Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Arizona's inferior education system

Expanding the base of knowledge that all students have about history and the path we took to get to the present is part of what education is all about. If students are allowed to examine our successes and failures, they can hopefully avoid the mistakes of the past and be better prepared for the future.

This makes sense most everywhere but in Arizona. There, the state superintendent of schools, John Huppenthal, determined that the Mexican American Heritage class taught at the Tucson Unified School District violated the law under House Bill 2281. That bill makes it illegal to include courses that are designed for particular ethnic groups and promote resentment toward a race or class of people. Huppenthal as a state senator worked to get the law passed in the Arizona legislature. Arizona governor Jan Brewer signed the bill in the spring of last year just a month after signing the toughest anti-immigration law in the country. (The immigration law is now being contested by the United States attorney general and parts of it have been placed on hold by the courts.)

Besides Mexican American studies, the Tucson Unified School District offers programs on African American and Native-American studies. The programs focus on history, literature and include information about the influence the ethnic group has had on United States history and culture. As an example, the American History class includes the role of the ethnic group in major United States historical events and has courses that emphasize the group’s literature.

Every community has the responsibility of educating its young and offering continuing education to those that are in need of it. By definition, education means providing all the relevant information about the subjecting being taught. Sometimes that means teaching about the failures of the past. But, with a solid understanding of the events that lead to those failures, we can hopefully do better in the future.

Those on the right of the political spectrum often bring up the term political correctness. This term has a very board and varied definition. But, under one definition of the term, this law fits. The conservatives that currently are in charge in Arizona want to focus just on the positive aspects of the current majority culture without any discussion of its failures. By offering no challenge to the prevailing culture, we can never be sure that we are the best we can be. This is very definition of a politically correct education.

Think of it as a science course teaching about rocketry. If the course didn’t include the many times experimental rockets failed and the reasons why, each new generation would have to experience failure after failure to find the right path. But, with knowledge of the failures of the past, students can build on what works.

Arizona’s students, if the state continues on this path, will have an inferior education. When they graduate and step into the real world, they will make decisions with only part of the information needed. A set up to failure – or at least, repeating the mistakes of the past.

A Responsible Community doesn’t limit inquiry. It also doesn’t prevent the knowledge that is learned from that inquiry from being assimilated nor does it limit the challenge to the current beliefs.

Anything else has a more than likely chance of repeating the failures of the past.

Note: Thank you to Nathan Collins for bringing attention to this important story.

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