Arizona’s Republican-backed law, which intended to ban students from taking ethnic studies classes has been deemed unconstitutional.What does that mean? Well, for starters, it means students won’t be forced to learn one-sided histories favoring the lives of white men and colonizers.
According to The Arizona Daily Star, U.S. District Judge A. Wallace Tashima said state lawmakers acted illegally in 2010 when they made it illegal for schools to have courses that promote overthrow of federal government, promote resentment toward a race or class of people, are deigned primarily for pupils of a particular ethnic group, or “advocate ethnic solidarity instead of the treatment of pupils as individuals.”
Mexican American Studies, the program which was defunct since the 2010 law was instated, was designed in the 1990s to provide culturally-relevant curriculum for students by incorporating past and present Mexican-American contributions into classroom studies. In 2007, a group of students walked out on then Deputy State School Chief Margaret Dugan when she was giving a speech. She was responding to a speech by Chicana activist Dolores Huerta where she said “Republicans hate Latinos.” Former schools chief Tom Horne then pushed for the 2010 law in response to the walk out.
During the recent ruling, however, the judge barred state officials from enforcing the law and said they can’t threaten to withhold state funds for not complying with the order. Judge Tashima told the State Superintendent of public instruction that she can’t conduct “any inspections or audits of any program, curriculum or course” within the district as a way of affirming compliance with the law. According to the Arizona Star, Tashima said the law violated the rights of students “because both enactment and enforcement were motivated by racial animus” in an initial ruling from earlier this year.
According to a study done by Stanford University in 2016, providing struggling students with the opportunity to participate in ethnic studies courses, accelerated their improvement drastically. In their findings, attendance jumped by 21 percent, grade-point average by 1.4 points, and students in ethnic studies classes covering discrimination, stereotypes, and social justice movements earned 23 more credits toward graduation. Overall, the biggest strides were found among boys and Latinx students in the subjects of math and science.
When power holders deliberately dismiss the history of an entire people and forbids them from learning anything about it, they are abusing their power. Pulitzer Prize-winning author Junot Diaz once said, “if you want to make a human being into a monster, deny them, at the cultural level, any reflection of themselves.”
The U.S. is currently in a critical struggle for inclusion that spans from the elementary schools of middle America to the White House itself. This issue stems from a severe lack of understanding of the ways in which the country has disenfranchised those they have been historically considered “outsiders.” When the nation’s history is considered in a larger scope that is inclusive of the various narratives that have molded it into what it is today, it’s easier to see why such a dire need for ethnic studies exists — we have a gaping hole in American history textbooks where the stories of Black and Brown brilliance, struggle, loss, and triumph should live.
Ethnic studies shouldn’t just be legalized or accepted in Arizona. They need to be mandatory in order to truly start having an honest conversation about how miseducation leads to undemocratic laws like this in the first place.