Our America and the Other America

What is wrong with education in America: politicians, not educators, are now in control of the classroom

By Roberto Dr. Cintli Rodriguez
Published on LatinoLA: May 16, 2008

Our America and the Other America

Apparently, there indeed are two Americas. In one America, recognition is given that we live upon Indigenous lands and that we now live in a rich multicultural and multiracial society. In the other America, them are fighting words.

Since the founding of this nation, the political lines in this country have been drawn [and racially coded] between those who adhere to American values versus those who adhere to un-American values between those who are authentically American versus those who are deemed to be un or anti-American. This division, Harold Meyerson of the Washington Post posits in McCain's America" (May 14, 2008), is what we can look forward to in the fall presidential election.

True, though when it comes to immigration, no need to wait for the fall. Those who favor curbing immigration like to portray it as a war over American values and Western Civilization. Some even link it to the "war on terror." While some who specialize in scapegoat politics do not bother to code their dislike of brown peoples, many others are quick to emphasize that they are anti-illegal immigrant, not anti-immigrant. And yet many of their proposals which call for a national language, while encouraging massive racial profiling have little to do with illegal immigration.

For example, Arizona State Rep. Russell Pearce's proposal to amend SB1108 would prohibit tax dollars to be spent on public schools that "denigrate American values and the teaching of Western Civilization." It would also prohibit race-based organizations (without exception) in public schools. Clearly, his proposal has nothing to do with "illegal immigration" as his primary target is the elimination of Raza Studies at Tucson Unified School District a national leader in K-12 curriculum development and MEChA Movimiento Estudiantil Chicano De Aztlan. Neither of these exemplary educational organizations needs defending. Rather, it is those that are attempting to legislate censorship and thought control that need defending.

Pearce's amendment states: "A public school in this state shall not include within the program of instruction any courses, classes or school sponsored activities that promote, assert as truth or feature as an exclusive focus any political, religious, ideological or cultural beliefs or values that denigrate, disparage or overtly encourage dissent from the values of American Democracy and Western Civilization, including democracy, capitalism, pluralism and religious toleration."

Because there's no consensus on these topics, or on their definitions, it would be impossible to enforce such amendments. For instance, would teachers be able to teach that torture and the U.S. "right" to wage permanent war against any nation regardless if there is a moral justification constitute American values? Or would they teach that they are aberrations of American values? Would they teach that favoring corporate profits at the expense of workers and the environment is an American valueǪ or an aberration?

Truthfully, Americans have faced similar dilemmas since the arrival of Europeans to this continent, including this nation's founding. Did Indigenous and African peoples have souls and were they fully human? Were they entitled to full human rights, including the right to their own spiritual beliefs and cultures? Such questions led to land theft, genocide and forced conversions and assimilation. It also led to slavery, even close to 100 years after the U.S. Declaration of Independence. It also led to unjustified and continued U.S. military interventions throughout the Americas.

Not forgotten is that African Americans, American Indians and women were deprived of full citizenship and their full humanity including the right to vote for at least the first 100 years of the republic. Asians and Mexicans (who also suffered massive land theft) were also subject to exclusion and mass repatriations. All these groups were subject to defacto and dejure segregation and discrimination. What is the American value: the right of all to be treated fully human or the maintenance of that racial and gender pecking order?

Taken to its logical conclusion, under Pearce's proposal teachers and students wouldn't be permitted to study these topics and ask these questions. This points to what is wrong with education in America: politicians, not educators, are now in control of the classroom.

The history of this nation has been well-served by a dynamic struggle over what constitutes "American" and human values (the two have not always been synonymous). Without that struggle, slavery, legalized segregation, discrimination and dehumanization would still be in effect today.

Fortunately, the march of history [and human rights] is always forward. Apparently, not in Pearce's America.

(c) Column of the Americas 2008

About Roberto Dr. Cintli Rodriguez:
Rodriguez can be reached at or Column of the Americas PO BOX 85476 - Tucson, AZ 85754. Columns archived here.

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