Ethnic Studies Law

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Governor Brewer has signed HB 2281 which targets an ethnic studies program in a Tucson school district. Arizona Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Horne and House Assistant Minority Leader Kyrsten Sinema discuss the legislation.

Jose Cardenas:
Good evening, and welcome to "Horizonte." Governor Brewer sign as bill banning ethnic studies classes. Hear from both sides of the issue.

The effect of immigration legislation on families. That's all next on "Horizonte."
Thank you for joining us. I'm Jose Cardenas.

After signing the state's new immigration law, Governor Brewer signs another controversial piece of legislation, house bill 2281, ending ethnic studies classes. The bill makes it illegal for a school district to have any courses or classes that promote the overthrow of the U.S. government, promote resentment toward a race or class of people, advocate ethnic solidarity instead of treating people -- pupils as individuals, and are designed primarily for pupils of a particular ethnic group. Joining me now to talk about the bill is Arizona superintendent of public instruction Tom Horne and house assistant minority leader Kyrsten Sinema. Thank you both for joining us on "Horizonte." We have a statement from the people at Tuscon unified school district that we wanted to read discussing this particular piece of legislation. It's from Augustine Romero, director of student equity, Tuscon unified school district: "It is truly unfortunate that through the passage of HB 2281 our state has allowed itself to be misguided by lies and political propaganda, the truth of the matter is we do not engage in any of the activities that this law has been designed to prohibit. The truth is that we fully and enthusiastically embrace the essence of America, we cherish all of our brothers and sisters and we recognize and find great value in all of the humanistic gifts they offer. Lastly in our classrooms we have proudly created an inclusive and welcoming environment for all children. Given the honest and life nurturing characteristics of our program, it is sad that our state has been influenced by the dishonest and narrow minded zealots whose only interest is political gain." That's from Dr. Augustine Romero, director of student equity. Tom, I take it you have a much different point of view.

Tom Horne:
Yeah, I do. Let me talk for a minute about the philosophy. The summer of 1963, I just graduated from high school. And I participated in the march on Washington in which Martin Luther King gave his famous speech where he said people should be judged by the content of their character and not the color of their skin. It's been one of my most fundamental beliefs my entire life. What's important about what people is what they can do, and not what race they were born into or what ethnicity they were born into. In the ethnic studies class in Tuscon, they have studies for the Latino kids, African-American studies for the African American kisd, and Indian studies for the naytive American kids, Asian studies for the Asian kids. They've got the kids divided by race like the old south. I think that's fundamentally contrary to American values. In addition to that --

Jose Cardenas:
Tom, let me stop you there. You say they've got the kids divided up by race. My understanding is that all students can enter these classes so they're not divide, segregated. And I would assume, for example, the African-American studies programs would talk about the very things you expressed just a moment ago, with respect to Dr. Martin Luther King, the civil rights struggle, would something like that be banned here?

Tom Horne:
Yes. We require that those things be taught in the regular social studies class where all the kids are together, which I think the public schools are for, to bring kids from different backgrounds together and treat each other as individuals and not divide them up.

Jose Cardenas:
To clarify, as I understand Tuscon unified school district, they don't segregate the kids. Any student could be in the African-American studies course.

Tom Horne:
It's primarily designed -- it's primarily designed for African-American kids, and so on. So it doesn't need to be exclusive, and in fact just -- I can tell astory about Augustine Romero himself, because Hector is one of my sources, he was born in Mexico, but he is opposed to these things. He's -- he teaches Shakespeare, a very high level, and has been subject to a lot of hate by other teachers, including Romero, who called him "the white man's tool". And he was right next door to him and some Angelo kids came into his room and said they were being dissed because they were white. And he said why did you take the class? I don't know, I needed a social studies class. But Hector has told me a lot about Romero, that in fact he's the one that is not telling the truth, that he does teach a separatist political agenda, that the land for taken from Mexico and should be given back --

Jose Cardenas:
I do want to come back to the specifics of the courses as opposed to perhaps some of the personalities involved, but representative, what's wrong with this legislation, because I take it you are of the open certain persuasion.

Kyrsten Sinema:
I think there's a lot of things wrong. Tom articulated some of those for us. Tom said that these courses were divided and students were segregated. As you pointed out, these classes are open to all students. So, for instance, if I were a high school student I could take the Japanese-American class or Asian-American class, I could I take an African-American class, could I take the RAZA studies class or I could take a Native American class. And I think that's one of the most beautiful things about American public schools. We provide opportunities for students to learn about their own heritage and culture, and the heritage and culture of all other communities that are part of this very diverse country. When Tom says we should ban these programs even though they're open to all students, I think that deprives students of prime opportunities to learn about their heritage, but also to seek a deeper understanding about each other. That's a real mistake in this legislation, that it deprives us of the ability to really dive in deeply. Much more so in the social studies course.

Jose Cardenas:
What do you do about situations, like Tom has referred to, where students, white students go to these classes and they feel that they are quote unquote dissed?

Kyrsten Sinema:
I would want to find out more information about that myself. I'm not much to rely on secondhand stories. But I do think it's important for us to create a culture of acceptance and tolerance in all classrooms in our public schools. So, for instance, as a white woman, if I were to go to an African-American studies class, my intent would be to learn about the culture and the heritage of the African-American community, which is an experience I'll never have on my own. And I would want to seek understanding and hopefully have a dialogue about how the past has implicated and affects our present today. And hopefully how we can continue to seek changes for the future, as envisioned by Martin Luther King.

Tom Horne:
That's the very thing we have in our standards, to teach the kids where they're all brought together. The public schools in the United States have been a place where we bring people together from backgrounds and teach them to transcend those backgrounds to treat other kids as individuals regardless of what their racial background is. Not divide them up by their racial groups.

Kyrsten Sinema:
I actually would like -

Tom Horne:
let me just read you one passage from another teacher, john ward, who is Hispanic. He was a teacher in the class and he got kicked out because he objected the to what was going on. He says "the whole inference and tone was anger they taught students the United States is a fundamentally racist country to those of Mexican-American kids, individuals in this ethic studies department are vehemently antiwestern culture. They are vehemently oppose to the United States and its power. They are telling students they're victims, and they should be angry and rise up. By the time I left the class I saw a change in the students, and angry tone." One of their basic textbooks is called the Pedagogy of the Oppressed. Their families came to this country because this is the land of opportunity. And these kids should be taught this is the land of opportunity and if they work hard they can achieve whatever they want. They should not be taught they're oppressed and they should be angry at their country.

Kyrsten Sinema:
I actually have -- I use that same textbook. I use that very textbook, Pedagogy of the Oppressed. It's an amazing textbook, and I think perhaps if you read it you would feel differently about it.

Tom Horne:
I did read it. He's a well-known Brazilian communist.

Kyrsten Sinema:
Well he's not a communist a the all.

Yes he is, his sources are Marx, Lenin, Che Guevara and the philosophers who influenced them --

Kyrsten Sinema:
I would love to be able to talk for a moment about some of these things if you don't mind, thanks. One, I think some of these texts are important. It's an amazing document, that helps students understand a concept of organizing that is different than the concept of organizing they may have experienced. And it's often taught in conjunction with other styles of organizing that are used by other individuals both contemporary and history. But I think more importantly, something that Tom said, he said the fundamental idea of public school is to bring everyone together and teach them to overcome their own culture and heritage or their race, and seek to be recognized as individuals. And I would like to take a little bit of issue with that. Because part of the American dream is coming to America and being a part of this unique unbelievably diverse country. But it also means that we mix the great diversity that each of us bring from our own heritage. My history is dutch. And I want to bring the dutch history of my family to every opportunity and engagement I have. So implying students should overcome or leave behind their own race or ethnicity is actually contrary to what makes America such a strong and diverse place.

Tom Horne:
I didn't say they should leave it behind. I think the word I used was transcend, which means you treat other people as individuals, don't judge them, that this person is of the same race, therefore I'm closer to them than somebody of a different race. Instead, You judge people on the basis of what they know, what they dock and their characters, and race is irrelevant. That's a fundamental value of America. It's a fundamental value of myself.

Jose Cardenas:
Are you not concerned at all with what seems to be a rather broad language, for example, promote resentment toward a race or class of people, if you were talking about slavery in the United States? Arguably that would promote resentment against whites. Would that be banned by this statute?

Tom Horne:
It should not. You can teach slavery-

Jose Cardenas:
But African-American studies are band regardless of content?

Tom Horne:
Yes. Anything that divides kids up by race is banned.

Jose Cardenas:
It doesn't divide them, because they all get to attend.

Tom Horne:
You and I keep disagreeing about that, because it's primarily designed -- they've got four groups for four races, four racial studies groups, each one for one race where my philosophy I is --

Jose Cardenas:
But we agree anybody can attend the class?

Tom Horne:
Yes We put in our standards when the kids are together, they learn about the contributions of all different cultures. But they do it together and they learn about all different ones. It's not, well, I'm African-American so I'm going to learn about African-Americans. I'm in a class, I'm -- this substitutes for the american history class.

Jose Cardenas:
You see no benefit to an in-depth studies of the civil rights movement, for example?

Tom Horne:
I'm all for in-depth study of the civil rights movement.

Jose Cardenas:
If that was part of an African-American studies program -- wouldn't that arguably violate this statue.

Tom Horne:
well, what I have got -- the reason I've pushed this bill, I've been pushing it for several years, it has nothing to do with the recent 1070 or anything like that, the reason I've been pushing this bill is what we're experiencing in fact that's happening that it is being taught in a separatist way, that's creating resentment toward the country, and I experience it myself when I went down to Tucson, because I had my deputy who is herself from an immigrant family, but she's a Republican, and they had a speaker who said Republicans hate Latinos. So she went up -- she came down and said, I'm a proud Latina and proud Republican, I don't hate myself. And she gave a high-level speech telling kids to be skeptical of what they hear and avoid stereotypes. In the middle of the speech a bunch of kids got up, turned their backs to her, put their fists in the air and the principal asked them to sit down, and they walked out on her. I've been to over a thousand schools, and I've never before or since seen that type of group behavior.

Jose Cardenas:
Tom. The concern I have is you're using incidents outside the courses, and suggesting that that proves something with respect to the course. I want to come back --

Tom Horne:
let me just say that --

Jose Cardenas:
The representative wanted to say something --

Kyrsten Sinema:
I just want to keep emphasizing, while Tom is saying these courses are divided, the fact is any student can attend any of these courses. And while Tom is expressing some stories about concerns he has about one particular course, he hasn't indicated there have been problems with any of the other courses. So as we talked earlier, he hasn't indicated having a problem with the African-American studies class or the Native American studies class or Asian-American studies class. Yet this bill broadly bans all of those courses. And I think that's a detriment for students who, for instance, like myself, when I was in high school, would have probably wanted to attend the African-American studies class to learn more about the history of slavery, the history of the civil rights movement and where we are today in moving forward with reaching that full dream equality in our country. I think that's a real problem.


Jose Cardenas:
One more question, Tom touched on the timing of this legislation as it relates to SB 1070. It is bad timing? Regardless of the intent, let's assume that 2182 --

Kyrsten Sinema:
2281.

Jose Cardenas:
Perfectly well intentioned. Should the legislature perhaps have held back, given the reaction to SB 1070?

Kyrsten Sinema:
I certainly can't speak to the intentions. That's not my job to do. But I can speak to the impact and the effect. And I think it will be incredible harmful for our state. And deprive students of the opportunity to learn about their own and other communities' cultures. Which could actually lead to increased resentment and division amongst our students. But more importantly, -- is the timing right for this? I would argue it's never right for a bill like 2281. But more importantly, right now is a very difficult time, particularly for students. Many students are afraid. They feel marginalized, students who are of Latino heritage or Native American students who appear to be of Latino heritage are probably concerned about their civil rights and their liberties, considering that 1070 has recently passed. When you add to that other things that are happening, like as we read about in the national news, that teachers are actually being moved out of certain classrooms depending on the strength or the intensity of their accent, I think this leads to an entire concern about how we're treating people of different cultures and heritage here in Arizona.

Jose Cardenas:
You had a picture I know you wanted to show. I'm not sure how much time we have left, but I do want to --

Tom Horne:
yes, in the picture you can see if you look closely, these are teachers and students demonstrating against my bill at Tuscon high school. You can see kids with masks, sunglasses, berretts, brown shirts, this is the kind of revolutionary activity these being taught. I wanted to say something about the incident I observed.

Jose Cardenas:
I've been advised we're just about out of time. I know --

Tom Horne:
could I make that one point?
Jose Cardenas:
We've only got 20 seconds. As I understand it, the people pictured in there, in uniforms are from Los Angeles.

Kyrsten Sinema:
Many of these folks are from the Los Angeles area. Some of the Angelo folks are students and teachers of the program. And they're demonstrating which is their constitutional right.

Tom Horne:
I wanted to say that about the incident I observed, these students were not taught to be rude at home. They were taught to be polite at home. They were taught rudeness from these teachers, and it's very dysfunctional, because as grown-ups they'll fail --

Jose Cardenas:
I do want to know how you know that, but I'm sorry, but we're out of time.

Kyrsten Sinema:
Thanks so much.

Tom Horne:Arizona Superintendent of Public Instruction;Kyrsten Sinema:House Assistant Minority Leader;

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