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Arizona Ethnic Studies Curriculum Outlawed in Schools

Last year ended on a sour note for immigration policy with the defeat of the DREAM Act. Now, as the new state and federal congressional houses begin their new legislative sessions, more states than ever before appear to be pressing on for a revamped effort to pass harsh legislation targeting immigrants. While we learned that lawmakers in Florida were conflicted over whether to proceed with strict immigration enforcement measures due to the impact it could have on our state’s economy; other states have exhibited no qualms on this front. Besides the abhorrent depravation of civil rights that a coalition of states have brought forth, the state of Arizona is once again at the forefront of the anti-immigrant movement. This time, they are making news headlines for declaring Mexican-American courses of study in schools to be illegal in the state-even while similar programs for African American, Asian and American Indian students have been left untouched.

“It’s propagandizing and brainwashing that’s going on here,” said Tom Horne, Arizona’s newly elected attorney general, as he officially declared the program in violation of a state law that went into effect on January 1st. It was he who-as the state’s superintendent of public instruction- wrote a law aimed at challenging Tucson’s ethnic studies program. The Legislature passed the measure last spring, and “Gov. Jan Brewer signed it into law in May amid the fierce protests raging over the state’s immigration crackdown”, reported Marc Lacey of The New York Times. At a recent news conference, Mr. Horne took pains to describe the attack on Tucson’s Mexican-American studies program as one rooted in good faith.

The Arizona law has warned school districts that they could lose 10% of their state education funds if their ethnic-studies program does not comply with the new state standards. Programs that promote the overthrow of the U.S. government are explicitly banned, and “that includes the suggestion that portions of the Southwest that were once part of Mexico should be returned to that country.” Any promotion of resentment towards a race is also prohibited. While programs that are of primarily one race or that advocate ethnic solidarity instead of individuality have also been outlawed. Mr. Horne said that, unlike the Mexican-American program, the district’s other ethnic-studies programs had not received complaints and could continue. This means that Tucson, an already struggling urban district, stands to lose nearly $15 million from their budget if they go against this arbitrary law. Because the school board is standing by their curriculum, if financing were pulled, the district would have an opportunity to appeal. Meanwhile, 11 teachers have filed suit in federal court challenging the constitutionality of the state restrictions.

“On the first day of school, they are no different than students in any other classes,” said John Ward, who taught a Latino history class in Tucson for a short period of time. “But once they get told day after day that they are being victimized, they become angry and resentful.” Augustine F. Romero, director of student equity in the Tucson schools, said the program was intended to make students feel proud of who they are and not hostile toward others. “The debate over the program’s future,” Mr. Romero said, “proves more than ever the need for the program. There’s a fierce anti-Latino sentiment in this state. These courses are about justice and equity, and what is happening is that the Legislature is trying to narrow the reality of those things. Who are the true Americans here-those embracing our inalienable rights or those trying to diminish them?”

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