Thursday, May 13, 2010

Ethnic Studies Classes

In addition to signing the popular (except with news people and political elites) border enforcement law, Arizona Governor Jan Brewer also recently signed another novel law:

The new law forbids elementary or secondary schools to teach classes that are "designed primarily for pupils of a particular ethnic group" and advocate "the overthrow of the United States government" or "resentment toward a race or class of people."

I dare say that it would be hard for a reasonable person to oppose such a law, but there are certain groups which oppose it.

I initially planned not to post on this topic but changed my mind today when I read this article about such programs at the university level:

Entitled "Working with Large-Scale Climate Surveys: Reducing Data Complexity to Gain New Insights," Chatman pulls data from the 2008 University of California Undergraduate Experience Survey that distinguish "interpersonal and diversity skills, campus climate, overall satisfaction and inclusion, and individual characteristics [religion, income, race, etc.]." The data also include the respondents' programs of study, allowing Chatman to break down student perceptions by major.

Here is what he found:

Upper-division area and ethnic studies students rated Climate of Respect for Personal Beliefs at 4.16. Humanities and social science students gave it a substantially higher 4.80, and science, engineering, math, and business students rated it even higher at 5.05. Obviously, field of study affected scores.

Chatman attributes the low climate scores in area and ethnic studies precisely to the instruction students receive in those classes. "Students in area and ethnic studies should have learned to recognize prejudicial communication and should be more sensitive to communication that might be prejudicial," he writes. Whereas a math student might hear a remark and think nothing of it, an African American Studies student might discern prejudice and stereotyping. Does this mean that students in area and ethnic studies are more perceptive and accurate in their assessment of campus climate, or have they acquired in their classes a "warped lens" (Chatman's term) that sees social life in overdone racial categories? Chatman even draws a logical possibility that might appall area and ethnic studies instruction, that is, that the climate in those fields is a lot worse than it is in engineering classes and labs. One wonders how area and ethnic studies professors would feel if they were ordered to undergo diversity sensitivity sessions themselves to try to straighten out their problems.
When you teach people to see themselves as apart from others, you shouldn't be surprised when you encounter divisiveness.

Update, 5/15/10: Here's what's going on in Tucson's ethnic studies programs.

1 comment:

maxutils said...

My thoughts . . . this is a really fun law to have on the books, because protesters claiming racism will have to explain why having a curricula that is 'geared towards one race, that promotes bias against another race' is not racist in itself. Because, that's what it says. That said, this is a law which guarantees that any attempted enforcement will lead to an extended court battle, since, as the Tucson Superintendent of Schools has correctly pointed out, promoting bias is a matter of opinion. Still, good times, Arizona . .. good times.
As an aside ... were the differences in mean score statistically significant? They have that look, but I'm much more comfortable with people who use stats properly.