Arizona and Utah and Tea Partiers and Republicans on my mind

Originally published at Benfell Blog. Please leave any comments there.

Seymour Friendly at Firedoglake points out that the vicious law recently passed in Arizona allowing police to ask anyone they suspect of being an “illegal” immigrant for identification isn’t the only one.

From the Huffington Post:

Arizona’s new immigration law is just about crime, its supporters say, but given that the state’s new education policy equates ethnic studies programs with high treason, they may not be using the commonly accepted definition of “crime.”

Under the ban, sent to Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer by the state legislature Thursday, schools will lose state funding if they offer any courses that “promote the overthrow of the U.S. government, promote resentment of a particular race or class of people, are designed primarily for students of a particular ethnic group or advocate ethnic solidarity instead of the treatment of pupils as individuals.”

But no one is teaching courses favoring hatred towards minority groups. The only existing courses that meet this criteria are ethnic studies courses. And the insistence on treating people as individuals rather than as members of groups serves only to deny racism and to promote a particular cultural perspective. Indeed, FoxNews quoted Arizona State Superintendent for Public Instruction Tom Horne saying,

This is consistent with the fundamental American value that we are all individuals, not exemplars of whatever ethnic groups we were born into. Ethnic studies programs teach the opposite, and are designed to promote ethnic chauvinism.

So whites determine what “fundamental American values” are and it isn’t “ethnic chauvinism” when whites do it. Then there’s this, from the Wall Street Journal:

The Arizona Department of Education recently began telling school districts that teachers whose spoken English it deems to be heavily accented or ungrammatical must be removed from classes for students still learning English.

Karla Campillo-Soto teaches a kindergarten class for students with limited English at Creighton School in Phoenix. The native of Mexico took a course to try to reduce her accent in English. Two other kindergarten teachers at the school were deemed not fluent enough for such students.

State education officials say the move is intended to ensure that students with limited English have teachers who speak the language flawlessly. But some school principals and administrators say the department is imposing arbitrary fluency standards that could undermine students by thinning the ranks of experienced educators.

There is a history to the fluency issue:

In the 1990s, Arizona hired hundreds of teachers whose first language was Spanish as part of a broad bilingual-education program. Many were recruited from Latin America.

Then in 2000, voters passed a ballot measure stipulating that instruction be offered only in English. Bilingual teachers who had been instructing in Spanish switched to English.

Ms. Dugan said some schools hadn’t been complying with the state law that made English the only language in the classroom. “Our job is to make sure the teachers are highly qualified in fluency of the English language. We know districts that have a fluency problem,” she said.

And apparently the federal “No Child Left Behind Law” also requires that “students learning English must be instructed by teachers fluent in the language.” As Seymour Friendly puts it,

Certainly, officially, the purge is limited to English classes, but obviously a school that removes an English teacher for not being acceptable to racist white “nativist” xenophobes under the new “policy” will try to purge teachers who don’t speak English as a first language or whom have an accent foreign to Arizonan ears from any class or program. One is left to wonder if a white male Christian fundamentalist teacher from New York City who happened to have a thick accent would be deemed “ungrammatical” or “heavily accented”.

A difficulty is that the standard of fluency is arbitrary. According to the Wall Street Journal, “Defining fluency is left to each state, a spokesman for the U.S. Department of Education said.” Further,

Ms. Santa Cruz, the state official, said evaluators weren’t looking at accents alone. “We look at the best models for English pronunciation,” she said. “It becomes an issue when pronunciation affects comprehensibility.”

But what are these “best models for English pronunciation?” It happens that, personally, I speak something very close to “standard American English,” which is already preferred on network news particularly for anchorpersons and reporters. It is an authoritative way of speaking, which means it isn’t really authoritative, but that as a culture, we often assume it to be authoritative. That’s a prejudice and Arizona is reinforcing it.

“Teachers should speak good grammar because kids pick up what they hear,” said Johanna Haver, a proponent of English-language immersion who serves as an adviser to Arizona educators. “Where you draw the line is debatable.”

So what this really amounts to is an exclusion of people who are different. And in combination with the law on ethnic studies courses, it is an exclusion of people who not only sound different but who think different. And in combination with the law that, according to the New York Times, “would make the failure to carry immigration documents a crime and give the police broad power to detain anyone suspected of being in the country illegally,” it legitimates a police state that distinguishes between “us” and “them” in a way that can be adjusted to exclude ever larger groups of people.

Fascism has arrived in Arizona. (UPDATE: At least ten other states may be considering similar legislation.) And it combines with something else rather frightening in Utah. Chip Ward began an article at TomDispatch this way:

What if the Tea Party ruled? Imagine a land, let’s call it Glennbeckistan, where white, patriarchal, religiously zealous, Tea Party-type patriots hold a super-majority in both houses of the legislature, sit in the governor’s mansion, and control most local governments. It’s a place so out of sync with the rest of the nation that states’ rights and even secession are always on the agenda. It’s a place where gun-ownership trumps all other rights, climate change is considered an insidious socialist conspiracy, and a miscarriage can be investigated as a potential crime. Welcome to Utah.

Our rightwing red-state legislature just finished its annual 2010 session. So-called message bills challenged the federal government’s right to govern federal lands, enforce gun controls, legalize abortion, and mandate health reform. In addition, Utah’s lawmakers cut the education budget, raised tuitions, and slashed services to the disabled. In fairness, state legislators across the nation, faced with disastrous drops in revenue, have likewise slashed social services and balanced budgets on the backs of the poor. In Utah, however, they also shelved pensions for public employees. That they could take such draconian action is instructive — organized labor is weak here, unions being another manifestation of creeping socialism. Utah’s history of labor organizing, or grass roots and civil rights organizing for that matter, is anemic compared to most of America. This is the place, after all, where IWW radical Joe Hill was arrested and executed.

But we on the left suffer from some of the same faults. We point at those people, those Arizonans, those Utahns, those Tea Partiers. We accuse them of being backwards and racist. We criticize them for seeking to impose their values on the rest of us.

Disparaging those people does not alter the reality that those people are acting from heartfelt convictions which cannot be reconciled with our convictions. But really it isn’t just Utah’s “Republican leaders here [who] want the rest of the nation to be more like [Utah].” The fact is that we want them to be more like us.

That isn’t happening. From either side. And it is foolish to think that there is some workable compromise in between. That’s why I think the country has to be broken up. Because the alternative is violence.