HB2281, Ethnic Studies, and the Diversity Deficit

I don’t want my God, or my ideology in your kids’ classrooms, and I am pretty sure that I don’t want yours there either

Over six months ago, I received an e-mail that attacked TUSD’s Ethnic Studies Program, and I copied my answer of support for the program to a friend of mine on the TUSD Governing Board. My response was, in part, “Ethnic studies have not evoked hatred in TUSD. Quite the contrary, many of the wide variety of ethnic studies classes offered have been valuable to many students.” I was surprised by the response I received from my friend, and fellow Democrat, who said that I might want to reevaluate my position. He told me that things were not all they appeared to be. So, I agreed to open my mind up just a bit, studied all available resources, and came to a very different conclusion about the program. This new conclusion reaffirmed my long held belief; I don’t want my God, your god(s) and any of our politics in our public schools.

Only the most intellectually dishonest or completely ignorant would deny the diversity deficit in our public school curriculums. That diversity deficit in our public school history and literature curricula has grown significantly smaller over the years, but there is still room for improvement. This deficit is a void of information about those forefathers (and foremothers) of color who shaped this great, though still imperfect, country. The void in Tucson’s largest school district’s curriculum, as any with any void in nature, was filled because that is what nature does.

That being said, I don’t want my God, your god(s), or anyone’s political ideology filling that void in our public schools.

A majority of Americans came to agree… sometime after 1925 and the decision in the Scopes’ Monkey trial that we did not want religion taught in our public schools. Though we have not all agreed about this, our federal courts have said again and again that Creationism…or Creationism-lite, aka “intelligent design”… was not science, and therefore it was expelled from class (though that battle is almost certainly not ended). No doubt, religion is still there, but only to the extent that teachers, parents, and students bring it into their personal scholastic efforts. Any teacher who has ever given a tough test knows that prayer will never be eliminated from schools. The desire to proselytize has been minimized to a great degree by conscientious educators.

We should be able to say the same about political ideology, but here in Tucson we can’t.

To be clear, the argument about TUSD and HB2281 is not about Ethnic Studies, even if uninformed journalists and activists want it to be. The controversies are whether HB2281 is good public policy, and whether TUSD’s Mexican American/Raza Studies curriculum is an appropriate remedy for the diversity deficit in Tucson. It is not a contradiction to assert, as we do, that even if HB 2281 is not good public policy, the TUSD version of Mexican-American/Raza Studies curriculum does not belong in public schools anywhere.

Quite a long time ago, we created public schools to maintain social order and promote the social welfare. Through our republican processes, social and political forces shaped the philosophy that underlies the curricula employed in our country’s public schools. Each state may have different standards, but with few exceptions, states do not allow ideology to trump science and reason. Due to the forces that shaped American values, we tend to value individuality more than many other societies. Like their counterparts around the globe, our educators do demand compliance, but unlike many of their counterparts around the globe they tend to have a greater appreciation and understanding of individual efforts and excellence and outside the box thinking. That value system is the guiding principal in the development of our American public school curricula and conscientious educators do not allow their political beliefs to determine their treatment of the state’s curriculum or of their students. In many states, indoctrination of students is an ethical offense that can be punished with the loss of a teacher’s license to teach.

TUSD’s Mexican American/Raza studies curriculum is so far from our ideal of ideologically-free curricula that it is simply unimaginable how we got where we are and why well-meaning people tolerate this when they would be storming the barricades over the indoctrination of students in any other circumstance. The only explanation is that it was developed under the noses of school administrators and a school board either too stupid or too asleep to notice that ideologues and college professors were creating and offering a curriculum designed to indoctrinate students through a process of teacher acceptance and by peer pressure. The Critical Race/Social Justice ideology that is the basis of this curriculum is not one that is accepted by our society. It should be left in universities for examination, evaluation and debate. It should be excluded from K-12 education.

The “Ethnic Studies” curriculum (really the Mexican American/Raza Studies curriculum) was so full of holes left by its narrow focus on only the victimization of Mexican Americans that the voids were filled with fantasy. Children were taught preposterous “facts” such as the” fact” they have one-quarter Aztec blood, not Hohokam, not Toltec, but Aztec despite the fact that the Aztec genome has never been isolated. Another “fact” taught in Raza Studies classes is that they come from or are destined to live in a place called Aztlan despite the fact that this place is normally and honestly sold as a piece of real estate only in the mind; in other words, a fictional construct. Whatever diversity deficit we have should be filled with celebratory FACTS about the great accomplishments and honest appraisals of their ancestors’ struggles and their country’s good and bad actions and actors.

I don’t want my God, or my ideology in your kids’ classrooms, and I am pretty sure that I don’t want yours in them either. As much as is humanly possible I want politics and religion excluded from the classroom. As much as is humanly possible I want voids in the classroom; voids that kids fill with their own concepts and beliefs based on their own ethnic, religious, and personal histories.

“Don’t limit a child to your own learning, for he was born in another time.” ~ Rabindranath Tagore

“You can safely assume that you’ve created God in your own image when it turns out that God hates all the same people you do.” Anne Lamott

I received my early professional training at TUSD’s Project More under the tutelage of Dr. Tidwell. He did more to forward democratic processes in the classroom than any other human being I have ever known… however, I learned more from the students at Project More than all of my professors combined. Loretta Hunnicutt