On Friday, March 8, 2013, the Arizona Supreme Court issued a ruling that upheld a controversial bill that declared Tucson’s Mexican-American Studies program unconstitutional. It also subsequently declared war on ethnic education curriculums everywhere.
The experimental Tucson curriculum was offered to students in different forms in some of the local elementary, middle and high schools. The program was designed to teach students critical thinking and focused on Mexican-American literature and perspectives, which makes sense in a state with a high Latino population such as Arizona. Supporters praised the program, citing increased graduation rates, high student achievement and a state-commissioned independent audit that recommended expanding the classes. Studies also showed that graduates of the program were matriculating to higher education at a much higher rate.
But conservative opponents accused the teachers of spreading left-wing ideas and teaching the students to resent white people. Aiming squarely at Tucson’s Mexican-American Studies program, the Arizona legislature passed HB 2281 -- a law banning courses that promote the overthrow of the U.S. government, foster racial resentment, or designed for students of a particular ethnic group or that advocate ethnic solidarity. The passage of HB 2281 gained national attention when school officials removed Latino literature from classrooms, explicitly banning seven titles from instruction.
Federal Judge Wallace Tashima admitted that the law bordered on discrimination but defended his decision to uphold the law by saying that the plaintiffs failed to show the law was too vague, broad or discriminatory, or that it violated students’ first amendment rights. According to Tashima, the law was constitutional because even though it targeted the MAS (Mexican- American Studies) program it did not target individual students or teachers. Tashima also ruled that the section of the law prohibiting courses tailored to serve students of a particular ethnicity was unconstitutional.
Even though Judge Tashima ruled that the part of the law banning courses designed for a particular ethnic group unconstitutional, it still allows for the dissolution of ethnic studies courses. By allowing a school to decide whether or not a curriculum is in violation of HB 2281, it leaves the entire branch of ethnic studies open to whatever beliefs or ideals that a particular superintendent may have. Essentially, Judge Tashima has opened the door for the elimination of ethnic studies programs in the entire country.