Tuesday, April 03, 2012

Arizona Official Considering Banning Ethnic Studies in Universities, Too

Alex Seitzwald
Originally published in ThinkProgress.org
April 2, 2012.

Two years ago, Arizona outlawed the teaching of ethnic studies in K-12 schools, and now it may expand the prohibition to universities too.

Just weeks after the state passed its infamous immigration law, it also passed a law aimed at scuttling Tucson’s Mexican-American studies program, which critics claimed taught kids to resent white people. The argument, at the time, was that teaching subjects like critical race theory to kids in high school amounted to indoctrination because they were not old enough to question the teaching critically, like university students.

But now, Arizona’s chief education official sees university-level Mexican-American sudies programs as a danger too:

Arizona’s superintendent of schools, John Huppenthal, says Tucson’s suspended Mexican American studies curricula teaches students to resent Anglos, and that the university program that educated the public school teachers is to blame.

“I think that’s where this toxic thing starts from, the universities,” Arizona Superintendent of Schools John Huppenthal said in an interview with Fox News Latino. “To me, the pervasive problem was the lack of balance going on in these classes,” Huppenthal said.

Not surprisingly, a long list of Latino groups and education activists have protested the move, as they did when the state shut down Tucson’s program, decrying the imposition on free speech. “What we’re trying to do is expose children to a much broader perspective, so that we’re not indoctrinating,” said Augustine Romero, the former director of Tucson’s Mexican American Studies Department.

The ethnic studies law, which bans schools from offering courses designed for a specific ethnicity, had far-ranging consequences, including banning books like Shakespeare’s The Tempest and other seemingly anodyne works of literature.

And while many call the state prohibitions unprecedented, Devon Peña, the former director of the National Association for Chicana and Chicano Studies said, “There is a precedent, and it’s called McCarthyism.” “It’s just a witch hunt of a different color. Now, instead of going after the reds, they’re going after the browns.”

Comment: There is a worrying trend across the globe toward censorship.  The Internet is under threat as the democratic value of free speech is being reigned in by both developed and developing states.

Grand censorship is a worrying trend and perhaps more pronounced now but certainly not unique to our time.  The same is true for organized resistance to censorship.

I am not surprised that Arizona and other states across the US are putting the squeeze on what is generally termed Ethnic Studies in the article above.  Programs like African American Studies, Africana Studies, Black Studies, Chicano Latino Studies, Mexican American Studies, Native American Studies have never enjoyed positions of stability in American academia.

In some cases funding is barely enough to keep these departments/programs functioning and they exist kinda like ghettoized studies amidst the more 'traditional' fields of anthropology, politics, history, sociology, etc.

In other cases disparate 'minority' programs are lumped together into catch-all departments like Ethnic Studies or Cultural and Gender Studies and they function to provide students with multicultural credits for degree purposes.

The effect of this kind of educational engineering is to severely limit what these programs can achieve in terms of teaching, research and of course, community outreach/service.

What is being proposed in Arizona is the logical extension/conclusion of this purposeful marginalization.  

What was intended to bring balance to what is essentially white studies (everything else in the academy) is now deemed to undermine whiteness.

The outcome will be akin to a legislated dark ages - and even in this there is nothing new.  In fact, this point is emphatically made by a comment that appears under the reposted article in Truthout by TedMfftt: 
"What's ironic is that much of our knowledge of the greeks was due to Arabs preserving the knowledgebase. During the Dark Ages the Catholic church did a suprising good job of eradicting most of Europe's knowledge to anything outside Cathiolic doctrine. Fortunately, the Arab nations preserved tehse teachings so that Europeans and the rest of humanity maintain the wisdom of the Greek philosophers.

Knowledge is power, and what better way than to maintain power than to suppress knowledge."
The comment is absolutely on target.  We should be worrying that censorship will remove our diversity and reduce our complexity to a world where nuance and critical engagement are forgotten values.

Already we have the US fighting wars for reasons it manufactures in both purpose and consent.  And few of those who support the wars "over there" are engaged enough to know the difference.

We need critical analysis inside and outside the academy.  It was Gramsci who warned the revolutionary that the purpose of hegemony is to make the organs of state and its civil instruments (the academy/organized religion, etc.) function as one.

If we are to be free then it is imperative that revolutionaries stand up to fight for diversity through critical engagement and to do so everywhere across imposed boundaries.

The failure to resist will mean the death of difference and its dialectical value in pushing change and progress.


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