Hands Off: Ethnic Studies Ban Threatens Education for All Young Americans
A ban on ethnic studies programs in Arizona’s K-12 classrooms is already costing young Americans a comprehensive education in American history, broader pathways to success, access to books written by literary giants like Shakespeare that contain themes of struggle and oppression, and the autonomy to think critically.
Yet Arizona Superintendent of Schools John Huppenthal wants to snake the ban all the way up the education totem pole, wiping out critical race theory completely from the state’s college campuses.
Campus Progress Advocacy Associate Eduardo Garcia talks about the benefits of ethnic studies courses and how eliminating them hurts young Americans, regardless of their race or ethnic identity.
Opponents of the ban say there are positive outcomes of teaching young Latinos about their place in American history. What are the effects of pulling ethnic studies programs at the high school and collegiate level?
I think we still have to wait to see what the outcomes are going to be at the college level. What we do know for Arizona, however, is students who completed these courses at the high school level were also more likely to go to college—in many instances, they were even outperforming other students who were not enrolled in those courses.
It isn’t surprising that students would excel academically from being enrolled in these classes. When you learn about the history of your community within the United States, when your ideas about history are being challenged in a profound way—mostly because you’re being included in the history you’re learning—you feel empowered. When your history is not a part of the curriculum, you are made invisible, just a spectator of the historical process.
Have you taken ethnic studies courses before and, if so, how has it influenced you in an academic setting? In your current work?
I took a course on “The Mexican Intellectual” during my junior year of college, where I studied the writings and philosophies of thinkers from Mexico and other parts of Latin America. It reshaped my thinking of the historical process as both a student studying history and as an activist working for change at a local non-profit based in my community.
What made the biggest difference for me was the teaching style of my professor. He was inspired by Paulo Friere’s theories on education—he made our classroom about the fair exchange of ideas between himself and students. He didn’t come in assuming we were “empty containers”—void of interesting social or political experiences as members of multiple communities—and that he was the ultimate source of knowledge. This is a very common approach in ethnic studies courses, and other disciplines that inspire critical thinking. I took that model of education and applied it in academics and continue to apply it in my professional life.
Do you think ethnic studies courses teach young people of color how to resent white people, like some against them have claimed?
Ethnic studies is not about teaching young people of color to resent white people. It’s about developing the critical thinking of students so that they understand history and contemporary society in a more thoughtful way. Challenging male, white supremacy so that we are able to value the contributions of people from various cultures who are also Americans and participate in our society is not the same as fostering resentment for white people.
What are the benefits Americans can gain from taking ethnic studies courses?
There are writers, thinkers, and philosophers who are not studied in more traditional classroom settings that are dissected in Ethnic Studies courses. All students, regardless of their race or ethnicity, should be challenging themselves and their own thinking. This can begin with expanding who and what you are studying and learning about. Ultimately, I think that begins with questioning what is being taught in the classroom—questioning what knowledges, experiences, histories are being valued—and pushing for more critical and inclusive perspectives.
Naima Ramos-Chapman is an associate editor at Campus Progress. Eduardo Garcia is advocacy manager at Campus Progress. Follow him @itseddie.