Sarah Gassen: Ethnic studies can be taught in Ariz. schools (yeah, right)

2013-03-14T00:00:00Z 2013-03-15T10:42:44Z Sarah Gassen: Ethnic studies can be taught in Ariz. schools (yeah, right)Sarah Garrecht Gassen Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star

First, a short quiz. We're going to do a quick word-find exercise using the Arizona academic standards for K-12 in social studies.

The academic standards set the bar for what Arizona public school kids should be learning, and at what grade level.

Teachers create the lessons, but this is the guiding document about what, in the panoply of knowledge, must be taught.

So take a guess. Out of this 7,737-word document, how many times does "Hispanic" appear in the standards for American History? Twice. "Latino"? Zero.

"Mexican" or "Mexico" is in there seven times. (Two of those are Mexican-American War and two are Mexican Cession.)

Slavery? It's mentioned twice, in the Civil War and Reconstruction section. It can't be easy to explain to kids that for many, many years Americans - including the people lauded as our nation's heroic Founding Fathers - bought and sold men, women and children.

Ugly and shameful history can't be excused. But it must be explored and explained if we're to understand where we, as a society, come from and how those tangled roots shape life today.

Arizona third-graders need to be able to "recognize that there were issues (e.g. slavery, states' rights, South seceded from the Union) associated with the Civil War."

Yeah. The nation had some "issues" during the Civil War.

At least the fantasy that Columbus "discovered" America isn't specifically mentioned. Lots of references to the "New World" - it was just the "world" to the people living here - but history is all about a point of view. And, from the European point of view, it was, and remains, the "New World."

Students are to learn about the scientific and cultural advancements (mathematics, architecture, astronomy, trade, farming, etc.) of "Early Civilizations," but once we get to the Exploration and Colonization section (1500s-1700s) there's this for fourth-graders:

Describe the impact of Spanish colonization on the Southwest:

a. Establishment of missions and presidios.

b. Lifestyle changes of native people.

c. Contributions of Father Kino.

Lifestyle changes. One nation's genocide is another's midlife crisis.

All this is worthy of mention because an effort to teach kids an expanded and inclusive view of history was trampled by the U.S. District Court last week. Judge A. Wallace Tashima upheld almost all of the so-called "ethnic studies" law and turned away most constitutional challenges.

This odious law was birthed as part of then-state schools superintendent Tom Horne's declared mission to eliminate the Mexican American Studies program in the Tucson Unified School District. He ultimately did.

The twist is that TUSD is now required to create "culturally relevant" courses as part of a federal desegregation court order.

Good luck with that.

Horne's penchant for glorifying the Greco-Roman influence in Western culture is well-established. There's a lot to appreciate in that history.

But it's not all that's needed to be a thoughtful, educated person. It's a partial view of our complicated journey.

Horne's view of the world matters because he is, unfortunately, in a position as the state's attorney general to continue his crusade.

Judge Tashima chided Horne: "This single-minded focus on terminating the MAS program, along with Horne's decision not to issue findings against other ethnic studies programs, is at least suggestive of discriminatory intent."

Still, Tashima determined that the ethnic studies law is not discriminatory. He found one section of the law, barring classes that "are designed primarily for pupils of a particular ethnic group" is unconstitutional and "threatens to chill the teaching of legitimate and objective ethnic studies courses."

Even with this part of the law removed, enough remains intact that only the bravest schools will risk inviting Horne's attention - especially come election time.

In the nice paper world of court decisions, ethnic studies courses can be taught in Arizona schools.

But that's not the realm teachers, principals and school boards operate in as they figure out what - and what not - to teach. That realm, guided by Arizona's academic standards, is much riskier for everyone.

Sarah Garrecht Gassen writes opinion for the Arizona Daily Star. Her column appears Thursdays. Email her at sgassen@azstarnet.com

Copyright 2014 Arizona Daily Star. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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