An Arizona Lawmaker Wants To Expand An ‘Ethnic Studies’ Law To Target College Courses On Diversity

01.13.17 7 days ago 5 Comments

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In 2010, Arizona’s Republican Gov. Jan Brewer signed a controversial piece of legislation into law that effectively banned ethnic studies courses from being taught in the state’s public schools. As the Los Angeles Times reported, HB 2281 prevented any teacher or program at public institutions from promoting instruction “designed for students of a particular ethnic group, promote resentment or advocate ethnic solidarity over treating pupils as individuals.” Yet if you ask state Rep. Bob Thorpe his opinion of the nearly seven-year-old law, he’ll tell you it’s not good enough. That’s why the Tea Party politician has introduced HB 2120, a direct response to a course taught at Arizona State University (and other collegiate-level programs like it) that caused a national stir in 2015.

According to the Arizona Daily Star, Thorpe hopes to expand the 2010 law to encompass any publicly-funded coursework or programming that “negatively target specific nationalities or countries.” He also intends to cover any and all classes that concern “gender, religion, political affiliation and social class” with his proposed legislation:

Thorpe said Thursday his bill is aimed specifically at things like a “privilege walk” exercise sponsored by the University of Arizona and a course entitled “Whiteness and Race Theory” at Arizona State University.

The former is described in UA literature as helping participants “recognized the privileges that they have been granted and to learn about the backgrounds of their peers.”

Thorpe considers these particular examples and other like them as counter-intuitive, arguing they actually erode the “gains that were made in the 1960s” with the Civil Rights Movement. Though as big of a net as HB 2120 intends to cast, the conservative lawmaker notes he’s not outright banning them — he simply thinks “taxpayers should not have to pay for them.”

Of course, both examples highlighted by Thorpe’s interview with the Tuscon daily focus not on minority groups — people of color and women — but the state (and the nation’s) white majority. The “privilege walk” exercise is designed to reveal “where [participants] are in relation to others,” and the “Whiteness and Race Theory” that infuriated conservative media outlets in 2015 was a non-requisite, advanced course.

The ASU professor who created and taught the course, Lee Bebout, responded to the initiative behind HB 2120 by decrying Thorpe and his allies’ efforts to design university curricula. Such courses “should be designed by experts in the field rather than by politicians,” he argued, adding: “College is exactly the place where students and teachers must work together to confront difficult ideas.”

(Via Arizona Daily Star)

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