Tucson's program, it appears, follows a similar pattern of turning facts on their head. According to a series in the Arizona Republic last year, videos posted online showed Tucson Chicano Studies classrooms decorated with "heroes" such as Fidel Castro, the communist dictator who ruled for nearly 50 years and single-handedly turned Cuba into one of the poorest countries in the Western Hemisphere; Ernesto "Che" Guevara, an Argentine revolutionary who served in Castro's regime, ordering the deaths of thousands of innocent Cubans and personally executing more than 180 men; and Pancho Villa, a common criminal whose escapades were more about enriching himself than freeing Mexico from one of its perennial dictators, Porfirio Diaz. Venerating this rogues' gallery of despots certainly won't help Mexican-American students understand anything about the role of Mexican-Americans in U.S. history, which is how such programs are often sold to an unsuspecting public.
For decades, the teaching of American history has become a spoils system in the name of identity politics, divvying up slots in the historical pantheon to various groups: blacks, Latinos, women, gays. We've elevated minor characters to major roles in American history if they fit the right ethnic or gender profile and dropped leading figures of the American founding, the Civil War, and modern history. In the process, we've forgotten about teaching what it means to be an American -- what is unique and transformative in the American Experiment.
Now, more than ever, we need to reinvigorate the teaching of American history -- the nation's ideals, principles, its political and legal system -- and not just for the sake of the millions of newcomers to our country. Indeed, U.S.-born children of all racial and ethnic groups receive precious little education in American history in our schools, which undermines their ability to understand and defend democratic principles.
The problem is not just getting rid of divisive ethnic studies programs; it's figuring out what replaces them. Legislatures around the country should put in place rigorous standards that ensure that all students will study American history, government, and culture throughout their public school education. We've created an intellectual vacuum in our public schools that gets filled with all sorts of nonsense. It's time we fill it with something worthwhile.
Linda Chavez is chairman of the Center for Equal Opportunity and author of Betrayal: How Union Bosses Shake Down Their Members and Corrupt American Politics .
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