By Truc Tran
Today’s textbooks say little to nothing about contemporary race relations, racism or racial issues. However, ethnic studies can help students bridge cultural gaps that are prominent in society. Studies show that students perform at a higher level with the introduction of ethnic studies courses because it promotes alternative critical thinking methods. It is imperative that we instill these methods of thinking. It will not only help to eliminate racist ideologies, but culturally tighten the bonds of society.
Ethnic studies has not only improved the students test scores in reading, writing and arithmetic but also increased the number of graduates. According to the Department of Accountability and Research in 2011 on the outcomes of the Mexican-American Studies or (MAS), studies showed that for six consecutive years, senior students who take the MAS courses have higher graduation rates. From 2005 to 2010, cumulative graduation rates for MAS students was 7.7 percent higher than their non-MAS peers. Also, test scores yielded an average of 4.3 percent higher in reading, writing and math than students that were not taking MAS.
One of the most controversial programs is the La Raza program, an ethnic studies program at the Tuscon Magnet High School. It was introduced to motivate student interest in education. However, as of March 2011, HB 2281 was signed into law making the program a violation, because it allegedly supported anti-American views. The Tucson School District was given 60 days to eliminate the La Raza program or face a budget cut of $15 million dollars.
The ban has erupted in student, faculty and community outrage. Student protests have taken to the streets and in front of government buildings. Students have formed the brown brigade whom have been protesting against the HB2281, but ironically was criticized as being anti-American by attorney general Tom Horne. Most criticisms have been focused on the book, the Pedagogy of the Oppressed by Paulo Freire, which gives a detailed account of the racially oppressed. Extremists believe this book promotes anti-American ideals and instills a hatred for white Americans. However, many educators disagree with that sentiment. According to Professor Sol Stern from the Manhattan Institute, the book “has achieved near-iconic status in America’s teacher-training programs.”
If we start outlawing diversity in the curriculum and after school programs, then we start promoting cultural ignorance and discrimination. How can we teach others to appreciate diversity if our government says that diversity is wrong — that differences are wrong?
The increase in racism and discrimination we see in today’s society creates a culture war, based on how cultural-social norms defines race. Racial profiling becomes a social norm, which affects minorities because of the negative connotations associated with their race. People begin to believe that they are unable to rise above their labels. For instance, Hispanics are thought of as immigrants, uneducated, they get pregnant early, and they do not speak English. These labels make it difficult for Hispanics/Latinos to distance themselves from the identity that society imposes upon them
Ethnic studies continues to play an integral role in building a truly inclusive multicultural democracy and system of education. These courses provide an in depth study of cultures that are left out of “American History.” Studies show an increase in the success of the students that participate, and the eradication of these courses is creating a social uproar that is affecting America as a whole. The only way we can close the gap, and end this drama is to change how people think and view others. To do that, we need to first understand other ethnic cultures and how prolific their influence is.