August 2013Monthly Archives

Is It Possible For Ethnic Studies To Cause Division Rather Than Understanding?

Recently, the state of Arizona was in the news again for information related to its Hispanic population. It seems that Tucson Unified School District sought to ban Mexican American studies from the curriculum. In March of this year, a federal judge made the decision that this was not an unconstitutional move. Oddly, the school district did not seek to ban Asian or African American studies from the curriculum. All of this causes one to wonder what the reasoning might be behind this sort of move.


The state put forth the concept that the Mexican American studies program tended to stir resentment rather than foster understanding. For this reason, the state claimed that the program did not meet the stated objective of ethnic studies in the high school setting. Generally, this purpose is considered to be an effort to help familiarize students with their own ethnic roots and background and that of their fellow students and to foster understanding. Because the state of Arizona has a long history of unwelcoming treatment of people of Mexican heritage, it is easy to imagine that their Mexican American studies courses may have taken on a negative tone.

Is banning the course the right response?

We asked a hispanic plumber in the Boise Idaho what he thought of this program.   Jimmy of Plumbers Boise stated that “he did not know much about the program bit of ot was causing problems then it should not continue.”

In the final analysis, it is really impossible to know whether or any of the Arizona ethnic studies programs are divisive without thoroughly examining them. Everything from reading materials to instructional objectives would need to be critiqued in order to determine whether or not the materials are problematic. Of course, the way in which the curriculum is taught is also a strong determining factor.

In addition to considering the source of the ban and the materials in question, it is also important to consider the intended recipients of the teaching. High school age kids are not typically known for their skills at empathy, understanding and advocacy of those who differ from them. One need only look at the biography* of Howard Zinn, historian and activist whose 1980 best-seller entitled A People’s History Of The USA sparked student protests, to learn that even college age students often lack these qualities.

Be all that as it may, it would seem logical to say that actually teaching all ethnic studies correctly in a way that strives to foster empathy and understanding would be far preferable to simply banning an individual section of an ethnic studies program in order to avoid controversy.