On this dayMay 11, 2010

Arizona Law Bans Ethnic Studies Programs

Image | Ross D. Franklin / AP

On May 11, 2010, Arizona Governor Jan Brewer signed into law HB 2281, a legislative act designed to end Ethnic Studies classes in the state. This came just weeks after Brewer signed SB 1070, Arizona's controversial immigration law that was then among the nation's strictest, and which opponents criticized as encouraging racial profiling.

Though less publicized, HB2281 also had far-reaching consequences for people of color in Arizona and any students interested in studying their history. The law banned all classes alleged to “promote the overthrow of the United States government” or “promote resentment toward a race or class of people” and classes “designed primarily for pupils of a particular ethnic group” which “advocate ethnic solidarity instead of the treatment of pupils as individuals.” In January 2012, after the state superintendent's office threatened to withhold ten percent of the district’s annual funding, the Tucson School District voted to cut the Mexican American Studies program in compliance with the new law.

Proponents of HB2281 accused Ethnic Studies courses of segregating students and impeding assimilation. “Traditionally, the American public school system has brought together students from different backgrounds and taught them to be Americans and to treat each other as individuals, and not on the basis of their ethnic backgrounds," said Tom Horne, the state superintendent of public instruction, seemingly overlooking the nation's long history of racially-segregated public education. "That is consistent with the fundamental American value that we are all individuals, not exemplars of whatever ethnic groups we were born into. Ethnic studies programs teach the opposite and are designed to promote ethnic chauvinism.”

Horne and others backing the law did not address students' and educators' arguments that the classes -- which were open to all students -- helped diversify the curriculum and encourage respect for different cultures. Referring to those who supported the Mexican American Studies program, Horne dismissively said, “They are the ‘Bull Connors.’ They are resegregating.”

In addition to canceling its Mexican American Students course, HB 2281 also led the Tucson School District to remove several books from its classrooms, including Rethinking Columbus: The Next 500 YearsPedagogy of the Oppressed, and The Tempest by William Shakespeare. In a meeting with Mexican American Studies teachers, administrators advised them to avoid any units that included “race, ethnicity, and oppression as central themes.”

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