Thursday, May 13, 2010

The uses of ill literacy

Circulated on an e-mail in my department: This link to CNN's story about Arizona's new state law banning ethnic studies (i.e., Mexican-American studies) in the public schools.

The new law forbids elementary or secondary schools to teach classes that are "designed primarily for pupils of a particular ethnic group" and advocate "the overthrow of the United States government" or "resentment toward a race or class of people."

The bill was pushed by state school Superintendent Tom Horne, who has spent two years trying to get Tucson schools to drop a Mexican-American studies program he said teaches Latino students they are an oppressed minority.

Leaving aside the retorts that one could made - about, for example, the fact that Latino students in Arizona do not need to be taught in the schools that they are members of an "oppressed minority" when all they need to do is look at the good citizens who enabled the passage of what amounts to legalized racial profiling - as an anthropologist and parent, my attention is drawn to the intense legislation surrounding the teaching and learning about race, culture, and ethnicity of children in elementary and secondary schools.

Recognizing schools as a critical element in the reproduction of culture and society, it is not surprising that the follow-up to Arizona's immigration law strikes now at what ought or ought not to be learned and taught there.

Here is another report on the happenings in Arizona, from The Economist this week, emphasizing the intersections between immigration, ethnic identity, and age:

William Frey, a demographer at the Brookings Institution, a Washington, DC, think-tank, believes that Arizona may be a bellwether for the whole country in more ways than one. Over the past two decades Arizona’s Latino population of children and young adults has grown so fast that the state now has what he calls the largest “cultural generation gap” in the country: 83% of Arizona’s older people are white, but only 43% of its children now are. States like Nevada, California, Texas, New Mexico and Florida have gaps almost as large.

As a result, says Mr Frey, old white voters increasingly balk at paying taxes so that people they consider alien can go to school or the emergency room. The result, he thinks, is populist anger rather akin to that now fuelling the tea-party movement, which draws much of its support from white male baby-boomers. It is possible, says Mr Frey, that in Arizona the seeds of new racial and ethnic competition for public resources have been planted.

I think this points to a larger concern today, which is seeing children as somebody else's responsibility - and I think this is not just about old white versus young Latino people in Arizona.

"Don't trust anybody over 30" has become "Don't trust anybody under 30." In a college town, like where I live, the students themselves become the subjects of complaint, not the ramshackle conditions of the houses that they rent from landlords who charge a lot and do a little in terms of maintaining the properties. Teenagers are viewed with suspicion. Small children, like mine, regarded as annoyances.

Parents themselves become judged for helicoptering, neglecting, and / or spoiling their children. Or just having children at all.

This is what it looks like to disown the future.

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