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Nine high school students burst into a room in which the Tucson, Arizona school board was scheduled to meet last night, chaining themselves into the very seats that the board members were scheduled to occupy. Their action forced the cancellation of the meeting, which has yet to be rescheduled.

The students were protesting a planned resolution that would remove ethnic studies from the core curriculum in Tucson schools. That resolution was drafted in response to HB 2281, a new state law intended to remove ethnic studies from the Tucson school district entirely. The board is divided on the resolution, which opponents call a capitulation to HB 2281.

Arizona’s new ethnic studies law, House Bill 2281, takes effect this week, and the internets are full of chatter.

The law, the brainchild of outgoing AZ Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Horne, has gotten a huge amount of attention, but its actual effect is still very much in doubt. We’re going to be hearing a lot more about this law in the coming months, so here’s a quick primer.

Let’s start with what the law doesn’t do. First, it doesn’t have any effect on college or university teaching — it’s aimed solely at K-12 education.

Second, despite the claims of folks ranging from Jezebel to Mother Jones, it’s not an “ethnic studies ban.” Instead, it’s a ban on four kinds of teaching — programs that “promote the overthrow of the United States government,” those that “promote resentment toward a race or class of people,” those that “are designed primarily for pupils of a particular ethnic group,” and those that “advocate ethnic solidarity instead of the treatment of pupils as individuals.”

If that list seems weird to you — if it seems like a right-winger’s fantasy of what ethnic studies are, rather than a description of any course or program you’ve ever been involved with — you’re not alone. Tom Horne crafted this law as a weapon to use against the ethnic studies program in the Tucson Unified School District, but the TUSD says — most recently in a resolution passed just last week — that they’re in full compliance with the law.

Indeed, the law itself bends over backwards to make clear that it’s not aimed at ethnic studies as a whole. It explicitly provides for the continued teaching of “courses or classes that include the history of any ethnic group,” including those which “include the discussion of controversial aspects of history.”

So what’s going on?

What’s going on is that Tom Horne has been on a public crusade against TUSD’s ethnic studies programs for years, and this bill is the fruit of that campaign.

Horne leaves office as schools superintendent today. (He was elected state Attorney General in November.) This morning he formally declared the TUSD Mexican-American Studies program in violation of HB2281.

The District now has sixty days to show the new superintendent that it’s in compliance with the law, though Horne contends that mere changes to the program won’t have that effect. “The violations are deeply rooted in the program itself,” he wrote this morning, “and partial adjustments will not constitute compliance” — they must jettison the program completely.

It’s not clear whether the incoming superintendent, John Huppenthal, shares that view. For their part, the TUSD intends to contest this ruling with Huppenthal, and possibly in the courts. If they’re found in violation the penalty would be a ten percent reduction in state support — a cut that Tucson’s superintendent says “would cripple the district, quite frankly.”

I’ll have more on Horne’s specific findings, and the district’s response, in a follow-up post.

The University of Arizona has seen enrollment in its honors program drop by nearly twenty percent after it began charging students $500 a year to participate. More than six hundred students have left the program this year, the first year in which the fee has been imposed.

Remember this story the next time you hear some professor or administrator whining about the “consumer mentality” among today’s college students.

It’s not the students of the University of Arizona who looked at the school’s honors program with dollar signs in their eyes. It’s not the students who decided to transform a community of scholars into a chance to turn a quick buck. It’s not the students who slapped a price tag on a mark of academic distinction.

It’s not the students.

Students, by and large, don’t see themselves as consumers, and they don’t see the university as a product. The campus plays too many — and too varied — roles in their lives to be reduced to that. It’s administrators who commodify education, and those students who adopt consumerist attitudes are taking their cues from them.

NPR is reporting that Northern Arizona University has installed ID card scanners at some lecture halls so that student attendance in large classes can be taken automatically. Apparently NAU is the first college in the country to do this.

I’m no opponent, in principle, of taking attendance in college, though I know many student activists are. In my view, class participation can be a legitimate component of a student’s grade, and you can’t participate if you’re not present. (Beyond that, I do think that it’s a professor’s prerogative to discourage absenteeism by taking attendance, even if it’s only to save some students from themselves.)

But I’ve got a few concerns about this scheme.

First, it seems to me that college attendance is nowhere less important than in huge lecture classes. A lecture is by definition non-interactive — in many cases, a student will get as much from listening to a friend’s recording of a class session as she would by sitting through the class itself. So why shouldn’t that be a legitimate option? Why should a student be penalized for that?

Second, this kind of automated attendance system invites abuse. As a professor, my belief is that the way to keep cheating out of my classroom is to raise the stakes. I organize my classes so that cheating is difficult, catching cheaters is easy, the ethical ramifications of cheating are obvious, and the consequences of cheating are severe. But because these scanners fail to meet any of those standards, they may invite students to see gaming the system as no big deal.

There are a bunch of reasons why students skip class, and a bunch of ways to discourage them from doing so. But the more I think about this particular one, the less I like it.

What’s your take? When should profs take attendance? Is this a legitimate way to do it?

A federal judge this morning blocked enforcement of the most controversial components of Arizona’s SB 1070 immigration law, just one day before the law was to go into effect.

SB 1070 has been the target of considerable student protest and organizing nationally since it was passed this spring, and is expected to be a flash point for activism when students return to campus in the fall.

Judge Susan Bolton found a “substantial likelihood” that legal residents would be subject to wrongful arrest under the law, and ruled that the statute would thus “impose a ‘distinct, unusual and extraordinary’ burden on legal resident aliens that only the federal government has the authority to impose.”

Update | Here’s the text of the judge’s order.

About This Blog

n7772graysmall is the work of Angus Johnston, a historian and advocate of American student organizing.

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