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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

Faculty Senate right to decry ethnic studies law

When the UA Faculty Senate voted unanimously to declare its opposition to House Bill 2281 at its meeting Monday, the group knew it would probably not influence the final wording of the bill. After all, the same group passed a resolution criticizing S.B. 1070 last spring, an action that did not have much effect on the law, as Faculty Senate secretary J.C. Mutchler admitted.

But passing a measure expressing opposition to state-mandated limitations on teaching and learning was an important move. Although H.B. 2281, better known as the “”Ethnic Studies Law,”” does not directly affect higher education, it sets a dangerous precedent for all educators. The law forbids teaching courses that are “”designed primarily for students of a particular ethnic group”” or advocating the “”overthrow of the U.S. government or resentment toward a race or class of people.”” It was drafted in response to Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Horne’s negative impression of Tucson Unified School District’s Raza studies program, and pushed through the Arizona Legislature by Horne himself.

Though the bill clearly targets Hispanic students and their freedom to be taught their own history, its implications are much greater, as S. Mae Smith, a representative from the College of Education on the Faculty Senate, noted. According to Daily Wildcat reports, Smith worried that “”this (the law) could be just a beginning of things to come if we don’t think carefully about this.””

Smith and the rest of the Faculty Senate are right — H.B. 2281 poses a scary harbinger of things to come. While it expressly targets ethnic studies classes, what Mutchler called its “”hazy”” language could be extrapolated to apply to whatever the state decides it doesn’t want students to learn. After all, what exactly does “”advocate the overthrow of the U.S. government or promote resentment”” mean? The answer: almost anything.

Certain elements of U.S. history — from the Japanese internment camps during World War II to the House Un-American Activities Committee hearings — are deeply unpleasant, and sometimes the U.S. government deserves the blame. Teaching those elements of history is currently acceptable in Arizona, but the vague wording of H.B. 2281 could yank those classes at any time. The bill was written to censor schools and teachers, and its writers seem to have made sure it could do so in a much broader context than is currently being debated.

Laws like H.B. 2281 endanger the autonomy of educators and the sanctity of the classroom. For this reason, the Faculty Senate’s opposition, though it might not make much of a difference right now, is vital. Educators must stand up for themselves and for their right to teach without censors looking over their shoulders. Whether or not the law will affect them directly, the Faculty Senate, in condemning H.B. 2281, is standing up for education. Its action is a credit to the university community and an example worth following. After all, as Mutchler noted at the Faculty Senate meeting, “”silence implies consent.””

— Editorials are determined by the Arizona Daily Wildcat opinions board and written by one of its members. They are Heather Price-Wright, Colin Darland, Steven Kwan and Luke Money. They can be reached at letters@wildcat.arizona.edu.

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