I am not a resident of Arizona. And I have to remind myself that I’m not a politician or legal scholar. I live on the south side of Chicago. I work in a church whose home has been on the northwest side of Chicago for eight years and that, this year, started a new church on the south side. I am a pastor. Happily.
But I can’t help but be drawn to the behavior of the governor of Arizona. You can learn about the newest law signed at their governor’s desk here or here or about last week’s uproar from the Governor’s perspective here. There are other places. Her state’s residents are saying interesting things on their blogs. To be clear, this week’s law wasn’t about immigration. It’s gotten better and better over in the desert state.
Governor Brewer signed a new law to stop state school’s from teaching ethnic studies. Ethnic studies, of course, is the umbrella term for studies of color, especially brown. The language of the law apparently gets at academic material which would overthrow the government or promote the hatred of someone of another racial background.
I think it’s bad to hate people from other backgrounds, and I think it’s sinister to pretend that a law cannot fundamentally encourage the hatred its intends to correct by explicitly promoting what amounts to the same.
If a law like this came to Illinois, I’d have the following things to say to our legislators. I think it’s meaningful for residents in general, parents, teachers and churches.
1) The reach of ethnic studies must be stretched. Educating students on matters related to ethnicity and culture–in homes, schools, and churches–has to be for everyone. Teachers and parents have to communicate to brown and black children that their culture is not simply for them, but that the formation and culture they receive affects others, including white children. Apparently the AZ law doesn’t stop teachers from teaching studies as long as everybody is invited to take the class. But I remember, at U of I, that the Black students hoped that non-Blacks took courses about Black studies. I expect a similar hope across the nation since people of color like for white folks to know about our histories.
2) Parents are the best teachers, and faith communities aren’t bad either. I’m a new father, but I’ve been a son for a long time. I’ve learned my best lessons about respecting, loving, and being good to others while sitting on the lap and in the house that belonged to my mother. My dad embodied generosity when I was child. Parents are great teachers. We need to tell our children the truth about who they are, where they come from, and what that means for how they lovingly engage with people from all corners in the neighborhood. The church too. The role of the church is to point to a reality that everyone’s experience is valuable to God and should be valuable to people. If schools (state schools or otherwise) do not promote that truth, the community of faith, which is a diverse community since God’s family is multi-colored, must.
3) One group’s view has always been an introduction to disenfranchisement. Howard Thurman, a theologian, talks about what it means to be disinherited and to fight a war of nerves. He says, “If a man feels that he does not belong in the way in which it is perfectly normal for other people to belong, then he develops a deep sense of insecurity.” For Thurman this is one of the things that is “worse than death.” When legislators restrict educators from providing intellectually stimulating experiences from a variety of perspectives, the legislators are overpowering people from those perspectives. After all, the kids are being taught. The curriculum tells somebody’s side of the story. When that happens, we’re steps away from not just re-writing history but erasing it. I think the government has a responsibility to promote history as it’s been lived, even if the presentation of those stories tempts a student from believing the most popular history books.
4) Pushing for academic freedom equips and strengthens our communities. It will diminish the value of education if our states follow Arizona’s dismal behavior. Native, African, and Latino American people have something to say and not just to their specific communities. Their messages and histories are vital to the broader United States of American public. And I don’t intend to suggest that our white scholars and storytellers have little to say–only that those stories are either already heard, are more likely to be heard, or so pervasive inside our country’s books and classes that uplifting the former people groups does little to diminish the later.
5) Culture matters. Race matters. Ethnicity matters. It matters to the Creator who painted, cooked or crafted our skins with an array of colors. All those colors come with stories. One shouldn’t be esteemed to the detriment of another. Sure, politicians should be concerned that no one be taught in a state school how to dishonor the governmental system of that state. Of course, we must promote in our learning centers civility and respect and dignity. But none of that happens when we edit the truth from those who search for it.
I’d love to know what you think. About any of this.