Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Ariz. gov signs bill targeting ethnic studies

Ariz. gov signs bill targeting ethnic studies
By Jonathan J. Cooper
Associated Press (May 11, 2010)

PHOENIX - Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer signed a bill targeting a school district's ethnic studies program on Tuesday, hours after a report by United Nations human rights experts condemned the measure.

State schools chief Tom Horne pushed the measure for years, saying the program in a Tucson school district promotes "ethnic chauvinism" and racial resentment toward whites.

The measure prohibits classes that advocate ethnic solidarity, that are designed primarily for students of a particular race or that promote resentment toward a certain ethnic group. It also prohibits classes that promote the overthrow of the U.S. government.

Tucson Unified School District officials say their program does not promote resentment, and they believe it would comply with the new law.

The district program offers specialized courses in African-American, Mexican-American and Native-American studies that focus on history and literature and include information about the influence of a particular ethnic group.

For example, in the Mexican-American Studies program, an American history course explores the role of Hispanics in the Vietnam War, and a literature course emphasizes Latino authors. About 1,500 students at six high schools are enrolled.

Elementary and middle school students also are exposed to the ethnic studies curriculum.

The measure concerned six UN human rights experts, who released a statement earlier Tuesday expressing concern about the measure because they believe all people have the right to learn about their own cultural and linguistic heritage.

Brewer spokesman Paul Senseman didn't directly address the UN criticism, but said Brewer supports the bill's goal.

"The governor believes ... public school students should be taught to treat and value each other as individuals and not be taught to resent or hate other races or classes of people," Senseman said.

Brewer's signature on the bill comes less than a month after she signed the nation's toughest crackdown on illegal immigration - a move that ignited international backlash amid charges the measure would encourage racial profiling of Hispanics. Brewer said profiling would not be tolerated.

Sean Arce, director of the district's Mexican-American Studies program in Tucson, said last month students perform better in school if they see in the curriculum people who look like them. The district is 56 percent Hispanic, with nearly 31,000 Latino students.

"It's a highly engaging program that we have, and it's unfortunate that the state Legislature would go so far as to censor these classes," Arce said.

Arce could not immediately be reached after Brewer signed the bill late Tuesday.

The law doesn't prohibit classes that teach about the history of a particular ethnic group, as long as the course is open to all students and doesn't promote ethnic solidarity or resentment.

Horne, the schools chief who wrote the law, said he believes the district's Mexican-American studies program teaches Latino students that they are oppressed by white people. Public schools should not be encouraging students to resent a particular race, he said.

"The function of the public schools is to take students of different backgrounds and to teach them to treat each other as individuals," Horne said last month.

A Republican running for attorney general, Horne has been trying to restrict the program ever since he learned that Hispanic civil rights activist Dolores Huerta in 2006 told students that "Republicans hate Latinos."

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