Tuesday, April 22, 2008

ARIZONA LEGISLATIVE COMMITTEE APPROVES BILL THAT WOULD BAN STUDENT ETHNIC GROUPS

MATTHEW BENSON, ARIZONA REPUBLIC Arizona public schools would be barred from any teachings considered counter to democracy or Western civilization under a proposal endorsed by a legislative panel.

Additionally, the measure would prohibit students of the state's universities and community colleges from forming groups based in whole or part on the race of their members, such as the Black Business Students Association at Arizona State University or Native Americans United at Northern Arizona University. Those groups would be forbidden from operating on campus.

The brainchild of Rep. Russell Pearce, the measure appeared as an amendment to Senate Bill 1108, which originally would have made minor changes to the state's Homeland Security advisory councils. The House Appropriations Committee approved the new proposal on a 9-6 vote.

Pearce, a Mesa Republican, said his target isn't diversity instruction, but schools that use taxpayer dollars to indoctrinate students in what he characterized as anti-American or seditious thinking. The measure is at least partially a response to a controversy surrounding an ethnic-studies program in the Tucson Unified School District, which critics have said is unpatriotic and teaches revolution.

SB 1108 states, "A primary purpose of public education is to inculcate values of American citizenship. Public tax dollars used in public schools should not be used to denigrate American values and the teachings of Western civilization."

For schools that violate the anti-Western-teachings provision, the bill provides the state superintendent of public instruction with the authority to withhold a portion of state funding.

Rep. John Kavanagh, a member of the Appropriations Committee, said he hopes the measure helps return cultural studies in the state's schools to a "melting pot" model.

The result, said Rep. Pete Rios, would likely be a chilling effect on public instruction regarding diversity and other cultures. "There's nothing wrong with being bilingual, bicultural," said Rios, a Hayden Democrat. "I like Mexican music. I like Elvis Presley. I'm bicultural. What's wrong with that? I think kids, students, need to learn about their culture."

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