Shakespeare becomes a casualty in war on multiculturalism

From the LA Times:

No longer can the students discuss Chicano perspectives on history. And no longer can Martinez teach Mexican American studies.

After the Tucson Unified School District board voted late Tuesday to suspend the controversial classes to avoid losing more than $14 million in state aid, the students’ world shifted.

Course titles and curriculums changed immediately. Chicano history became American history. Chicano literature became English literature.

State law bans classes that are primarily designed for a particular ethnic group or that “promote resentment toward a race or class of people.” Last week, state Supt. of Public Instruction John Huppenthal ruled the Tucson program in violation. The board chose not to contest his decision in court.

Proponents say the classes push Latinos to excel and teach a long-neglected slice of America’s cultural heritage — Latino perspectives on literature, history and social justice.

But its critics, led by Huppenthal, say framing historical events in racial terms “to create a sense of solidarity” promotes groupthink and victimhood.

Teaching history without the history of ethnic groups is unavoidable. Teaching history without the history of victimization is unavoidable. Teaching history without the history of victimization of ethnic groups is certainly unavoidable, given that large swaths of history are comprised almost entirely of some form of ethnic and/or racial oppression (a history that continues to be written to this day). In fact, teaching history as such is to alter the past itself.

And so Shakespeare’s The Tempest, perhaps for its indictment on colonialism, becomes collateral damage:

As part of the state-mandated termination of its ethnic studies  program, the Tucson Unified School District released an initial list of books to be banned from its schools today.  According to district spokeperson Cara Rene, the books “will be cleared from all classrooms, boxed up and sent to the Textbook Depository for storage.”

Facing a multimillion-dollar penalty in state funds, the governing board of Tucson’s largest school district officially ended the 13-year-old program on Tuesday in an attempt to come into compliance with the controversial state ban on the teaching of ethnic studies.

The list of removed books includes the 20-year-old textbook “Rethinking Columbus: The Next 500 Years,” which features an essay by Tucson author Leslie Silko.  Recipient of a Native Writers’ Circle of the Americas Lifetime Achievement Award and a MacArthur Foundation genius grant, Silko has been an outspoken supporter of the ethnic studies program.

Another notable text removed from Tucson’s classrooms is Shakespeare’s play “The Tempest.” In a meeting this week, administrators informed Mexican-American studies teachers to stay away from any units where “race, ethnicity and oppression are central themes,” including the teaching of Shakespeare’s classic in Mexican-American literature courses.

Again, “race, ethnicity and oppression are central themes” to all of history. The truth is that there are those who wish to ignore, perhaps erase, certain histories in favor of Anglo-American history, one that is itself strife with ethnic division. In a school district composed of over 60 percent of students who come from a Mexican-American background, we are axing Mexican-American history classes. It is cultural elitism at its ugliest – the philosophy that immigrants must mold themselves to fit the American identity as though such a proper absolutism exists.

The unmitigated truth of the past is a most vital aspect to both the well-being and freedom of any society.

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