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Yolanda Chavez Leyva: Schools must protect ethnic studies


August 22. 2013 10:54PM
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The year has started off badly for those of us who value the teaching of history, diversity, free thought and respect for others. On Jan. 1, a law went into effect in Arizona that effectively bans ethnic studies.



This insidious law threatens true education and academic development for all students. And it intensifies the glare of contempt against minorities.



For instance, Arizona’s new attorney general, Tom Horne, a major proponent of the bill, has singled out the Mexican-American studies programs of the Tucson public schools. This will only serve to make Mexican-Americans feel less welcome.



In an environment where Mexicans and Mexican-Americans are increasingly viewed as “enemies” of U.S. culture, where hate crimes against Latinos are on the rise and where large numbers of Mexican-American students drop out of school, Mexican-American studies are more important than ever — for all students.



Mexican-American students, long denied an equal education, deserve the opportunity to learn their history and to see themselves reflected in their studies. All students deserve this. Students who are not of Mexican heritage deserve the opportunity to learn the history of the diverse peoples that make up this nation. Learning the history of others teaches mutual respect.



I have been an educator for more than 20 years, and in that time I have seen the power of learning history in the lives of thousands of my students. I have taught histories that are filled with tragedies and injustice, with oppression and pain. But they are also filled with examples of courage, of justice, of solidarity, of sacrifice for the greater good.



In my own life, a Mexican-American studies course in high school first helped me see where I fit into the history of this nation. It changed my life. It set me on a course of learning that continues to this day.



If the Arizona law had been in effect in my state at that time, I would have been deprived of this eye-opening experience. Today, tens of thousands of Arizonans may be deprived of it, too, and that’s a tragedy. And tomorrow, millions more may be so deprived if other states enact similar statutes.



Laws like this rob students not only of the knowledge of where they come from but also of the skills they need to navigate the future.



Robbing from our students: That’s the real crime.



Yolanda Chavez Leyva is a historian in Texas specializing in Mexican-American and border history. She wrote this for Progressive Media Project, a source of liberal commentary on domestic and international issues; it is affiliated with The Progressive magazine. Readers may write to the author at: Progressive Media Project, 409 E. Main St., Madison, WI 53703; e-mail: pmproj@progressive.org.





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