The Los Angeles Board Calls For Teaching Students About the Arizona Law — Denounced As “Un-American”

The Los Angeles Unified School District school board has announced that all public school students will be taught about Arizona’s new immigration law. Members, however, appear to want the law taught as an example of an un-American and racist law. In a unanimous vote, the board has asked schools to incorporate the lesson as part of their civics classes. I agree with the board that this is an appropriate subject for discussion some classes, but (even as a critic of the law) I have serious concerns over teaching students that such a law is “Un-American.”

Recently, I was asked to review the decision of the Township High School in Illinois to bar travel to Arizona for the girl’s basketball championship. The decision was, in my view, based on flawed constitutional analysis and appeared more like a boycott — a political decision. I have the same concerns here. There are obviously parents who agree and disagree with this law. Indeed, over sixty percent of people polled support the law and roughly half want their own states to adopt a similar law.

The concern is not over the merits of the law but the use of public schools to advance a political viewpoint. The Board voted unanimously on Tuesday to “express outrage” and “condemnation” of the law. That is arguably a legitimate expression from Board members. However, it went further to demand (as stated in a press release) that “[t]he Los Angeles Board of Education also requested that Superintendent Ramon Cortines ensure that civics and history classes discuss the recent laws with students in the context of the American values of unity, diversity and equal protection for all people.” That would also seem an appropriate lesson plan.

The controversy erupted over comments of the board members that accompanied these instructions. Board President Monica García explained the purpose behind this latter provision: “America must stand for tolerance, inclusiveness and equality. In our civics classes and in our hallways, we must give life to these values by teaching our students to value themselves; to respect others; and to demand fairness and justice for all who live within our borders. Any law which violates civil rights is un-American.”

School District spokesman Robert Alaniz further stated:

“The Board of Education directed the Superintendent to ensure that LAUSD civics and history classes discuss the recent laws enacted in Arizona in the context of the American values of unity, diversity, and Equal Protection for all. Much like a number of controversial periods and laws that are part of our history and are currently taught including:

— Slavery

— Jim Crowe laws and segregation

— Native American reservations

— Residential schools (for Native Americans)

— The Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882

— Anti-Irish racism in the 19th century

— Racism against immigrants from Southern and Eastern Europe in the 20th century

— Anti-Semitism

— Internment camps for Japanese Americans during World War II

— The Mexican Repatriation Program (1929-1939).”

I have long supported schools incorporating such public issues into civics discussion to tie foundational principles to contemporary examples. Arizona’s law could make for some interesting debate and thought-provoking questions. However, only if it is taught in a neutral way and elicits discussion on both perspectives — not just opposition to the law. The message from the board appears to be that the classes should characterize the law as akin to racism and anti-Semitism. That would seem more like indoctrination than education.

This may not be the intention of the Board and it is important to note that the instruction itself did not include loaded or partisan language. However, the Board should issue clear guidelines for teachers to address the law in an even-handed way and to engage the students in a discussion of both sides of the controversy. Board members are free to denounce the law in their individual capacity, but these members would be presumably aggrieved if Arizona schools were instructed to teach that the law was the embodiment of all that is right and correct about America. Even the Administration (which is planning to challenge the law) has said that it does not view the law as racist. Los Angeles children should discuss the law not only on its merits but also as an example of how our political and judicial process addresses such controversies. There is a difficult line in teaching such subjects between ideology and education. However, when done correctly, it can be highly rewarding. I often take positions in my graduate classes that are diametrically opposed to views of my students to challenge them and to get them to consider alternative perspectives.

I assume that the Board was thinking along the same lines, but it should clarify the matter for teachers who are the “boots on the ground” for our educational system.

For the story, click here.

34 thoughts on “The Los Angeles Board Calls For Teaching Students About the Arizona Law — Denounced As “Un-American””

  1. Isn’t a law that requires racial profiling un-American? I understand that the school district should not act like Texas,but they don’t have to. All they have to do is open the floor for discussion of the law and the students will do the rest. Bravo Buddha.

  2. I’m with Buddha on this one. It appears that the Los Angeles School Board is doing precisely what the Texas Board of Education recently accomplished: adopting curricula to fit into the prevailing political mood. Tyranny by majority rule, whether it occurs in Arizona, Texas or California, is still tyranny. When it directly impacts education, it is especially troubling.

  3. I hope that every American, regardless of where he lives, will stop and examine his conscience about this and other related incidents. This Nation was founded by men of many nations and backgrounds. It was founded on the principle that all men are created equal, and that the rights of every man are diminished when the rights of one man are threatened. All of us ought to have the right to be treated as he would wish to be treated, as one would wish his children to be treated, but this is not the case.

    I know the proponents of this law say that the majority approves of this law, but the majority is not always right. Would women or non-whites have the vote if we listen to the majority of the day, would the non-whites have equal rights (and equal access to churches, housing, restaurants, hotels, retail stores, schools, colleges and yes water fountains) if we listen to the majority of the day? We all know the answer, a resounding, NO!

    Today we are committed to a worldwide struggle to promote and protect the rights of all who wish to be free. In a time of domestic crisis men of good will and generosity should be able to unite regardless of party or politics and do what is right, not what is just popular with the majority. Some men comprehend discrimination by never have experiencing it in their lives, but the majority will only understand after it happens to them.

  4. Border, et al,

    Here’s an interesting thought for you: A law can be illegal.

  5. blhlls I don’t think there will be that many fights as the district is almost 75% hispanic.

  6. While I think a good history teacher can productively engage high school students in discussions of current controversial events, this particular directive seems more likely to provoke fights than thought among your average high school students in your average high school class. Seems to me this statute calls out to be the subject of an end of term essay question: In light of all that you have learned in this history/civics class, would you have signed this statute into law if you were the Governor of Arizona? Explain.

  7. Buddha Is Laughing

    My five of a kind and an ace high beats a high card.


    Buddha never bluffs when he’s holding all the cards.

    I would suggest the rest of you players fold. The hand is his.

  8. For the slower on the uptake, the point is that there is nothing more American than challenging unjust laws. Protesting and disobeying unjust laws is the very basis of our country and the prime instigating factor in our own War for Independence. But schools should not be indoctrination camps for any point of the political spectrum lest they cease to have value as educators and become merely recruitment tools for polar extremists. Again, dialogue not monologue, makes for a well-rounded education.

    “Liberty without learning is always in peril; learning without liberty is always in vain.” – J.F. Kennedy

  9. Professor and BIL:

    Ditto. It is one thing to teach students controversies surrounding a certain law, and to discuss its pros and cons, it is quite another to politicize it and call it un-American.


    “It shouldn’t be up to a “school board” to determine what is “un-American …”

    I’m going to go out on a limb and guess that you disagree with what the Texas Board of Ed did with its rewriting of history …

    Calm down and keep your shorts on, sport. No need to go swinging your sausage around here.

  10. “It may be true that the law cannot make a man love me, but it can keep him from lynching me, and I think that’s pretty important.” -Martin Luther King, Jr.

    “There are more instances of the abridgement of the freedom of the people by the gradual and silent encroachment of those in power, than by violent and sudden usurpation.” – James Madison

    Arbitrary power is most easily established on the ruins of liberty abused to licentiousness. – George Washington

    “If a law is unjust, a man is not only right to disobey it, he is obligated to do so.” – Thomas Jefferson

    “If Tyranny and Oppression come to this land, it will be in the guise of fighting a foreign enemy.” – James Madison

    “When I refuse to obey an unjust law, I do not contest the right of the majority to command, but I simply appeal from the sovereignty of the people to the sovereignty of mankind. Some have not feared to assert that a people can never outstep the boundaries of justice and reason in those affairs which are peculiarly its own; and that consequently full power may be given to the majority by which it is represented. But this is the language of a slave.” – Alexis de Tocqueville

    My five of a kind and an ace high beats a high card.

  11. It shouldn’t be up to a “school board” to determine what is “un-American, I think that’s why we have “law makers”? We need to vote on it or (just obey the existing law), that the illegals have a lot of support…from relatives, doesn’t make it “Un-AMERICAN!
    It’s Pro-American to uphold our laws and enforce the border completely , especially when any terrorist can just walk into the States!
    I here Osama is being pardoned, and will moving in with Obama’s mother-inlaw?
    Obama should be deported with his “illegals!
    How many Mexicans do we need/want? 0.

  12. I am confused! What about teaching students to obey laws? What about the American system of checks and balances?? If something is “illegal” is it not against the law? Hence, “illegal aliens”. Perhaps we do need to change our entire immigration system, but for now, illegal aliens are, in fact, illegal.

  13. Illegal is illegal PERIOD; The sooner we stop paying Mexico for it’s illegal aliens to be here, sent back, or permanently encarcerated for being the criminals that escape to utopia, the sooner we can use that money for AMERICANS!

  14. You are so correct, sir.

    “The concern is not over the merits of the law but the use of public schools to advance a political viewpoint.”

    There is a difference between education and indoctrination, no matter what seed of indoctrination is used. Teaching people how to think is more critical to helping America retain a competitive edge than teaching them what to think. The Socratic method is a dialectic, not a monologue.

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