American citizens come from a wide variety of backgrounds, and education about different cultures works toward a more understanding and tolerant populace. However, the recent ban of young adult author Matt de la Peña’s novel “Mexican WhiteBoy” from Mexican-American studies classes in high schools in Tucson, Arizona prevents students from gaining knowledge and appreciation of other cultures. Courses including ethnic studies should be taught everywhere in the United States as cultural education develops cognizance and appreciation.
The ban on Mexican-American studies courses originates from a 2010 Arizona law that forbids classes that “are designed for students of one ethnic group or advocate ethnic solidarity instead of treating pupils as individuals” for these “advocate overthrowing the government,” the New York Times reported March 19. Arizona has used this law to justify the ban of Mexican-American studies courses “that are perceived as anti-white.” Though “Mexican WhiteBoy” focuses on the main character’s desire to join his school’s baseball team, state officials accused the novel of “promoting racial resentment.” Many students in Arizona are Latino — in Tucson’s school district alone, the number reaches 60 percent. According to the 2010 census, 29.6 percent of Arizona residents and 16.3 percent of Americans have Hispanic or Latino origins. The problem goes beyond Mexican-American studies courses and is related to the stance of the state’s Republican majority regarding immigration. Both sides participate in this politically charged debate — in 2006, labor activist Dolores Huerta gave a speech on immigration at Tucson High School and said that “Republicans hate Latinos,” sparking a backlash from the state education superintendent and Republican lawmakers in the state.
Recent evidence shows that courses like the ones at Tucson High School are actually beneficial for students. An audit of the Mexican-American studies program showed that students who took courses in the program had a greater likelihood of attending college and that the classes worked to level disparities in academic performance among students, The Times reported. Any improvement in American education is a step in the right direction. As of 2009, only three in four American high school students was expected to graduate in four years. Since the Mexican-American studies courses increase students’ chances of going to college, banning these courses is counter-intuitive and could be detrimental to efforts to improve education in America.
Tucson officials have also banned “textbooks, PowerPoint presentations, teachers’ college theses, exam prompts, poems and lyrics from hip-hop songs” according to The Times. School administrators confiscated hundreds of copies of the banned books from classrooms on pain of a $15 million penalty from the state. This outrageous penalty is unfair to Tucson schools and to the students.
Lawmakers need to repeal the 2010 Arizona law, and the banned books ought to be returned. In order to become informed and well-rounded citizens, high-school students need a diverse education appreciative of other cultures.
Correction appended: A previous version of this article misstated the percentage of students who graduate in four years