Arizona has been in the news a lot lately. Most of the hullaballoo has been about the immigration bill, which has been covered at great length here at America’s Right. I won’t get into it here, except to say that if you read the actual bill itself you would hardly recognize it from the hysterical coverage it’s gotten in the press. (Read it here.)
Another bill, that has been overshadowed by the immigration law is the so-called birther bill. As you can imagine, the White House is thrilled about this one:
“I can’t imagine Arizona voters think their tax dollars are well served by a legislature that is less focused on their lives than in fringe right-wing radio conspiracy theories,” White House spokesman Bill Burton told CNN. “This is a question that has been answered exhaustively.”
There’s a lot more to this one then the immigration bill, and I haven’t read it all. From what I can tell it requires that presidential candidates supply proof of natural born citizenship to be an eligible candidate in the state of Arizona. I’m not a fan of the birther movement, but that sounds reasonable in and of itself. The problem is that the ultimate determination of legitimacy is left wholly in the hands of the Arizona secretary of state. Obviously there’s a potential for abuse there.
Now we’ve got a third new law to add to the roster. The Breitbart headline couldn’t be more incendiary: Arizona Governor bans ethnic studies program, and the LA Times is only a shade more subdued Arizona bill targeting ethnic studies signed into law.
My first reaction was that “this is exactly the wrong kind of conservatism”. I’m as tired of universities and schools being used to indoctrinate students into liberal political correctness as the next guy. But the answer isn’t more government. Do we really want legislators reaching in and micromanaging curricula? (See what I did there with the plural of curriculum? I impress even myself.)
But then I went and dug into the actual law. There are 10 major provisions. The first two convey the gist of the law:
- States that the Legislature finds and declares that public school pupils should be taught to treat and value each other as individuals and not be taught to resent or hate other races or classes of people.
- Prohibits a school district or charter school from including in its program of instruction any courses or classes that:
- Promote the overthrow of the United States government.
- Promote resentment toward a race or class of people.
- Are designed primarily for pupils of a particular ethnic group.
- Advocate ethnic solidarity instead of the treatment of pupils as individuals.
The first thing that stood out to me is that none of these would constitute a blanket ban on ethnic studies. In fact, the seventh provision lays out some exceptions to the law. The following can’t be banned:
- Courses or classes for Native American pupils that are required to comply with federal law.
- The grouping of pupils according to academic performance, including capability in the English language, that may result in a disparate impact by ethnicity.
- Courses or classes that include the history of any ethnic group and that are open to all students, unless the course or class violates this act.
Seems to me that the third exemption would cover ethnic studies as long as the ethnic studies class is open to everyone, doesn’t denigrate any race, and doesn’t advocate ethnic solidarity.
I can’t exactly come out in support of this bill for one simple reason: If I had my way government wouldn’t be in the education business to begin with. Unfortunately that’s not the world we inhabit. Again quoting from the bill:
The State Board of Education (SBE) must prescribe a minimum course of study, incorporating Arizona’s academic standards, to be taught in Arizona public schools (Arizona Revised Statutes (A.R.S.) § 15-701). School district governing boards must approve the course of study, including the basic textbook for each approved course and all other units recommended for credit before implementing each course in both elementary and high schools.
As long as the Arizona government is already in charge of the curriculum that goes on in the Arizona government-funded schools, it doesn’t seem like an expansion of government power to place reasonable limits on what is taught in those classrooms. So the real question is whether or not the provisions (especially the “no ethnic solidarity” one) are reasonable. It seems overly broad to me. Ask me again after three years of law school.
Stepping back there are two things I take away from the most recent law. The first is simple: be prepared for the media to get this one wrong. Journalists and bloggers tend towards sensationalism to drive traffic, and that means “law bans ethnic studies classes” is going to to take precedence over “law bans classes that advocate overthrowing the government, racism, or ethnic solidarity”.
The second is that Arizona seems to be acting as a temperature gauge for conservative populist anger, and I’m not thrilled with what I’m seeing. It’s important for the resurgent conservative movement to play smart rather than relying purely on populist anger. At the state level there is no more important issue than a resuscitation of American federalism. That was the strongest aspect of the immigration law, and I’d rather see more of that and less of the kinds of laws that can be so readily gift-wrapped for the DNC by a left-leaning main-stream media.