Thursday, May 13, 2010

Does Arizona have the right idea?

I have to wonder if Arizona’s Jan Brewer doesn’t realize what she’s doing, or if she really believes so strongly in the importance of these racially charged bills that she is willing to sacrifice her political career. Just a few short weeks after passing the controversial immigration law, the Associated Press reports that, “Arizona gov. signs bill targeting ethnic studies". According to the story, “State schools chief Tom Horne, who has pushed the bill for years, said he believes the Tucson school district’s Mexican-American studies program teaches Latino students that they are oppressed by white people.”

Like the immigration bill before it, the purpose of the education bill as described in the story doesn’t seem that objectionable to me. I understand the concerns that the immigration bill could lead to racial profiling. That is a legitimate concern, but doesn’t change the fact that illegal immigrants are here illegally. I'm glad the immigration bill specifically prohibits stopping someone just to ask about their citizenship, but only time will tell if law enforcement abides by that.

I also understand that this education bill could be used as a reason to stop teaching about the contributions minorities have made to this country. It shouldn’t, and there is nothing in the bill to prevent classes on Hispanic (or any other minority) influences on U.S. history. It only prohibits classes intended to only be taught to a specific group. I'm not surprised - if it's illegal to have schools for specific groups, why would it be legal to have classes set up that way?

I do object to the prohibition against teaching “ethnic solidarity." Being proud of your heritage could be considered “ethnic solidarity.” Everyone should be proud of their heritage, and there’s nothing wrong with schools teaching that. But you should be proud of your entire heritage. Whether you are a recent immigrant or your family has lived here for generations (or centuries), whatever continent your ancestors hailed from you should be able to look to your entire history, both your ancestry and your nation, for a sense of pride in your heritage. Schools should promote that. To promote that they should be helping students realize that even though we are all different, we all share many things in common. Apparently the Tucson school districts ethnic studies program doesn’t always do that. According to the AP story:

"Horne, a Republican running for attorney general, said the program promotes "ethnic chauvinism" and racial resentment toward whites while segregating students by race. He's been trying to restrict it ever since he learned that Hispanic civil rights activist Dolores Huerta told students in 2006 that "Republicans hate Latinos."

It’s one thing to promote pride in your heritage. It’s another thing entirely to promote hatred, and that is what you are doing when you tell someone that an entire group of people hates them.

Both of these bills are controversial, although the neither bill should be. Not if they were really written and passed for the stated reasons. Enforcing the law is the duty of law enforcement officers. I believe the oath most of them take is to enforce laws of the community, state and country, not just the laws of whatever level of government (city, state or federal) happens to employ them. Schools are supposed to teach kids and to prepare them for life - and make them productive, loyal citizens. Like it or not, propaganda has always been one purpose of the public school system. It is a legitimate purpose. No modern society can survive if it's children are taught to hate and distrust people who are different - different people are part of our society.

Teaching the bad things that happened in the past does not have to be divisive or disruptive - and should not be. Enforcing legitimate laws - for instance, laws requiring visitors to our country to go through the same established legal channels our citizens have to go through to visit their countries - should not be divisive or disruptive. But sensational headlines and soundbites can cause them to be. So can poorly thought out or carelessly worded laws.

So does Arizona have the right idea? Should we be taking steps to enforce immigration laws? Before you answer, maybe you should cross illegaly into Mexico, Canada, or any European nation and see what happens if you get caught. Should we prohibit/monitor what is taught in classes to make sure it is for the common good? Should we make sure that classes that teach about the contributions of non-caucasions to our country are taught to everyone, so all students benefit from them? Better yet, should we make sure that those contributions are part of the standard classes - requiring that they be taught, not just that they appear in the textbooks?

Based on what I know of the two laws, I would say that they do have the right idea. If giving current illegals amnesty and a path to citizenship worked to discourage illegal immigration, we wouldn't be having this discussion. If an activist speaker was allowed to sat that Republicans (widely portrayed as all rich white people) "hate latinos," that's promoting racial tension, and should not be allowed in schools. Would she have said that if it was a class of all ethnicities? Would she have wanted to speak to such a class? I don't know. And I don't have a problem with her being asked to speak to a class. I do have a problem with classes being used to promote a particular political party or cause, and that's why I think Arizona has it right on the education bill, too.