Education

Melik Kaylan: Ethnic Cheerleading Is No Substitute For Knowledge.

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Out there in Arizona they've probably bitten off more than they can chew. Bless them for their courage. While the rest of us fastidiously hold our noses and point fingers and kick the ball into the future for someone else to field, Arizonans confront the issues head-on. First the immigration law and now the law against teaching mono-ethnic studies. You may support or deplore their positions, but either way ask this: What has your state done to resolve such matters?

Arizona Superintendent of Education Tom Horne authored the legislation to “ban ethnic studies,” in the shorthand phrase of those against the initiative, and Gov. Jan Brewer signed it into law this Tuesday, May 11. For his pains, Tom Horne has endured a nationwide hose-down of misrepresentation and race-based abuse. A little background first: Horne is quoted as saying that he opposes courses that "promote the overthrow of the U.S. government," teach that "Republicans hate Latinos," and generally incite ethnic division through books with titles like Occupied America: A History of Chicanos.

In a legally vague but otherwise rather compelling phrase, the bill bans teachings that “advocate ethnic solidarity instead of treating pupils as individuals.” It was the formidably intellectual literary editor of theNew Republic, Leon Wieselthier, who once said that a “multicultural society should produce multicultural individuals.” Chicano education courses do no such thing. Indeed, sad to say, multicultural societies tend to produce monocultural enclaves, united, if at all, in the endless struggle to empower their own kind.

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It's certainly true that the Arizona law both by intent and effect will target Mexican kids studying Mexican or Latino courses--palpable evidence of anti-ethnic, not to say racist, bigotry say the critics. Never mind that the courses being banned might be accused of just that. No, in various interviews Horn has been at pains to point out that he is all for a variety of cultures being taught, but just not in a spirit of resentment or grievance. Doesn't that automatically censor the history of injustice toward, say, Native Americans or African-Americans? Ah, there's the rub, for it rather depends on what gets tagged onto the historical facts. That is, it all depends on whether you're teaching history or politics, or put another way, using history to buttress a political agenda. If so, the state should absolutely demand that opposing viewpoints be included. Namely, for example, that the history of this country undeniably included problems of race, but also of triumphs in overcoming them. Exhibit one: the president.

There's another not so minimal issue we are supposed to never mention in discussions of this kind. As we laud and empower minority cultures for their vibrancy, when do we (or they) get to point out their shortcomings? Here's what happens: the minority culturati blame their flaws entirely on the dominant culture and get a free pass on the flaws within their own tradition. Imagine Chicanos, in the current climate of education, being taught the history of Mexico and the history of the U.S. in tandem. Which one would be taught more self-critically? Which deserves to be taught more self-critically? Which would likely contain the greater amount of truth and transparency? One might point out that the grievances of Chicanos in America stem not from the country they chose to inhabit, but the one they chose to leave. How insulting to assume that minorities must be coddled and infantilized with ethnic cheerleading as a substitute for knowledge.

We are doing no favors to minorities when we teach them the doctrine of their own cultural infallibility. All too often, we set them on a dangerous course. Consider the would-be Times Square car bomber. He was apparently motivated by ethnic sympathy for fellow Pashtuns--in effect Taliban sympathizers--killed by U.S. forces in the Afghan war. Did anyone, at any point, educate him in the sanguinary history of the Pashtun tribes of the Pak-Afghan region--how many of their own kind did they kill over the centuries in intra-Pashtun wars, not to mention during the largely Pashtun Taliban rule over Afghanistan in the 1990s? And their treatment of women down the ages to the present? What about Chicano treatment of women? Ethnic minorities resentful of America might be less inclined to act out if they had a clearer notion of how their own cultures had failed them in the first place.

 

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