Date published: June 10, 2010
The Texas State Board of Education recently tried to adopt social studies standards that rewrite the history school children will learn. The "slave trade," lor instance, would have been renamed the "Atlantic triangular trade." Prior to that proposal, Arizona officials instituted a prohibition on public elementary and high school ethnic studies classes. In throwing his support behind the bill, State Superintendent for Public Instruction Tom Home said ethnic studies programs promoted "ethnic chauvinism." Whose history is it anyway? Diverse asked National Association for Ethnic Studies President Maythee Rojas to weigh in.
DI: What is your reaction to the ethnic studies ban?
MR: Arizona HB 2281 is a deplorable form of legislation that profoundly misrepresents ethnic studies. Ethnic studies began as an interdisciplinary field of study that sought to build knowledge about communities in the United States that had been historically marginalized, undervalued and/or silenced. The field has since gRwn to include comparative and international approaches to the study of ethnicity and the intersections of race, class, gender and sexuality. HB 2281 threatens to undo the important work that has been accomplished by imposing narrow definitions of what are acceptable versions of American history and cultural expression.
DI: Is there some level of "chauvinism" in ethnic studies?
MR: No, I don't believe so at all. Ethnic studies is an academic, research-driven, interdisciplinary field. The scholarship is also often comparative and intersectional. There is no place for monolithic viewpoints or arguments not founded on solid, critical scholarship.
DI: Explain the value of ethnic studies to students of color.
Ethnic studies encourages individuals to gain consciousness and self-worth by investigating their personal histories and is committed to nurturing civic-minded and culturally informed students. Ethnic studies students learn of the histories, cultures and .social formations of ethnically rich communities while developing critical reading, writing and communication skills that prepare them to live and work in a diverse world. 1 also want Io stress that an education in ethnic studies is sought not only by students of color but also majority group students who desire a more ample and complete picture of the evolution of American society and culture.
DI: Do you think this portends future attacks on ethnic studies?
MR: Yes. Bills like HB 2281 are particularly dangerous in that they limit academic freedom and encourage the censoring of information by allowing only state-assigned versions of historical facts. At the same time, edmic studies is an established and respected field. The cutting edge scholarship being produced speaks to its social and intellectual relevancy. It is crucial that we examine the bill's potentially detrimental effects; however, I also encourage individuals to examine the exceptional scholarship that the field has produced as well as the productive lives of the many students who have taken these courses.