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Perspective: Not Un-American.

Mick Haupt

In 2010, Arizona created a law that illegalized ethnic studies programs in the state. The law was a backlash against the La Raza Studies program in Tucson, where over 60% of students are Mexican American. The program’s curriculum focused on Mexican cultural heritage and was intended to keep struggling students in school, raise test scores, and encourage college attendance. Although open to all students, the dramatically successful program, both academically and socially was called un-American. Eventually the law was ruled unconstitutional.

The Mexican-centered curriculum was neither Mexican superiority nor hating America. Rather, it was about understanding the experiences, perspectives, and culture of a group that has been routinely minimized and disrespected and offered students an engaging, relevant, critical, and challenging curriculum.

Yes, telling these stories means uncovering some uncomfortable truths about our nation’s history, but why is that un-American? America is made up of many groups, but they do not have the same histories nor hurdles that shaped opportunities and perceptions of them. If we do not know the struggles of others, then how do we embrace their humanity and understand their collective needs? Many would rather believe half-truths and myths of exceptionality rather than take in new knowledge to embrace the depths of humanity in the stories of the Indigenous, African Americans, Asian Americans, and Latino Americans. This is not being a victim but embracing our stories.

Now we are seeing a full-frontal assault on Critical Race Theory and attempts to illegalize teaching about it in several states. Like the Arizona situation, anytime we teach something – anything -- that challenges the status quo we are dismissed as un-American. Why? After all, aren’t we Americans too and our histories essential?

I am Joseph Flynn and that is my perspective.

Joseph Flynn is an associate professor of curriculum and instruction and Associate Director for Academic Affairs for the Center for Black Studies at Northern Illinois University.