Arizona’s State School Superintendent Tom Horne took to the airwaves yesterday to defend HB 2281, the law that he wrote that bans ethnic studies classes in Arizona public schools. He and Georgetown sociology professor Michael Eric Dyson duked it out on CNN, and Horne stuck to his talking points on ethnic studies: they promote divisiveness, they separate kids of color and they teach kids that they are oppressed. His actual words:
And one of our important functions is to teach kids, kids from different backgrounds, to treat each other as individuals, and not to – not to infuse them with ethnic chauvinism about a particular race, and teach them narrowly just about the background and culture of the race that they happened to have been born into, but to teach them about all different cultures and different races and different traditions, and not divide them up by race. And these kids’ parents and grandparents came to this country, most of them legally, because this is the land of opportunity. And they trust their children to our schools. And we should be teaching these kids that this is the land of opportunity, and, if they work hard, they can achieve their dreams, and not teach them that they’re oppressed.
Horne also made an appearance in the Tucson state education office for a press conference yesterday, and dozens of protesters followed him. Fifteen people, most of them students from the local Tucson High School, were arrested for refusing to leave the building. Inside, Horne pointed to the protesters outside, and said that it was the Mexican-American, African-American and Native-American history and literature courses that the Tucson school district offers, that were to blame for promoting a “radical separatist agenda,” teaching a “revolutionary curriculum” and encouraging students to protest. But Horne misses the point. The young people who are turning out all over the state to protest both the ethnic studies ban and SB 1070–the Arizona law that empowers police to enforce federal immigration law–are not trying to overthrow the government. Nor do they have a radical, or even separatist, agenda. They are joining a public conversation about policy that affects their lives. They are engaging in society, participating in this democracy. “We love these classes and we’re doing this out of love and not of anger or hatred for anybody,” a student named Erin told a reporter from KVOA.