Wednesday, May 12, 2010

ethnic studies

Arizona is quickly becoming the lightning rod of ethnic issues. The Governer signed a measure which restricts ethnic studies in the state which, "are designed primarily for students of a particular race or that promote resentment toward a certain ethnic group. It also prohibits classes that promote the overthrow of the U.S. government." (according to the article I read).

While this sounds on its face to be a simple and obvious law, the outcome may be far more divisive. What worries me is a quote from the AZ Attorney General in which he said that studies, "should not be encouraging students to resent a particular race." What I find worrying is the lack of empathy or understanding of what it means to be a minority in America.

When we turn our backs on the idea the idea of underrepresentation, we risk losing generations of Americans who will not live up to their full potential. What do I mean by that? Well, consider the case of Mexican-Americans. I am mixed, but my upbringing was primarily influenced by the Mexican side of my heritage. I went to private school through sixth grade and public school through high school followed by two years of junior college and then West Point. In those years, I never read a single Mexican author. I was never introduced to Cesar Chavez, and I never had a teacher of Hispanic heritage.

The first time I can remember reading a history of America in which people of Mexican descent had any influence over events was when my mom recomended I read Rain of Gold by Victor Villasenor. I remember reading it and being completely dumbstruck by the fact that an entire history was foreign to me. I read about people who did what my forefathers did (right down to hiding his siblings in a well during the revolution in order to keep his sisters from being raped and his brother from being killed), and it all happened in Southern California. I read the alternate history of the Missions and El Camino Real. I learned about the grape boycot and the Brown Berets.

Like it or not, our current curriculum is still formed around white males. The contributions of minorities are often relegated to a side note in history. Until this situation is remedied, minorities will continue to grow up thinking that their ability to contribute is only ancillary to that of white males. Without a role model to look up to, each of us who is born a minority will think he must forge his own path instead of knowing that we stand upon the shoulders of giants.

The current history, english, art and philosophy taught at most schools
already teaches minority students to resent a certain race--our own. We must teach students to be proud of who they are, brown, black or white. Moreover, the idea that these ethnic studies classes are designed only for minorities is ridiculous. I have read books on feminist theory. I am not a woman, but I'm a better person for having read them. Likewise, ALL Arizona students could benefit from learning about the forgotten American History and Culture which includes the contributions of hyphenated-Americans.

Arizona must realize, sooner rather than later, that these knee-jerk policies are hurting its own citizens and will do far more damage in the long term than the political gains it will create in the short term.

article here


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