Ethnic studies don’t threaten U.S. history

Freedom New Mexico

Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer once again is taking heat for signing a knee-jerk bill that targets minority groups.

Just weeks after signing the immigration enforcement bill that allows local police to stop people, without evidence of a crime, and ask for their proof of legal U.S. residency, Brewer approved a bill restricting the teaching of ethnic studies in Arizona’s public schools.

State lawmakers wrote the bill in hopes of closing down elective programs in Tucson public schools that focus on African-American, Mexican American and native American studies.

The classes look at the history of these groups as well as their literature and national influence. District officials say their courses actually meet the new law’s restrictions, which prohibit the promotion of ethnic solidarity or resentment of one group toward another.

Like the immigration bill, the ethnic studies bill could actually raise awareness of the issue rather than stifle it.

It’s worth noting it is impossible to remove ethnicity from the study of history. As the saying goes, history is written by the conquerors.

Nowhere is that more evident than in Texas, where Republican members of the State Board of Education are working to lessen mentions of minorities in history texts, and raise the prominence of Republican operatives.

Like the Arizona legislators, Texas school board members have met with national ridicule for their decisions, such as inserting GOP gadfly Phyllis Schlafly into the texts while keeping Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor out.

History will always be skewed to place those in power in a better light, and to justify their actions over their opponents’. For example, Texas and Mexico history texts depict the Battle of the Alamo much differently.

Much is lost when the treatment of history becomes too subjective and restricted. Interested students can learn a lot by looking at the different treatments of Texas history, as noted above, or by studying the music, religious beliefs and other elements of society that developed among American slaves, or how major migrations — the Irish in the mid-19th century; Italians at the turn of the century, southeast Asians in the 1970s — affected the areas where they settled and the country’s culture in general.

The internal struggles between militant groups and advocates of nonviolence among the Chicano and black rights groups in the 1960s provide both an interesting and enriching study.

Allowing the study of such real elements of our history should not be a threat to other parts of our society. Rather, they can help explain many events and attitudes of their respective times, and help students better understand the complexities that exist in society.

Like the immigration bill, the curriculum bill could face legal challenges. In the meantime, lawmakers should recognize the need to provide our students with a comprehensive education. In social studies, that education can begin with the recognition that many of those who founded this great nation came here to escape the very kinds of intolerance that some of their descendants are exhibiting across the country.