Arizona Uber Alles: Legislators Target Chicanos in Attempt to Close Intellectual Borders of Schools

April 18, 2008

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Though it looks like just another report on the anti-immigrant screed that grows like cotton out in Arizona and across the country, the issue raised in this article gives one reason to both pause and sound the alarm: Latinos are being used to institute uniformity of “values” in schools. Not satisfied with the political profits reaped by targeting immigrants, the white legislators behind Arizona’s SB 1108 want to expand their racial franchise by trying to cut funding to schools that teach courses that “denigrate American values and the teachings of Western civilization”.

Among the individuals and organizations mentioned in the article as targets of SB 1108 are the student group, MECHA, Chicano Studies and my friend and eminent scholar/activist, Rudy Acuna, who emailed the piece with a telling title- “Scary”.

Though hardly new (ie; Rudy says his children’s books were targeted in a similar way in the early 70’s), these attacks come at a different time, a time in which the growing fear of Latinos is grotesquely fused with the kind of “civilizational” warfare and white fear I discuss in depth here.

By targeting Chicano studies, MECHA and other groups and individuals promoting critical thinking among Latinos, the forces of white fear get two important benefits: they get to motivate their aging, flaccid base with the political Viagra of a new “threat” while also turning critical thinking among Latino youth into a dangerous and expensive endeavor. Better for the young barbarians to be disciplined by institutions and environments free of critical thinking – military and police boot camps and other hero factories, shiny new prisons, Dickensian and de-unionized workplaces and schools that promote ideals mentioned in SB 1108 ,”American values”, “capitalism” and “civilization”.

Arizona uber alles.

Measure Backs ‘American Values” In State Schools

Arizona schools whose courses “denigrate American values and the teachings of Western civilization” could lose state funding under the terms of legislation approved Wednesday by a House panel.

SB1108 also would bar teaching practices that “overtly encourage dissent” from those values, including democracy, capitalism, pluralism and religious tolerance. Schools would have to surrender teaching materials to the state superintendent of public instruction, who could withhold state aid from districts that broke the law.

Another section of the bill would bar public schools, community colleges and universities from allowing organizations to operate on campus if it is “based in whole or in part on race-based criteria,” a provision Rep. Russell Pearce, R-Mesa, said is aimed at MEChA, the Moviemiento Estudiantil Chicano de Aztlan, a student group.

The 9-6 vote by the Appropriations Committee sends the measure to the full House.

The legislation appears aimed largely at the Tucson Unified School District, whose “Raza Studies” program has annoyed some people. Tucson resident Laura Leighton read lawmakers sections of some books used in classrooms which she said promote hatred.

If the proposal becomes law, however, it would have a statewide reach. And that concerned even some lawmakers who voted for it, saying the language of what would and would not be prohibited is “vague.”

Tucson school officials have said the program under fire has helped Hispanic students improve their academic achievement by building pride and focusing on their cultural heritage.

But Pearce, who crafted the measure, said the program doesn’t stop there. He said taxpayers are funding “hate speech paid for by tax dollars.”

And Pearce said some of the teachings amount to “sedition” by suggesting that the current border between the United States and Mexico disappear, with Mexico – and Hispanics – taking over the American Southwest.

Leighton had specific problems with a text called “Occupied America,” a book touted by its publisher as examining Chicano history from the coming of the Spanish in 1519.

She read one line which said “kill the gringos.” Another talked about a plan to take back the U.S. Southwest and deport all the Europeans.

A closer look, at the book, though, showed the line about the gringos was a quote from someone referenced. And that the plan to take back the area was not urging current action but instead detailing one pushed by Mexico in 1915.

Leighton, however, said she and others who reviewed the course work believe it is unacceptable.

“We find hate and revolution is being taught in their books,” she testified. “We found a denigration and disparagement of American values and a subversion of our history.”

Anna Graves said she believes schools are promoting a double standard with such programs.

“If we were to have a group of white citizens teaching white culture only for the white children, it would be totally and absolutely inappropriate in a country that is a country of diversity,” said Graves, a Mexican immigrant now a U.S. citizen.

“I absolute deplore people who come from another country and do not want anything to do with the culture, the language or anything that has to do with the government,” Graves said. She said they are in this country to send back money to relatives elsewhere and “are not here to provide loyalty.”

Rep. Peter Rios, D-Dudleyville, said that kind of attitude ignores the United States as a “culture of diversity.”

“What is the downside of students learning about their culture along with the American culture, value and mores?” he asked. Graves said nothing – as long as it’s not just Hispanic culture being taught.

More to the point, Graves said it’s the job of parents to teach children about their own ethnic background and culture.

“Not everybody had what you had,” Rios responded. “So some of these children have to pick up some of this positive self-image building at the school because they’re not getting it at home, they’re not getting it in the barrios of the neighborhood.”

And Rios suggested there was a reason to have programs aimed at teaching Hispanic youngsters about their heritage.

“At the end of the day, we all know the history books are written by the victors,” he said. “And we didn’t win too many of our battles coming from a Hispanic culture.”

Pearce said nothing in the Legislature precludes teaching about various cultures. What he opposes, he said, are the “hateful, despicable comments” becoming part of public education. What would be illegal, Pearce said, are “race-based” classes.

“Nobody would stand here, I suspect, and try to defend the KKK teachings at a Tucson school or anywhere else,” he said.

House Minority Leader Phil Lopes, D-Tucson, said lawmakers should butt out of the controversy. He said decisions of curriculum should be left to local school boards.

But Rep. Andy Biggs, R-Gilbert, said lawmakers are entitled to regulate the use of tax dollars taken from Arizonans and “demand that our publicly funded education teach and inculcate our youth, our children with the values that make America what it is, the greatest and most free nation in the world.”

Biggs, however, conceded the language of what would be prohibited is “somewhat vague” and probably needs work.

Rep. David Schapira, D-Tempe, said it is more than vague. He questioned what it means to “overtly encourage dissent” from the values of American democracy and Western civilization.

School board and superintendents’ lobbyists signed in as opposed to the measure but did not speak. Nor did Sam Polito, Tempe schools lobbyist, saying it made no sense to try to derail Pearce’s bill in a committee he chairs.

4 Responses to “Arizona Uber Alles: Legislators Target Chicanos in Attempt to Close Intellectual Borders of Schools”

  1. jazzyjoc Says:

    Help fight Ariz. bill to ban ethnic student groups like MEChA, Black Business Students Assoc.

    Multiculturalism is a basic American concept. We value the beliefs, traditions, customs, arts, history and folklore of the diverse cultures reflected throughout our nation. All this is being put at risk in Arizona, where last week the Appropriations Committee passed an amendment to a routine homeland security bill, SB 1108 that would prohibit students at the state’s public universities and community colleges from organizing groups based on race (ie: groups such as MEChA, the Black Business Students Association, Native Americans United, etc.)

    Please take action today. This bill could reach the Arizona House floor as early as this week. Go to: http://www.ufwaction.org/campaign/sb1108

    According to newspaper reports, Rep. John Kavanagh, (R-Scottsdale), a supporter of the measure called these campus organizations, “‘self-defeating’ and ‘self-destructive’ for students.”

    Self-defeating? Multiculturalism doesn’t limit students. It gives them pride in who they are and enhances their being fuller people by fostering the concept of America being the land of opportunity. As Cesar Chavez said, “Preservation of one’s culture doesn’t mean contempt for others’.”

    These student groups are like any other school club or fraternity. They bring students together so they can achieve academic success. They offer a place to meet, make friends and support one another. Their goal is to help students succeed. For example, the members of the University of Arizona’s MEChA chapter visit high schools to encourage students to attend college. They hold events and fundraisers to spread the message that education is the key to success.

    The bill goes one step further. It also would ban public schools or colleges from including race-based classes or school sponsored activities. Officially the language says it would ban any activity “deemed contradictory to the values of American democracy or Western civilization.” However, the language is so broad, who knows what could be prohibited? Certainly Chicano studies, African-American studies & other ethnic studies programs would be put at risk.

    Studies show that students who learn about their race and culture have a lower drop-out rate. In truth, if this bill passes it could cause a huge set back in our educational system.

    Please take immediate action. If you live in Arizona, e-mail your representatives immediately as well as the Speaker of the House. If you live outside Arizona, please e-mail the Arizona Speaker of the House today and let him know the eyes of the nation are on Arizona.

    Take Action at: http://www.ufwaction.org/campaign/sb1108


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  3. nick Says:

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  4. […] 2008 as “anti-American” by Arizona Rep. Russell Pearce, R-Mesa and other backers of the racist SB 1108 bill. Rudy’s letter to the Tucson Citizen in May of that year rightly denounces the dangerous tactic […]


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