The Brains Behind Arizona’s Ethnic Studies Ban


Like Kris Kobach, the architect of the state’s immigration law, the man behind Arizona’s anti-ethnic studies law is also running for office this year—and he’s already touting the legislation in his campaign. Tom Horne, the state superintendent of public instruction, is battling an ally of Maricopa County’s infamous Sheriff Joe Arpaio in the Republican primary for Attorney General, Talking Points Memo’s Justin Elliott explains. The new law prohibits classes that “promote the overthrow of the United States government,” “promote resentment toward a race or class of people,” “are designed primarily for pupils of a particular ethnic group,” or “advocate ethnic solidarity.” Championing his legislative victory, Horne is now trying to gin up fears of a Hispanic “revolt.” Elliott reports:

The ethnic studies law is Horne’s answer to Thomas’ immigration record. Horne’s campaign website currently includes headlines like “Tom Horne Championed Bill to Ban Ethnic Studies” and “Alarming Video Shows a L.A. Teacher Calling for Mexican Revolt in the U.S.” above a picture of Hispanic protesters of the law dressed in quasi-paramilitary garb and bearing pictures of Cesar Chavez.

Horne isn’t the first to take up ethnic studies as a political crusade. The battle over ethnic studies originated on college campuses decades ago when minority student groups began pressing for classes that covered underrepresented viewpoints. As recently as 2007, Columbia University students (and one professor) staged a hunger strike to protest a Dead White Male-centric curriculum and push for an expansion of ethnic studies. On the other side, conservatives like David Horowitz have crusaded against ethnic studies for being a socially divisive product of liberal groupthink on college campuses.

But Arizona’s new law has taken what was once an academic debate to a new level of vitriolic fear-mongering. Horne says that he wrote the law specifically to target a grade-school program in Tucson that he says is teaching Hispanics to resent whites through “ethnic chauvinism.” Horne’s law makes no pretense of engaging in an honest pedagogical discussion—rather he skips straight to the inflammatory charge that such learning could encourage students to revolt against US government, effectively legitimizing fears of a Mexican “reconquista.” Where students of ethnic studies were once merely criticized as enemies of the Western canon, they’re now being villified as enemies of Arizona state.

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  • Suzy Khimm was a reporter in the Washington bureau of Mother Jones from March 2010 until June 2011. For more of her stories, click here. Follow her on Twitter here.