Arizona’s ban on ethnic studies

“In the right light, study becomes insight”

Slade Lane

Arizona has been in a state of controversy for the last decade because of passing harsh laws related to immigration and treatment of diverse peoples within the state’s borders. One such law was passed in 2010 effects what is taught in the classroom. On May 11, 2010, Governor Jan Brewer signed into law House Bill 2281 (HB 2281). This new bill forces tight constraints on what is taught in Arizona, specifically ethnic studies.

The bill prohibits schools from teaching material that (1) promotes the overthrow of the federal or state government or the Constitution, (2) promotes resentment toward any race or class, (3) advocates ethnic solidarity instead of being individuals, and (4) are designed for a certain ethnicity.

“Early this January, Cory Jones, who teaches the course U.S. History Culturally Relevant Mexican-American Perspective at Tucson's Cholla High Magnet School, came under fire from departing superintendent, John Huppenthal,” reports Rolling Stone.

Jones class allegedly violated the ban on “ethnically” sensitive material since he has incorporated lyrics from Rage Against the Machine (RATM). The educator had specifically used lyrics from the song “Take the Power Back” from the band’s self titled debut from 1992.

Huppenthal states that these lyrics “promote resentment toward a race or class of people” and "advocate ethnic solidarity instead of the treatment of pupils as individuals,”

But are song lyrics truly dangerous? Tom Morello, the guitarist of the now defunct RATM, took to Twitter to comment on the Arizona ban saying “[the lyrics are] only dangerous if you teach them right.”

Arizona’s superintendent and lawmakers seem less concerned with what lyrics are being used to promote and are teaching; instead focusing on what works are being taught. Cory Jones commented to Rolling Stone that he teaches the lyrics from a social justice perspective and wants his students to make the world a better place.

"Arizona's becoming a more fascist state," Jones says. "When you're banning and censoring material, for a state that proclaims local control, for a state that proclaims so much freedom – and yet in Phoenix you're having one of the highest elected officials of the state comb through my curriculum just to say, 'This is illegal, you can't teach that.’”

Arizona’s superintendent has cited that not only is their noncompliance when teaching Mexican-American perspectives, but also from African-American perspectives—with Andrew Walanski teaching English from a relevant African-American perspective being cited for teaching rapper KRS-One’s introduction to hip-hop as a tool for learning.

An appeal to overturn Arizona’s HB 2281 will go before the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals at the end of January.

For further reading:

Rage Against the Machine Defy Ethnic Studies Ban

Arizona ban on ethnic studies goes before appeals court

Slade is a senior studying language arts education.