Jon Stewart did a priceless takedown Monday of the Kookocracy's war against the Mexican-American ethnic studies program in Tucson. Al Madrigal went to the Old Pueblo, where school board member Michael Hicks (happily? cluelessly?) sat down for an interview with the world's most famous parody/news show. He talked about his concern with "a lot of the radical ideas" of the program.
Had Hicks attended a class? "Why even go, why even go?" this GOPer from central casting said. "I base my thoughts on hearsay from others..." Yes, this is more of Arizona earning publicity one can't buy, further cementing the Crazy State's reputation. But it's also important to know that the Kooks succeeded. The ethnic studies program is gone — Tucson was under threat of a $15 million penalty from the state — although one for African-Americans continues.
The Kooks would have more standing if the Arizona they have now run for years didn't consistently rank at or near the bottom in per-student funding (and it's not Utah, with a homogeneous, heavily LDS population). That funding keeps declining. Education Week's Quality Counts survey ranked Arizona 8th from the worst nationwide in a variety of measures. All this has happened on their watch. Their solution is to get one of their many shills to explain it away. Nor has the state's "achievement" in being a leader in charter schools made things better. Quite the contrary, although public money has been used to privatize profits for the politically connected charter racket. The biggest victims: Hispanic students in ignored, under-funded districts.
Tom Horne and John Hupperthal, former and current superintendents of public instruction, picked the Tucson program for one reason: Good politics. The old white people vote. The ones fearful of brown people and "the other," and who are horrified to see the America they built decline — never realizing this is happening not because of brown people but because of the looter capitalism and law of the jungle carried out for 30 years by the Republican Party. The "Mexicans" don't vote. No need to fear a backlash as happened in California with Prop. 187. So a minor, perhaps too politically correct and cute by half, program in Tucson could become a right-wing cause celebre. The New York Times reported, "The audit found that while some aspects of the program needed changing, it was doing a good job. It noted that students who took Mexican-American studies were more likely to attend college, and that the program helped close the achievement gap. The state ignored the audit, calling it flawed." As Huppenthal put it, sounding too damned intellect-shall in Sarah Palin's party, “When we encountered this situation, we did what Hannibal did to the Romans. This is the eternal battle, the eternal battle of all time, the forces of collectivism against the forces of individuality.”
Huppenthal may actually believe what he said. His moneyed puppetmasters know the real stakes are voter suppression and keeping a GOP hold on power. But it is too bad Huppenthal didn't take the Western Civ studies he claims to be defending. Hannibal, while a brilliant tactician, ultimately lost. Rome, seeing Carthage as an existential threat, ultimately performed one of history's biggest beat-downs, as legend has it sowing the soil of the destroyed city with salt. Cartago delenda est. And Hannibal was from Africa anyway with the Romans being the carriers of Western civilization. Neither side in the Punic Wars saw itself fighting "collectivism" vs. "individuality." The ancient world didn't even have these conceptions from the Enlightenment and the 19th century. I know this can all get pretty complicated, John. Maybe he was being arch (Hannibal, elephants, GOP mascot, get it, haha?). Maybe it's a Freudian slip about the ultimate destiny of his side. Or perhaps he was home schooled.
The irony is that the Kooks would have us replace the maybe propagandistic, supposedly anti-Anglo Tucson program, with their own big-time propaganda. There's been a years-long effort by the right to get control of textbook selection and push for a right-wing curriculum. It's beyond "exclusionary" or "inclusionary" or beating back political correctness. It's a war, to use Huppenthal's metaphor, on the facts, from the history of the New Deal to the science of evolution or climate change. The GOPers have gone beyond embracing ignorance to marrying it. To be a college graduate or a well-read person is to be a liberal elitist. Why, you probably studied liberal arts.
This cynical, indeed sinister, trend will only set America behind in a world where knowledge matters more than ever. And maybe that's the goal: Keep the people stupid, keep them repeating the talking points — god forbid they approach something with an open mind, a spirit of inquiry, an ability to realize history's complex fabric and profit from facts. The alternative is a rigid theocracy. The Aztecs come to mind, the most powerful empire in Meso-America, until they encountered a few hundred conquistadors. And although Cortez was carrying a theocracy of his own, it was tempered by science and a supple mind. Horne and Hupp might know this if they had done any "ethnic" studies outside the gated properties of their minds.
This can be changed when sensible people retake the school boards and legislatures, particularly in Arizona where voter turnout is so low.