Ph.D. Octopus

Politics, media, music, capitalism, scholarship, and ephemera since 2010

Arizona, Ethnic Studies and my Canadian elementary school

with 2 comments

by Weiner

The wonderfully tolerant people in charge of Arizona are at it again. This time, they signed a bill attacking some high schools’ ethnic studies program.

State schools chief Tom Horne, who has pushed the measure for years, said a Tucson school district program promotes “ethnic chauvinism” and racial resentment toward whites while segregating students by race.

“It’s just like the old South, and it’s long past time that we prohibited it,” Horne said.

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.

Growing up, I mostly attended Jewish day school, which certainly advocated ethnic solidarity and was designed specifically for Jews (I’d like to think it didn’t promote any resentment, except for other Jews). For two years, grades five and six, I attended Royal Vale School, a public school (then part of the Protestant School Board of Greater Montreal, now called the English Montreal School Board).

The school was founded by a bunch of disgruntled Jewish parents who were fed up with the Jewish day schools in Montreal. Thus Royal Vale, in addition to providing a supposedly enhanced math and science curriculum, also offered a required supplemental course, for two hours per week, in either “Language Arts” or “Jewish Heritage.” Keep in mind, this was a public school, part of the Protestant school board. And yet about half of the students took Jewish Heritage classes every Tuesday and Thursday (the student body was probably 75-80% Jewish).

Maybe this has something to do with the possibly mythical, possibly real difference between the American “Melting Pot” and the Canadian “Mosaic.” The Canadian government actively encourages multiculturalism, while the US government advocates assimilation. Or something like that.

In Arizona’s case, I think it’s likely that those in favor of the bill are doing more than advocating assimilation, though. They are being prejudiced against African Americans, Hispanics and Native Americans. They are trying to put down minority cultures by censoring content that deals with oppression.

Beyond this, however, my problem with the bill is that it opposes ethnic “solidarity” along with propagating ethnic resentment. Now clearly the latter is bad. The former, however, is neutral. I think ethnic solidarity can be a positive good provided that it is tempered with values of tolerance and pluralism and a commitment to obeying the laws of the land, in so far that those laws are just.

Some think Canadian multiculturalism has gone too far. I don’t think so. But I certainly think that Arizona has gone too far in the other direction. It’s time for Americans to not simply accept but also embrace their country’s diversity.

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Written by David Weinfeld

May 12, 2010 at 17:37

2 Responses

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  1. But David your Quebecois day school was religiously-based (Protestant) because of the province’s historically problematic conflation of religion and state (with only Christian ‘public’ schools and all other government agencies religiously-organized), among the most xenophobic of ‘Canadian’ policies! Your Jewish Heritage class, while no doubt important, essentially amounted to the school system’s modern answer, even a loophole, to appear tolerant within a long mired system.

    Lara

    May 13, 2010 at 02:29

  2. also – the existing “american history” and “european history” classes that are no doubt required at AZ public schools, and probably even their “world history” classes, are by and large about white people and white history. i don’t think i’m being too reactionary in saying that these ethnic studies programs were designed to make up for a glaring flaw in the existing curriculum. now that they’re illegal, we’re going to see the same problem, likely worse than before.

    julie

    May 13, 2010 at 09:43


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