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Arizona edges ever closer to straight-up outlawing Latinos

May 3, 2010

Clear proof that the Great State of Arizona TOTALLY WASN'T stolen from Mexico. Lookit that white guy there! All the way back in 1863!

Having solved all the real problems, last week Arizona followed up its “brown people are probably illegal (seriously, look at their shoes)” legislation with some awesome new “brown people can’t talk American” and “brown people have no history here in the shiny white south west (LALALA I can’t hear you, historians)!” policy.

The Arizona Department of Education has begun requiring schools to fire or reassign teachers of English Language Learners who have “heavily accented or ungrammatical” speech.

OKAY. Agreed on the “ungrammatical” point, kind of–I don’t know if adults whose speech is routinely grammatically flawed should be teaching any students anything. But… “heavily accented”? Apparently the problem is this: “State auditors have reported to the district that some teachers pronounce words such as violet as ‘biolet,’ think as ‘tink’ and swallow the ending sounds of words, as they sometimes do in Spanish,” and the state of Arizona doesn’t want these verbal tendencies transmitted to students.

This is especially hilarious/depressing given the fact that Arizona recruited hundreds of teachers whose first language was Spanish (many of them recruited from Latin America) in the 90s for its bilingual education program. THEN, in 2000, Arizonans remembered how much they hate effective education and *heart* ineffective tough-love posturing, and passed a ballot measure stating that instruction may only be offered in English. Including, apparently, instruction for students who don’t speak English.

Very young students generally have good ears: they can pick up the basics of language quickly, and stand a much better chance than older language-learners of learning pronounce words in the “correct” accent.

This is not the same as gaining a thorough and nuanced understanding of a new language.

Gaining a thorough and nuanced understanding of a new language requires A LOT of first-language contextualization. Without it, you get really good at “where’s the bathroom?” and “it’s time for recess!” but not so hot at “Johnny has three apples. If he gives two to Sarah, and then buys five more, does he have a greater or smaller number of apples than when he started? How many does he have now?”

But let’s not misunderstand Arizona’s goal: it’s not to create deeply fluent students. It’s to create students who sound “American,” meaning students who don’t sound like they also speak Spanish, meaning students who sound “white.” Because White Americans are the only Americans to the Arizona government.

The same racism is at play in the recent decision to “restrict ‘any courses or classes’ that ‘are designed primarily for pupils of a particular ethnic group’ or ‘advocate ethnic solidarity.'” The bill also “ban[s] classes that ‘promote resentment toward a race or class of people’ or ‘stir up resentment.'”

That’s right, they banned classes that “advocate ethnic solidarity.” Because if you’re not ashamed of your ethnicity, you’re obviously fomenting rebellion.

But honestly? Minority studies classes should “stir up resentment”. It’s good for minority students to see themselves in our nation’s history and culture, even if what they see pisses him them off. It’s good for white students to see someone other than themselves in our nation’s history and culture, even if what they see makes them uncomfortable. Because the truth is anger- and discomfort-inducing, and learning that truth is what school is for.



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