LET'S DITCH '50S MENTALITY
January 29, 2007
Author: Linda Valdez, The Arizona Republic Estimated printed pages: 3
ETHNIC STUDIES AREN'T 'FRIVOLOUS' BUT IMPORTANT TO OUR CHILDREN'S EDUCATION
The exchange was anachronistic enough to have happened in a 1950s television
show. I half expected Perry Mason to rise with an objection.
The scene was U.S. District Court in Tucson. The issue was the long-running
Flores vs. Arizona case. That's the 15-year-old lawsuit that resulted in a
federal court ordering Arizona to justify what it spends to educate children who
do not speak English.
Under federal law, ignoring these children is not an option. The Equal
Opportunity Education Act requires the state to pay the extra costs associated
with teaching them. For three weeks, attorneys were in court arguing whether a
2006 state law adequately does that.
Tim Hogan of the Arizona Center for Law in the Public Interest says it doesn't.
On the other side is a dizzying array of private attorneys representing the
state. Jose Cardenas represents the attorney general and Gov. Janet Napolitano's
very sane position that the law is fatally flawed for reasons that go beyond the
David Cantelme represents the Legislature's position that the law is just right.
But it was Eric Bistrow, who represents Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom
Horne's position that the law provides enough money, who made me think I was in
a time warp.
He was questioning Steve Holmes of Tucson Unified School District, which has
English-language learners in every one of its 100-plus schools. The district
also has a Mexican-American/Raza Studies Department, which offers teachers
optional curriculum that they can integrate into their regular classes as
Just as learning about Beethoven, Shakespeare and Christopher Columbus can
benefit all students, so can learning about Aztec myths and the art of Frida
Kahlo. In fact, in these days when a lot of ugly, quasi-racist nonsense is being
spewed about illegal immigrants, learning about the rich culture of Mexico is a
In Arizona, there are a great many people of Mexican heritage who are not
illegal immigrants. Their parents and grandparents were born in the good, old
USA. Their heritage is a treasure.
It's hard for me to understand what a cultural-appreciation program has to do
with whether the state is adequately funding English acquisition. But the
program came up several times during testimony.
Margaret Garcia Dugan, Arizona's deputy superintendent of public instruction,
characterized it as "frivolous."
On Thursday, Bistrow grilled Holmes about the finite amount of time and money a
district has to teach children "the body of English literature" and other
material that "forms the cultural backbone of this country." He asked if units
from Raza studies had the "same priority" as teaching English.
His point was clear: The district would have more money to teach children
English if it didn't waste resources teaching about Mexican culture.
The same could be said about expending resources on football teams or the
marching band. In Tucson's largest district, schools close for two days every
year when the rodeo comes to town. This frivolous celebration of cowboy
"heritage" wasn't challenged.
It was ethnic diversity that was targeted. And it was really sad to watch.
Bistrow is a private attorney paid by the public to represent the position of
Horne, a man who was elected to serve as superintendent of public instruction
for all kids, including those, like mine, who are of Mexican heritage. (In the
interest of full disclosure, my husband is a teacher at Tucson Unified.)
In the interest of my country, let me say that the continued strength of this
nation depends on embracing and valuing the many different kinds of people who
The attempt to characterize ethnic studies as "frivolous" was totally out of
place in a 21st-century courtroom.
It made me think of a time when White men made all the rules and none of them
seemed to have the cultural awareness to know that the name of the Lone Ranger's
trusted companion, Tonto, means "stupid."
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