Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Don't Know Much

First it was the Apartheid like Immigration law, now the state of Arizona is after "Ethnic Studies." Where do they think they are living? This comes on the heels of the state of Texas renaming slavery the "triangular trade" and putting a decidedly "whiter than white" spin on all the history that's fit to print in their eyes. Make no mistake: this is very dangerous stuff.
Where to begin? An objective article I recently read about the Arizona ethnic studies bill said this:

"The bill prohibits any class in the state from promoting either the overthrow of the U.S. government or resentment toward a race or class of people, and that advocates ethnic solidarity instead of the treatment of pupils as individuals, and -- here’s the big one -- that are designed primarily for pupils of a particular ethnic group."

Oh how it comes around. How fascinating this paradox. Just a little over 50 years ago the dominant
"race or class of people" refused to tread it's pupils as individuals, still subscribing to the notion that separate was equal. Didn't they advocate "ethnic solidarity" when, aside from separate schools, they authored such democratic institutions as the poll tak, the "grandfather clause" and, my personal favorite, the literacy test.
Item: a question from a literacy test actually used in the state of Mississippi, or was it Alabama, or perhaps both:
"How many bubbles are there in a bar of soap?"
Don't believe me? Look it up, because if you do, you'll certainly find others just as absurd. Ah democracy.
Most university level Ethnic Studies departments are celebrating their 40th anniversaries right now. At UCLA, where I was privileged to be in the first such classes offered, the demand was high. The subject matter was particularly fascinating because we were reading and learning about the history that was never taught. Not only the true, accurate history of the "peculiar institution" of slavery, but everything from Japanese internment t the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo. We learned , too, that to teach the history of one people is to teach the history of all peoples. Or should be.
I recall that when I first began teaching in the mid 70s, I taught ethnic classes for at least 10 years. By then, either we had incorporated all histories into one history or at least offered opportunities to learn the entire story. As is always the case, electives get cut, decisions get made that grind up people and opportunities. And now this.
I can't wait to see some of Arizona's new history books. But here's the rub. You don't have to teach ethnic studies. Just teach history. Teach the entire history. Use primary source documents, call social institutions what they are.
No problem. Right?

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