Sunday, May 27, 2012

Banned Books in Arizona

Today I write belatedly on the recent Arizona law banning certain books purported to promote solidarity based on ethnicity rather than individuality. Arizona bill 2281 of earlier this year banned Ethnic Studies programs in Arizona schools, and along with that, forbade teachers to teach related texts. Soon after, school districts -- notoriously the Tucson School District -- cleared classrooms (in front of sometimes crying students) of books taught in those classes. These books included Paulo Freire's "Pedagogy of the Oppressed," the anthology "Rethinking Columbus," Howard Zinn's "A People's History of the United States," and selected books by such well-known and critically praised authors as Sherman Alexie, James Baldwin, Sandra Cisneros, Junot Diaz, Isabel Allende, Jonathan Kozol, and Gloria Anzaldua, among many others. The law was primarily aimed at Mexican-American Ethnic Studies programs, and Latino/a authors and books, clearly because of the large number of Mexican Americans in Arizona. Also affected were programs and books related to African Americans, Asian Americans, and Native Americans, along with feminist and progressive publications (and ideas). This law and the related book censorship are clearly outrageous, anti-democratic, and frightening. Educators should have the freedom to teach with access to and reference to all books. And freedom of speech and expression in the form of books are basic to democracy and the exchange of ideas. (This seems so obvious; I never thought we would have to re-state it; this shows my naivete.) This Arizona law, especially in the context of other current threats to freedom and civil and human rights, and any similar laws (because once one state has succeeded in doing this, others may follow), must be resisted.

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