My point of view is that these kids’ parents and grandparents came, mostly legally, because this is the land of opportunity, and we should teach them that if they work hard, they can accomplish anything…how can you have any pudding, if you don’t eat your meat? — Arizona Attorney General Tom Horne on Mexican-American ethnic studies, quoted in the NY Times, 5/13/10
Okay, Horne didn’t really say the last part. I added it in. I wanted to make a point about the role of propaganda and indoctrination in public education (and about Horne’s biting comment). When it comes down to it, the whole point of teaching civics and American history to schoolchildren is to indoctrinate them. That’s why our schools teach pseudo-history dictated by school boards rather than historians to the kids. Horne is a politician — not a historian, and he wants to decide what the students in his state learn about their history. At least when civic education was introduced in the 19th century, they were up front about the indoctrination. Now, we pretend that’s not what the purpose is. But, just because you don’t admit it, doesn’t mean it isn’t true.
In Horne’s case, he’s upset because he wants to control the propaganda and he doesn’t. He thinks the ethnic studies program in the Tucson Unified School District teaches Hispanic kids to believe they are oppressed by the white power structure. He finds that objectionable — being a white male Republican office-holder. He wants them to believe that this is the land of opportunity and that the key to success here is hard work — and by extension that white people don’t discriminate against persons of color (anymore). So, he wants to drill into them that in America you can be anything you want to be, if you work hard enough. Be always ashamed to catch thyself idle. Always clean your plate. It’s like a Poor Richard’s Almanack curriculum.
Of course, when Horne opens his mouth, he betrays himself. Let’s look at his words: He says he thinks the kids in the Tucson schools are the children and grandchildren of immigrants (as opposed to the great-great-great- or great-great-great-great-grandchildren). That’s a big assumption. Many of the early permanent settlements established by European colonizers to the United States were Spanish pueblos/presidios in the south and southwest. Santa Fe and St. Augustine pre-date Plymouth and Boston and New York. Since 1600 C.E., Spanish residents have lived in New Mexico and spread throughout the region. Tucson was founded the year before the colonists back east declared independence from Great Britain. As such, Hispanic families there may be able to trace their roots back four hundred years — much as some snooty New Englanders trace themselves back to ancestors on the Mayflower. So, to assume that because these kids are Hispanic means that they are new to the country is plainly ignorant. Clearly, Horne sees them as outsiders anyway — as his statement demonstrates — rather than as old American stock.
Next, Horne magnanimously avows that most of these kids are probably descended from legal immigrants. How very white of him. Of course, that means that he thinks some of them are from parents or grandparents who are not legal residents. I doubt that he would say this about a white, black, or Asian family in Arizona — even though it’s entirely likely that some Asian children may also be descended from illegal immigrants thanks to the Chinese Exclusion Act. White children, too, can be the offspring of undocumented aliens, but I haven’t seen any quotes from Horne suggesting the same to Anglo students. By singling out the Hispanic kids here, Horne is betraying his stereotypical beliefs about them and their community. They are outsiders and sometimes criminals. (I enjoy the irony of contrasting the critical judgment of illegal immigrants [usually Hispanic] with the admiration in my state for sooners — white people who crossed into Oklahoma Territory to stake out land illegally prior to the land rush. None of the sooners were pejoratively labeled illegal immigrants. In fact, with pride, the community of the University of Oklahoma takes its nickname from these cheats and law-breakers.)
Finally, Horne finishes his statement with a patriotic affirmation of the American dream. This is how he wants to indoctrinate the little children. He doesn’t want them to think that white people with prejudice will stand in their way. In short, he wants them to forget their history. In Arizona, Hispanics have faced much discrimination — in fact, the state has been much more hostile to Hispanics that its neighbor, New Mexico, where the Anglo and Hispanic populations cohabitate on better terms. He wants to pretend that they were not victims of racism and segregation there, and he’s upset that the ethnic studies class teaches them that they were — and that they should be proud to of their Mexican heritage. He wants to remove the truth from their historical training. Also, he obviously wants them not to notice that he (a white man of authority in the government) sees them as outsiders and sometimes criminals, but his statement proves the very prejudice the ethnic studies classes address.
If only Horne’s professed dedication to integration led him to demand that the history and social studies classes in Arizona do a better job of including Mexican-Americans and Hispanics generally into their history — if only he became a champion of true multiculturalism. Instead, on January 3, 2011, he declared the Mexican-American ethnic studies classes in Tucson illegal (literally) and threatened to cut off school funding if they are not altered to his liking. I’d be tempted to suggest that there’s something offensive and repetitive about the Great White Father wanting to tell his Colored Children what they should do and think, but that would be some serious dark sarcasm for the classroom.