Monday, May 17, 2010

In Defense of Arizona's Ethnic Studies Law

An essential essay, from Stanly Fish, "Arizona: The Gift That Keeps On Giving":

The loud debate over the recently passed Arizona House Bill 2281, which bans from the public schools ethnic studies courses that promote race consciousness, is a clash between two bad paradigms.

The first paradigm is embedded in and configures the bill’s targeted program, the Mexican American Studies Department of the Tucson Unified School District, which, its Web site tells us, adheres to the Social Justice Education Project model. That model includes “a counter-hegemonic curriculum” and “a pedagogy based on the theories of Paolo Freire.” Freire, a Brazilian educator, is the author of the widely influential book “Pedagogy of the Oppressed.”

Freire argues that the structures of domination and oppression in a society are at their successful worst when the assumptions and ways of thinking that underwrite their tyranny have been internalized by their victims: “The very structure of their thought has been conditioned by the contradictions of the concrete, existential situation by which they were shaped.” If the ideas and values of the oppressor are all you ever hear, they will be yours — that is what hegemony means — and it will take a special and radical effort to liberate yourself from them.

That effort is education, properly reconceived not as the delivery of pre-packaged knowledge to passive students, but as the active dismantling, by teachers and students together, of the world view that sustains the powers that be and insulates them from deep challenge. Only when this is done, says Freire, will students cease to “adapt to the word as it is” and become “transformers of that world.”

To say that this view of education is political is to understate the point, although that descriptive will not be heard by its adherents as a criticism. The Social Justice Education Project means what its title says: students are to be brought to see what the prevailing orthodoxy labors to occlude so that they can join the effort to topple it. To this end the Department of Mexican American Studies (I quote again from its Web site) pledges to “work toward the invoking of a critical consciousness within each and every student” and “promote and advocate for social and educational transformation.”

If the department is serious about this (and we must assume that it is), then there is something for the citizens of Arizona to be concerned about. The concern is not ethnic studies per se — a perfectly respectable topic of discussion and research involving the disciplines of history, philosophy, sociology, medicine, economics, literature, public policy and art, among others. The concern is ethnic studies as a stalking horse or Trojan horse of a political agenda, even if the agenda bears the high-sounding name of social justice. (“Teaching for Social Justice” is a pervasive and powerful mantra in the world of educational theory.)

It is certainly possible to teach the literature and history (including the history of marginalization and discrimination) of ethnic traditions without turning students into culture warriors ready to man (and woman) the barriers. To be sure, the knowledge a student acquires in an ethnic studies course that stays clear of indoctrination may lead down the road to counter-hegemonic, even revolutionary, activity; you can’t control what students do with the ideas they are exposed to. But that is quite different from setting out deliberately to produce that activity as the goal of classroom instruction.

RTWT at the link.

RELATED: Victor Davis Hanson, "
How Could They Do That in Arizona!"


Gary Fouse said...

Paolo Freire!!?? I had to read that book Pedagogy of the Oppressed when I was getting my Masters degree in Education back in the 90s. It is completely unreadable. Every word is either "Oppressor" or "Oppressed".

I should have read the Portuguese edition. Maybe it would have been more understandable.

Paolo Freire. Yee Gads!!!

Steve J. said...

For me, the real issue is having an ethnic approach encapsulate ALL knowledge:
In the State legislature, there's a move to

Bill aims to rid TUSD of ethnic studies
'Racial agenda' decried by Horne; Paton is sponsor
By Daniel Scarpinato
arizona daily star
Tucson, Arizona | Published: 06.13.2009

There may be some merit to having this program but this comment by a defender is a FAIL:

"What we do is we ask our students to be critical of their reality," said Augustine Romero, the district's director of student equality. "Whatever lens they choose to look at the issue through, we help them look at the issues through that lens."

That means eventually expanding the program into math, with algebra and calculus taught through an ethnic lens.

"You use social reality to teach math," Romero said.

Posted by Steve J. at 6:21 AM

Rusty Walker said...

Finally a sensible article on illegal immigration from Pajamas Media. I wish I had written it. It untangles the Leftist media obfuscation of the issues. The tiresome hot buttons scrawled on plaques by angry groups of liberals and Hispanics that read “Racial profiling” or, "Racist" are far off the mark. One would think these terms were enunciated in the bill itself. The sad fact is that much of the population prefers to jump in with name-calling without reading the bill. This includes the Attorney General.

Rusty Walker said...

Looking trhough life through an ethnic lens is reverting back to pre-Civil War days. Most of the opposition to this bill is intentionally misstating the facts behind the ban on ethics studies courses. Just as in the AZ immigration laws, when you read it you see it is reasonable. The law outlaws ethics studies courses that promote the overthrow of the U.S. government, promote resentment toward a race or class of people. Instead of studies that advocate ethnic solidarity the emphasis is more on the treatment of people as individuals. It also doesn't prevent discussion regarding America's cultural history, as long as the discussion groups don't bar any students based on their skin color or ethnicity.

Cuffy Miegs said...

The idea is that a culture can have a maximum level of oppression if a well crafted ideological basis for that oppression can be inculcated into the general public. This can best be done through education. Thus, it is not simply necessary to craft an ideology (such as Marxist Bolshevism, Nazism or Maoism) that institutionalizes oppression and impose it on others by force. A means by which the ideology can be willingly absorbed by the young must be devised. Indeed - if the target society to be usurped and overthrown is tolerant, democratic and liberal, the very system itself might be manipulated such that this training can start early, before sufficient force has been accumulated to force an overthrow, with the victims actually being made to unknowingly pay for the training of cadres.

Well thought out stuff. The people who run the Leftist mafia aren't stupid, that's for sure.