Friday, April 30, 2010

Demanding the Impossible

A few weeks ago I posted on Texas's decision to rewrite the history taught in K-12 public schools there. But it looks as though Arizona may be trumping Texas's efforts to use public education to turn out perfect little Republican clones. Even as lawsuits are being filed and boycotts being organized against Arizona because of its infamous new immigration law, it turns out that the state government of Arizona is also messing with the state's educational system in ways are likely meant to complement the effects of the immigration law. Here is the Huffington Post's description of Arizona's new educational policy:
Arizona's new immigration law is just about crime, its supporters say, but given that the state's new education policy equates ethnic studies programs with high treason, they may not be using the commonly accepted definition of "crime."

Under the ban, sent to Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer by the state legislature Thursday, schools will lose state funding if they offer any courses that "promote the overthrow of the U.S. government, promote resentment of a particular race or class of people, are designed primarily for students of a particular ethnic group or advocate ethnic solidarity instead of the treatment of pupils as individuals."

As ThinkProgress notes, the Tucson Unified School District's popular Mexican-American studies department is the target here. The state superintendent charges that the program exhibits "ethnic chauvinism."

Meanwhile, in a move that was more covert until the Wall Street Journal uncovered it, the Arizona Department of Education has told schools that teachers with "heavy" or "ungrammatical" accents are no longer allowed to teach English classes.

As outlined by the Journal, Arizona's recent pattern of discriminatory education policies is ironic -- and is likely a function of No Child Left Behind funding requirements -- given that the state spent a decade recruiting teachers for whom English was a second language.
But what counts as an "accent"? Everybody has an accent! Who gets to decide? Guess they're going to have to fire all English teachers.

As for the ban against ethnic studies, just look at that phrasing: promote the overthrow of the U.S. government, promote resentment of a particular race or class of people, are designed primarily for students of a particular ethnic group or advocate ethnic solidarity instead of the treatment of pupils as individuals. Nice touch, wouldn't you say, classing resentment of inequality and injustice and ethnic pride with high treason? Since just about any discussion of race, gender, class, or ethnicity is likely to be deemed "promoting resentment"-- hell, any mention of it-- that wipes out just about all social studies. Certainly mentioning, say, the Goldman Sachs hearings must be held to do that, too, so there goes current events. (Or do they still teach that?) In fact, I'm wondering how it's possible to teach history or civics or social studies or economics without running the risk of "promoting resentment."

But also? If courses aren't "designed primarily for students of a particular ethnic group," then they can't be designed for WASPS, either. Or boys. Or heterosexuals. Or Christians. Now just how are teachers going to pull off designing a course that's not meant for middle-class white boys without at the same time not talking about race, ethnicity, class, sex, or gender? Seems an impossible task. (One not even Texas is demanding of its curriculum.) I'm sure I couldn't do it. But the real question's got to be: is there anyone who can? Guess a lot of people should start preparing suits against that law, too.

Teaching K-12 has seldom been a picnic. But it seems to be getting harder and harder for teachers to cope with politicians' interference in the classroom.


Josh said...

One of the state legislators made a similar point about the rule's untenability.

Nancy Jane Moore said...

State legislatures would make an interesting sociological study right now. Most states are in financial trouble, and many have balanced budget laws, meaning they can't run a deficit, so they can't start new programs or even pay for the current ones unless they raise taxes. Of course, cutting government spending hurts the state's economy even more.

Bills such as the Arizona one described are simply another example of people pretending that passing laws against opinions they don't like is the same as governing the state. Of course, it could cripple the public schools even more, and will certainly lead to lawsuits the state can't afford. It's a waste of time and resources, and meanwhile the people of Arizona need services that their legislature is not even considering.