multicultural course of study.

Parents and students in Arizona should continue to protest HB 2281.

TUSD did the right thing to vow to continue its Ethnic studies program. Since Tom Horne is currently running for state attorney general, his measure strikes me as a calculated effort designed to score points with his conservative base. If he and Governor Brewer were truly concerned about Latinos resenting others, they wouldn’t pass laws aimed directly at Latinos. As an educator, Horne, of all people, should be committed to ensuring that all students reach their full potential.

The only “ethnic chauvinism” in play here seems to be the idea that children don’t need the opportunity to better understand minority history.

Raul A. Reyes is an attorney and columnist in New York City.

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