Moral Low Ground

US Government

Judge Lewis D. Kowal Rules Tucson’s Ethnic Studies Program Violates Arizona Law

In the latest battle in Arizona’s war against Mexicans, a state administrative law judge has ruled that Tucson’s ethnic studies program is in violation of a state law banning such courses.

Although they form the state's largest national origin group, Arizona's Mexican-Americans are banned by state law from studying their culture in public schools.

According to the Los Angeles Times, Judge Lewis D. Kowal affirmed an earlier decision by the state’s schools chief that the Tucson Unified School District’s Mexican-American studies program violates the law which bans “divisive” ethnic studies courses.  Proponents of the law, led by state superintendent of public instruction John Huppenthal, claim that ethnic studies classes promote groupthink and victimhood. Critics of the law counter that  ethnic studies program are intended to make students aware of their roots and proud of who they are, thus making them better members of American society.

Huppenthal released a statement in which he expressed his satisfaction with Judge Kowal’s ruling.

“I made a decision based on the totality of the information and facts gathered during my investigation — a decision that I felt was best for all students in the Tucson Unified School District,” he said. “The judge’s decision confirms that it was the right decision.”

It seems as if the supporters of Arizona’s ban on Mexican-American studies have forgotten that the state was part of Mexico before it was conquered by the United States in a bloody war of imperial agression, or that Mexican-Americans are by far Arizona’s largest national origin group (27%, compared to 16% for Germans, the next-closest group).

Something larger than preventing “divisive” classes is going on here. Remember, Arizona is the “show me your papers state” that enacted SB 1070, a harsh anti-“illegal” immigration law that gives police broad and intrusive powers to demand proof of citizenship from people they believe may be in the country illegally. That controversial 2010 law has been attacked as discriminatory, since it is highly unlikely that an undocumented immigrant from, say, Sweden would be targeted but extremely likely that Latinos– whether here illegally or not– would be harassed.

Banning ethnic studies classes will only increase resentment against the very people that conservatives claim they’re trying to avoid inter-ethnic tensions with. And by denying students the right to learn about their heritage, Arizona makes a mockery of the American freedoms it is so keen to promote at the expense of alternative narratives. “Who are the true Americans here– those embracing our inalienable rights or those trying to diminish them?” asked Augustine Romero, director of student equity for Tuscon schools. “There’s a fierce anti-Latino sentiment in this state,” he told the New York Times. “These courses are about justice and equity, and what is happening is that the Legislature is trying to narrow the reality of those things.”

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