Arizona's Ethnic Studies Fight Is About Defining American History

Most conservatives are not interested in whitewashing history, or excusing the country for its sins.


By Scott Galupo, Thomas Jefferson Street blog

I’m arriving late to it, but the controversy over Arizona’s new law on ethnic studies seems to me to reenact a tired old pantomime of multiculturalism and its discontents.

Conservatives, it’s true, appeal conveniently to the rhetoric of Martin Luther King Jr. and insist that all individuals be judged by the “content of their character.” Liberals reply that the kind of ethnically-focused curricula they favor are necessary precisely because various groups in America’s past have not been judged by the content of their character--and so, to start talking like that now smacks of that Seinfeld episode where Kramer keeps violating his vow of silence. Fine.

But I don’t think most conservatives are interested in whitewashing history--in excusing the country for its sins. By all means, don’t shrink from them; teach them.

It’s clear from this exchange between Arizona state school superintendent Tom Horne and Georgetown’s Michael Eric Dyson, though, that the question is not ultimately whether there shall be “African American Studies” or “Chicano Studies” or what have you--it’s whether or not American history is going to be taught fundamentally as a narrative of oppression.

That’s what the opposition to the state’s new guidelines is trying to protect, and Balkanizing historical studies is just a handy pedagogical device for teachers to do this without explicitly saying so.

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