25 June 2012

Books that Engender (Misplaced) Fear?

Back in May I stumbled across Precious Knowledge, part of the PBS Independent Lens series of documentaries, chronicling the experience of the Ethnic Studies Department of Tucson High School, a public magnet school. Ethnic Studies at THS focus on Mexican-American history, culture, arts, literature, and traditional and contemporary belief. They are open to Latino and non-Latino students (although at this high school, many students are Latino, and so by extension, the majority of students taking Ethnic Studies are Latino). And they have had significant, proven success: of their students, 93% graduate and 85% go on to college, compared to a 48% graduation rate among students who don’t take their class. So, what’s going on in Ethnic Studies?

Whatever it is, the White Arizonans are scared, to the point that they’ve outlawed the class (via AZ HB 2281) and banned a long list of books. Yes, Jan Brewer et al see it as seditious and anti-American, and that their least-favorite, Paulo Freire's Pedagogy of the Oppressed, causes racial hate. John Huppenthal, AZ State Superintendent of Public Instruction, visits, and despite everything he hears & learns in the classroom, he questions why there’s a photo of Che Guevera in the classroom, but no poster of Benjamin Franklin. (Wha??) Conservatives say that the curriculum flies in the face of wholesome, traditional American values. (Note: the AZ State Superintendent of Public Instruction is an elected position.  In theory, the person who gets elected to this position needn't have a lick of educational expertise.)

Which values? The ones that say we are free to read and write what we want? The ones that say it’s our right to fight against oppression, and to stand up against those who would keep us back, to protest against wrongs? How can these Arizona lawmakers stand there and say that limiting Mexican-American Ethnic Studies is wrong, but Asian-American studies or African-American studies are not divisive? Schools teach about parts of our past, AND our present, much of which may make us uncomfortable. Typically, I think that’s when they’re doing their best.

Precious Knowledge showed video of students and teachers both in and out of the classroom. In spite of the disrespect and distain, even threats of violence toward them, I saw no hatred against America, or against anyone. At the start of each class session, they recite a Mayan-inspired Luis Valdez poem:

In Lak’ech
Tú eres mi otro yo—you are my other me
Si te hago daño a ti,me hago daño a mí mismo.
If I do harm to you, I do harm to myself.
Sí te amo y respeto,me amo y me respeto yo.
If I love and respect you, I love and respect myself.

According to Xulio Soriano, a Chicano blogger who took Ethnic Studies in high school: "Never did I learn to hate white Christian males. Never was I recruited to join a subversive group in order to overthrow the US Government. Instead, my humanity was acknowledged. What I did learn, alongside Asian, Black, and White students, was a more accurate cultural, artistic, literary and political history of the different contributions that Latin-American immigrants and non-immigrants have given to the fabric of the U.S. identity."

The Society of U.S. Intellectual History wrote this: "when [John Huppenthal] sat in on the classes, he commented that the teacher wore a collared [long-sleeved] shirt and tie, and so therefore must be sort of pro-American. When the Brown Berets supported the students at a protest, Tom Horne remarks that their brown shirts, berets, and sunglasses represent anti-American revolutionaries."

Brown shirts are what we should fear?  Really?
Navy "service uniform."
Sharp, yes.  Fearful, hmmm...
Fear the shirt!  Oh, the brown shirt!
Brown Berets.  Be afraid.
Is brown the new black?
Now that it’s been established that the birth of non-white babies in the United States outnumbers the birth of "white" babies, perhaps the tide will turn. I may have white skin, but I abhor the hatred inherent in Jan Brewer, Tom Horne, and the rest of those who cry "Racism!" at an Ethnic Studies class because it celebrates a non-white ethnicity.


NOTE: Today the Supreme Court struck down most of Arizona's controversial immigration law.  According to USA Today, "Opponents said it unfairly criminalizes otherwise law-abiding people, opens the door for racial profiling of Hispanics legally in the country and forces state law enforcement to interfere with the intricacies of federal immigration policy."

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