Wednesday, May 26, 2010

‘I come to school for this class. I deal with the other ones.’

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The title for today's post are words spoken by David, a Pima/Ute student at Westwood High School in Mesa, Arizona.  The class that gets David to school is one focusing exclusively on American Indian authors and their work. The list of authors includes Leslie Marmon Silko, Louise Erdrich, N. Scott Momaday, and Sherman Alexie.

The class was developed by James Blasingame and Simon Ortiz at Arizona State University. Ortiz is shown in the photo (photo credit: Tom Story).  Go here to read more about the class and how the university is working with the Tucson schools. It is a model, I think, that can be used in other university/school partnerships. Blasingame is am Associate Professor in Education, well known in literature circles for his work on young adult literature.

Ortiz is a Professor in English. From Acoma Pueblo, Ortiz is an accomplished writer, poet, and activist. I've written about his books for children several times. (See Native Literary Nationalism and Reinventing the Enemy's Language: Simon Ortiz's Books for Youth.) Of late, Ortiz has been active in Arizona, participating at protests and speaking about recent laws passed in Arizona. Years ago, Ortiz wrote The People Shall Continue, an outstanding picture book about people coming together to work against injustice.

One of those laws is a ban on ethnic studies courses in high school. Budgets of schools that continue with ethnic studies courses will be cut by ten percent. In those courses, students read literature by Latino/a writers. A transformative curriculum model, the program itself is based on the work of leaders in multicultural education (James Banks, Sonia Nieto, Paulo Friere). 

A summary of the law is here. In the stipulations portion of the law is one that says "Courses or classes for Native American pupils as required for compliance with federal law" will not be restricted or prohibited. I'm not sure how that effects the Blasingame/Ortiz project...

I've got more to say on the Arizona immigration law and the ban on ethnic studies....  That word "ethnic" is one thing to consider, but also important is knowing that some tribal nations, particularly the Tohono O'odham Nation, straddles the U.S./Mexico border!

I do have more to say, but as I write this post, I'm looking at the clock...  In 30 minutes I'm due at a meeting. I'm in Washington D.C. for meetings of Reading is Fundamental's Literature Advisory Board and the Multicultural Advisory Committee. More later...


Gary said...

Whether the Arizona prohibition on 'ethnic studies' constitutes discrimination may well depend on the eye of the beholder. The first provision prohibits promotion of the overthrow of the US government, resentment toward a race or class of people, segregating a particular ethnic group, or promoting ethnic solidarity. While it may be true that (in some cases) ethnic studies have been advocacy forums for ethnic solidarity, including the violent confrontation of other ethnic groups, this legislation may be a bit strong as a reaction. Whatever happened to 'can't we all just get along?' Fear is often the motivation for violence and confrontation and reactionary legislation.

jpm said...

Gary, has there actually been a case in which any instructor in an ethnic studies program promoted violent confrontation with "other" ethnic groups?

Gary said...

jpm, after reading Tom Horne's (Arizona Superintendent of Education) open letter giving his reasons for pushing this through I'd have to say that at least in one instance there is reason for concern. Philadelphia has had some similar concerns. I'm not saying to ban them. I reiterate that fear is often the motivation for both confrontation and reactionary legislation.

Beverly Slapin said...

Gary, let me suggest that you widen your horizons:

First, read everything you can find about Ethnic Studies courses, both by teachers of Ethnic Studies and by those who are opposed to these courses. (Your research sources should not include Fox News.)

Next, read (1) 500 Años del Pueblo Chicano/500 Years of Chicano HIstory in Pictures, (2) 500 Years of Chicana Women's History/500 años de la mujer Chicana, and (3) Pedagogy of the Oppressed. These three books are widely used in Raza Studies courses. After you've read these books, you might have some understanding of what is and what is not being taught.

If you have the opportunity, you might want to sit in on a Raza Studies or other Ethnic Studies class and see how the students and their teachers relate to each other, and how important it is for students to know the histories of their peoples and how they and their own histories fit into the "whole" of American history and world history.

Finally, reread all the "anti" sources you read before, including the "open letter" from Arizona Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Horne.

With your new perspective, can you now tell the difference between someone who is genuinely concerned about the education of all students, and someone who is a grandstanding politician, riding the tide of racism in order to promote himself and the extreme right wing in this country?

Anonymous said...

Abigail M. is having trouble posting comments. She wrote to me and asked me to post her comment (in two parts):
Abigail M. said:

Speaking as someone who took a number of ethnic studies courses in college, covering African-American, Asian-America, and Latina/o history* - not because they were part of my major (Classical Civilization), but because I wanted to be informed about a wide variety of American experiences - someone, moreover, who supports the inclusion of ethnic studies in both the high school and college curriculum, and opposes these recent laws in Arizona, I am nevertheless constrained to say that I find your remarks above, Beverly Slapin, incredibly contemptuous and offputting, and I suggest that they add nothing constructive to the conversation.

I don't know Gary (I'm a long-timer lurker here on Debbie Reese's site, which I have often recommended as a children's literature resource, to the online group I moderate), and I don't often comment. But I want to go on the record as saying that I think that, when discussing contentious issues with those who might have another perspective (however we might feel about that perspective), the best approach is to state our own views clearly and respectfully, and offer supporting evidence and arguments.

Suggesting that the other person isn't fit to participate in the conversation, until they read a list of books (naturally selected by oneself), and "reeducate" themselves, isn't just disrespectful and misguided, it's a cop-out. Assuming that the other person's differing view can only be the result of prejudice and ignorance, and that it is given to you to "widen their horizons," suggests a very regrettable worldview in which learning is a uni-directional process.

These issues don't play out solely in an academic setting, and our fellow citizens don't need to read a syllabus to participate. Their life experiences, their own judgment and views, (like our own) will all be brought to the table. Then we'll get into that incredibly frustrating thing called debate, wherein both sides need to listen, and we try to work out a game-plan that respects all.

**I would also have taken courses in Native American history/politics, but they weren't offered at my college

(Part one of two - my comment was apparently too long)

Anonymous said...

Here's part two of Abigail's comment.

Abigail said:

(Part two of two)

Gary: speaking as someone who really supports ethnic studies, although it often doesn't reflect "my" personal experience, I would like to make three points:

First, ethnic studies exists because there is a need for it. It isn't "extra" material, but essential material - part of the human experience that wasn't getting told through existing academic channels. I guess a theoretical argument could be made that, in an ideal world, we shouldn't have ethnic studies, because everybody's story would be included in one big narrative, and that would be taught to all. Unfortunately, that isn't the world we live in.

Second, although some have argued that including ethnic studies in the curriculum creates disunity, I have not found that to be the case, perhaps because, having always lived in diverse areas, I never noticed a conspicuous "unity" in those around me. In any case, I don't see that suppressing peoples' narratives will make unity more likely. Rather, I think it can only cause resentment.

Third, as mentioned above, the material covered in so-called ethnic studies classes is just part of the human experience that wasn't making it to the classroom before. And that's a key point: this is material that has relevance for all, regardless of their heritage - material that can shed light on other disciplines, and areas of study.

One example: As someone who studied the classics, someone who has read a number of texts in the original classical Greek, I think it safe to say that I have a deep love for the world of classical antiquity. And yet I find the argument that our form of government was influence by the Iroquois Confederacy, rather than some far-distant Mediterranean civilization, very persuasive. Presenting this other argument, about the origins of our democracy, hasn't decreased my love of the ancient world, its literature and philosophy. Rather, it has added a layer to my appreciation of human history. Nothing is being lost.

As is obvious, I am a supporter of ethnic studies. But if you, or anyone else, has a specific example of it having a deleterious effect, then that is something that needs considering. I do agree that fear is undoubtedly playing a role in the creation of these new laws. And that's something that needs to be discussed. But fear is no basis for making ethical decisions, so I don't think we should just accept this state of affairs!

I don't belong to this website, but as I have no wish to be "anonymous," will mention that, should anyone wish to locate me on the web, I can generally be found over on, where I am known as "Abigail A.," and moderate the Children's Books group.

JJYahn said...

I feel this post addresses a serious issue which has caused a multitude of reactions beyond the borders of Arizona. My perspective is rooted in the belief that whenever we talk about limiting perspective in educational settings whether it is via elimination of an existing course or vetoing a prospective course, consequently we create a boundary for learning. As I write this I’m considering the novelist Chimamanda Adichie's comments on a single story which I heard recently at a conference on American Indian literature. She pointed out when a situation affects many cultures but we only hear the perspective of one of the cultures involved we can’t justly make a conclusion because we lack a broader perception of the story. Furthermore, if we fail to expose our students to stories from cultures outside of their own we are tainting their world view by not pointing out a plethora of world views exist.
Realistically the situation being examined will continue to be problematic both within and outside of Arizona because it too can be told from multiple viewpoints, which means it really isn’t a single story. As both United States citizens and other members of the global communities views collide on this issue, I think we must all become aware of the approaching danger of eliminating our students’ access to multiple stories and instead reducing it to single stories. Many educators on this site promote social justice. Therefore what resources and methods do we use to advocate our side of the story so that our voice will also be considered as decisions for American classrooms are made?

Beverly Slapin said...

You're absolutely right, Abigail. You stated your position in a clear and constructive way. In recommending to Gary some material to read to counter Tom Horne's "open letter," I can see where my tone could be interpreted as arrogant. Sorry.

Anonymous said...

Hi Beverly: thanks for considering my point. There's a lot (in Arizona and elsewhere) to make a person angry - I was just reading about the Prescott, AZ elementary school that is "whitening" its mural, after artists and school-children were heckled by racist motorists (Wonkette), and just about had a heart attack - so I hope no one interpreted my comments as de-legitimizing the natural anger that any right-thinking person would feel, when confronted with bigotry and injustice.

I tend towards anger myself, which is why I struggle so much to express myself moderately, especially on the internet, where I'm outside of my comfort zone, and "speaking" in front of who knows how many undecided people, people who might be turned off from the content of my remarks, by my tone.

In any case, I definitely don't mean to lecture. I just wanted to (further) explain, and to say: I have admired the work you have done with Oyate, for some time now. Best wishes,

Abigail A.

(hope that HTML works...)

Gary said...

Thank you, Abigail for your comments.
You make some very lucid and valid points and the dialogue is greatly appreciated. Much of what you said I am taking to heart.

Gary said...

Thank you, Beverly for your comments. I must admit that I was a bit taken aback by your passion but as I reflected on other things you have written I realized that your passion is an important part of who you are. If you will more carefully read my first post you will see that I have some understanding of where the Arizona schools prohibition comes from but that does not mean that I endorse it. Understanding something is not the same as endorsing it. Then if you will read my second post more carefully you will see clearly that I do not support it.

Gary said...

Beverly, lest you think that my horizons are too narrow I offer the following information: 1)I have taught multicultural awareness and multicultural literature at both at the college and graduate levels. 2)I currently teach at an inner city school whose student population is 98% African-American. 3)My maternal grandmother was a Seneca. 4)My parents have worked and lived on reservations in Arizona and New Mexico for the last 36 years and as a result, 5)some of my closest friends are, in fact, Navajo, Tohono O'odham (Papago), and African-American. 6)I have studied in other countries with Arab, Israeli, German, English, and French citizens and have found myself both welcomed and welcoming in all those settings. I have been asked to teach in Burundi, have wonderful South African friends, and a fabulous connection with a dear friend from Swaziland. The best roommate I ever had is from Burundi. We still maintain a close relationship all these years later. While in college 2 of my best friends were from Rhodesia (now called Zimbabwe) 1 white and 1 black and we got along just fine. In fact, I was a sophomore in college before I realized that anyone would view a black person any differently than as simply a person. That was a shock to me and I simply do not understand why we all can't just get along.