Guest Post: Should Pagans Care About Ethnic Studies in Arizona?

Jason Pitzl-Waters —  May 7, 2011 — 59 Comments

While much attention has been paid to Arizona’s controversial laws concerning immigration, portions of which are currently being challenged in federal court, other controversial pieces of legislation passed in the state have been largely overlooked. One such law essentially bans ethnic study courses in publicly-funded schools, and seems specifically designed to eliminate the Mexican-American Studies Program at the Tucson Unified School District.

“…this [law] prohibits school classes, which I’m going to quote here, “promote resentment toward a race or class of people, are designed for particular ethnic groups or advocate ethnic solidarity instead of treatment of pupils as individuals.” […] it’s a state law, but it’s really aimed at the Mexican-American Studies Program at the Tucson Unified School District. It’s a high school program which students can take instead of general U.S. history and government. The class teaches government from a Latino perspective, emphasizing heroes such as Cesar Chavez. And the head of the Department of Education of the state, Tom Horne, has been trying to get this law passed for four years, his office has.”

The new law, which went into effect on January 1st, was initially fought by Tuscon Unified School District (TUSD) but that resistance has faltered as threats of severe funding cuts have been issued as punishment for non-compliance. In addition, the governing board of TUSD is considering a controversial new resolution that would make all the Mexican-American Studies courses electives instead of counting towards the social studies requirement (assuming they are deemed legal). This latest development has spurred acts of civil disobedience by students, and a final vote has been delayed until a forum can take place.

I often ask myself what the “Pagan angle” is to any story I write about. Why should we specifically involve ourselves in any particular issue? There are a million blogs that cover politics from across the spectrum, so I try to leave partisan issues by the wayside unless it directly affects us or our interests. In this case, Aine, an 18-year-old Pagan from Arizona, wrote to me with an argument that this is something we should care about, and something our clergy and leaders should be responding to. Aine has taken classes in the now-controversial Mexican-American Studies Program at TUSD and writes eloquently about why the battle being waged over ethnic studies classes in Arizona might just be a Pagan issue.

I’ve come to talk about an issue that has begun tearing at the already fragile seams of our state. Many people involved in the ethnic studies debate in Arizona have turned it into a politics game, creating such tension in the community that families have even become fractured in the fight. Which is what it is; don’t doubt it. There is a reason our youth are chaining themselves to chairs and throwing their fists up. And it is not political.

This may not seem like an issue that concerns Pagans, due to the amazing spin job and duality crafted by the media and those in power. But I am begging, pleading, with my fellow Pagans that you please listen with open hearts and minds, forgetting the surface politics, and understand why the fight in Arizona does matter to us. To all of us: Wiccan, Feri, Asatru, Pagan, Heathen, whatever you are.

I have attended the ethnic studies classes (Mexican-American Studies) for two years, beginning in my junior year of high school. I took both junior and senior Latino Literature, as well as Mexican-American History and Mexican-American Government. These classes were instrumental in my development as a human being and as an interested member of my community invested in its growth. These classes helped my development as a Pagan. And this is because they are based on ancient philosophies indigenous to the American Southwest, including Mayan and Aztec belief.

I have heard elders in these traditions speak of the Mayan calendar, of the great temples of ancient cities. Names that were once foreign to my tongue roll easily now: Tezkatlipoka, Huitzilopotchli, Quetzalcoatl. Yes, we also learned of the Conquistadors, and Cesar Chavez, and the walkouts in 1969. We also learned the old names of the mountains surrounding our town, the old customs and practices of the native people, their understanding of this land. This, if no other reason, should be why Pagans are invested in keeping the ethnic studies program in Arizona alive: knowledge.

I’ve heard and read many complaints from my fellow Pagans bemoaning our lost history, the oral knowledge that was wiped out or forgotten. In Arizona, we have our indigenous knowledge being returned to us. We’re relearning the lost tales, the buried knowledge, from people who heard it from the elders who remember the truth before it was contorted or burned. This is what the people in power are trying to dismantle.

Perhaps they have good reason. Learning your history empowers you, especially we who have been so powerless. Not only are we learning the old knowledge of the Southwest, we have read Paulo Freire’s Pedagogy of the Oppressed and Critical Race Theory. We have read Shakespeare’s The Tempest and viewed it as a prophetic play to the actual colonization of the Americas. We have read a memoir written by an ex-gang member and a book about the real border horror we live so close to. We have been exposed to material most people don’t read until college.

This is what those in power are afraid of. And they have infected others in the community with their fear, preaching that our students have been brainwashed. Turned into leftist, liberal revolutionaries that hate our government. Yet never have our teachers said that we must believe everything we read. Quite the opposite. Our teachers have told us to follow our hearts and our heads, to think critically. What is valued in our classes is the ability to formulate your beliefs in an intelligent manner, not what those beliefs are. We are not expected to believe what our teachers do, or to follow in their footsteps. We are being turned into human beings, not robots programmed with the command to destroy the U.S government.

It is this humanization that is what our opponents so fear. When we are fully human, empowered, we will not sit idly by and let our rights be taken away. We will not dance beautifully for those who have lied about our program, our teachers, and us. We will not watch as our precious knowledge is stripped away again.

Please understand that this fight is not about “Right” or “Left” or “Center”. You don’t have to be Mexican-American or brown to care about these classes. This fight is about our right to be educated, to learn. To learn everything about the peoples who have shaped this country, whether you think it is great or not (and, because of these classes, I think it is great). Some people say culture should only be taught at home. But surely, as Pagans, many of us whom grew up in homes where our roots were not acknowledged or smothered by a belief system that has held our world in its clutches for millennia, we can understand that sentiment of isolation breeds silence. If we are unable to learn about cultures both in our blood and not our own, we will become divided, no longer capable of comprehending others. Our cultures are being lost, our indigenous cultures, and beyond the façade of politics surely we can see that what is at stake is knowledge. The ability to learn freely.

I have sat with Catholics, Christians, atheists and Muslims and discussed openly my Paganism, my sexuality and gender identity, and it is in these classes that I feel truly safe. The classes breed compassion, love, and understanding. That is why we are fighting so hard, why teens are chaining themselves down and yelling. We have talked quietly, and peacefully, and reasonably, and those in power have ignored us. They have called us racist and brainwashed. Our teachers are receiving death threats because they dare to teach a history of people called savages, people who discovered 0 (zero), who created one of the most accurate calendars in the world, and who conveyed ideas not through writing but image. Perhaps this does not seem as serious a loss as the killing of philosophers, or the burning of libraries, or the forced conversions we have all heard of. But it is. The law and the people supporting the destruction of these classes are attempting to silence a voice that speaks of knowledge, and hope, and peace. Courage, love, and a warrior spirit I am sure many Pagans and Heathens can relate to.

I do not exaggerate when I say we are fighting for our lives. Countless students have been saved from dropping out by these classes, because they teach us that we do have a voice, that we do have power, and that what we say matters. The future of our education is at stake, and it doesn’t matter what political side you are on. Everyone who cares about freedom of speech, freedom of the indigenous people to teach their knowledge and accept their place as a group that has contributed to our country, freedom of the youth to be heard even if we can’t vote—support us. Support us in any way you can. Send money to the lawsuit fighting the law, send emails to the activists with ideas on how to get our message out in ways more people will listen to and understand, send your thoughts and energy and hope. We need hope so badly. Some people have been fighting this fight for years, and we’re tired. We need support, we need to know that we’re not alone in this fight, we need to know that our spiritual communities care.

At the most recent protest there were clergy with a Virgen de Guadalupe altar outside the TUSD Board Meeting. For a long time I resisted requesting the aid of the Pagan clergy (or Pagans at all) here for fear of the backlash, the false connection of our classes to liberal politics.

But the time for fear is over, and I am begging every Pagan and Heathen to help in this fight. We need you, in any way you can help. We have fought for our own sacred knowledge, for the traditions of the Norse and Germanic people, for the knowledge of the Celts and Druids, for the hidden histories of the Romans and Greeks. Don’t let our indigenous knowledge be lost, or slowly killed, or marginalized. We know how it is to try to find our roots, our place again, and I am begging that you do not let them take our roots away. It doesn’t matter if your white, black, brown, yellow, red, any color: your roots, both blood and land of birth, that’s what matters.

Anything you do, whether talking with family and friends about the issue, or writing to our schools to show your support, or ritualizing or praying or the multitude of other things Pagans do, will help. Just listening and understanding us, our struggles, our truth, is help. But, please, help. We need it. Thank you.

I’d like to thank Aine for sharing this first-hand perspective of such contentious issue. To find out more, Jeff Biggers at The Huffington Post seems to be closely following the story, as are local blogs the Tucson Progressive and The Three Sonorans. Local opposition to these laws and proposals seems to be centered in the group “Save Ethnic Studies.” You can find some more background on the resolution to change the status of ethnic-studies programs, here (and here). For the “pro” side, Arizona Attorney General Tom Horne penned a critical report of these classes when he was superintendent.

For those who want to contact Aine, I can pass along your info, or you can offer advice and insights in the comments.

Jason Pitzl-Waters


  • Clare Slaney

    A thoughtful and persuading argument.

  • Fantastic! Aine's article makes me so proud of the young people in this country, who are so often accused of being apathetic or uninvolved in politics. I think sometimes we get lost in the left-right polemic so easily that we can't see issues like this clearly, that go much deeper and provoke a far more complex response.

    It's easy for us as Pagans to sit on our hands complaining about our lost ancient heritage – but here are people out there fighting to preserve the heritage and wisdom that we do still have. Very inspiring! I should think every Pagan would be invested in promoting and preserving cultural diversity in the face of hegemony and homogenization. These students and teachers (and everyone working in this cause) have my prayers and blessings.

  • embreis

    The Arizona law is deplorable because, what ever its stated purposes, its real and intended effect is to exclude from the schools any historical narrative in which does not depict the hegemony of White Angle Saxon Protestants as an inevitable and happy ending. In other words, it's yet propaganda initiative. If there ever were an attempt to teach a course in public schools that presented history form a Pagan point of view, this law could be used to quash that, too.
    That said, one should be suspicious of the emphasis on "ethnic identity," in the society generally or with in Paganism. (and a tip of the hat to Apuleius, who wrote something similar in response to yesterday's posts.)

  • Deb

    Interesting. I was under the impression that Caucasian was an ethnicity as well. I wonder how they intend to do away with the teaching of Caucasian ways, governments, literature, history…

    • Exactly! Not to mention, by the very same logic, you would have to do away with any courses focusing on gender and women's Issues, civil rights, maybe even worker's rights. Any course, in other words, that didn't teach from the dominant culture's perspective could by this twisted logic be considered "exclusionary." As Horne argues in his report (which Jason links to at the end of the post), somehow encouraging racial and ethnic minorities to converse about their cultural heritage "shuts down conversation"…. but actually shutting the course down is supposed to encourage conversation. That's some pretty powerful double-think right there!

      Seems to me if they're really worried about the fact that the majority of students in these Ethnic Studies classes aren't white (their main evidence that the courses are exclusionary), the real solution is to make them a requirement for all students. Given the statistics reporting great improvements in educational levels and graduation rates for students in the MAS program (not just compared to other Latino students, but compared to students of all races/backgrounds), it sounds like a fantastic program that lots of students could benefit from.

      • Not to mention (sorry to go on and on about this!), but the very assumption that people should be treated "only as individuals" instead of as members of diverse communities and cultures is itself a Western philosophical bias, and it's downright anti-scientific given the research into how the human species, along with other primates, are deeply shaped by their social natures. You can't hope to cultivate a healthy community of well-educated and responsible individuals if you stick your fingers in your ears and go "la la la! no such thing as culture!" As Aine points out, isolated individuals are easy to manipulate and intimidate. This attack on the MAS program is just another example of atomistic individualism taken to the extreme and justified with pseudo-liberal appeals to "inclusion" and "tolerance."


        /rant (I promise.)

        • Alison, you are perhaps right that Western insistence on the individual might be unscientific, but that doesn't mean it's wrong or bad. After all, it is that very insistence on the individual and their rights that has given us democracy, religious freedom, free speech, and so forth. After all, if we only insisted on the community, then we would not have the freedom to pursue our Pagan paths with the freedom we do. We would be forced to conform to the culture of those around us, like they do over in Asia and in some of the Latin American countries.

          Science isn't always right, nor is it the best path. Often the happiest people I know are the ones that are the least scientific.

          • N.A., I never said anything about "only insisting on the community" – that certainly would be just as bad! There is definite value in individuation and the celebration of uniqueness, individuality and the freedoms they bring with them.

            But an over-emphasis on individualism (or atomism, as it's sometimes called) while completely ignoring cultural or social contexts can be just as disempowering as overtly denying rights or freedoms to the individual. And it is that flaw – an over-emphasis on atomism that rejects or denies the role played by community at a most fundamental level – that is enshrined in some of the most important philosophical works of modern Western culture. The founding texts for liberal capitalism itself argue for concepts like individual rights by positing a "State of Nature" in which individuals are inherently isolated and disparate entities, which form "social contracts" based purely on rational need. But this isn't how the world works – social community life is a part of our very nature, not something that's tacked on after the fact. We do not – and cannot – form our social bonds based on rationality alone, and the assumption that we can and should actually serves to disempower those who find themselves in cultural contexts that foster injustice, inequality and abuse. Without acknowledging the factors that help to create those injustices, we have no effective way of combatting them. (In a similar way, for instance, that if we assume that every consumer makes purchasing choices on a purely rational basis, we leave ourselves vulnerable to emotional manipulation by, say, flashy television ads that play right to our subconscious emotional responses, skipping the rational mind entirely.)

            We cannot get a clear view of how individuality and community can co-exist in a healthy, prosperous society if we don't acknowledge the role both play in shaping our natures. That's what I'm saying.

          • Baruch Dreamstalker

            But the social contract is a very useful myth to use as a starting point for sorting out conflicting claims such as arose during the Civil Right Movement. "The demonstrators broke the law!" (by sitting in legally segregated restaurants). But if the legitimacy of the law rests on the social contract it become legitimate to ask: "Are those folks getting what they are due under the social contract?" (and of course they were not).

            In fact we probably were social before we became human; we are, after all, primates.

            "flashy television ads that play right to our subconscious emotional responses"
            Or our children's…

          • Jocelyne Berengaria Houghton

            Hear, hear!

          • Before I actually read all the comments, I have to say directly to Aine: WELL DONE!! You have re-ignited that fire in my belly, and I Thank You, from the bottom of my heart. You are living proof of what we need more of in this country: well-educated, passionate, empathetic, open-minded people. We do NOT need more Sheeple.

            Kudos to your Teachers, also!!!! I want to meet these folks. Their desire to educate, in all senses of the word, is what a true Teacher strives for. It is not the pay, heaven knows. And now they have effectively aided you and your class-mates on your journey. When one's eyes are opened, it is hard to be silent and stand on the side-lines. Give your teachers my love and my honor, and my respect.

            Also, I am a member of several local pagan groups in my area, and friend to a number of others out of state. We will be sure to remember them in our coming rituals, as I am putting this information out there. We will have to come to a consensus, of course, but I feel strongly that our groups will send energetic assistance, if not be more pro-active. I'll be sending energy your way, myself. (And, please feel free to contact me directly, if you wish. ^_^)

            You have struck a chord with me, Aine, and for that, again, I thank you.

            Many Blessings!!

    • Jocelyne Berengaria Houghton

      Well, yes – except what you are talking about is the meme of the "Caucasian Race." The Caucasus is a geographic region at the border of Europe & Asia, and there are 50+ separate ethnic groups within that area. Using Caucasian as shorthand for "White People" is a bit of a bete noir for me, though I get your point and agree with the sentiment.

      • Aine, your words moved me. Thank you for letting your voice sing louder. I have a lot to think about. Your call to action was strong. I did not grow up on a racially mixed school system. I feel detached from this issue completely, because there can be no issue if no cultural classes existed. Your point of view connected me to how it has affected the people you know, and I ache for them. I want to end this comment with a commitment to action, but I am traveling and need more information through research I cannot perform now. I am thinking of you, wishing all those affected by this strength, and I will follow up soon.

    • Well, we don't have those classes. When was the last time you saw Scandinavian in America, or The Irish Experience? Or a class about the Italians? The fact is that we don't have "Caucasian" ethnic classes at all. Sure, most of our history covered the last few centuries has been "Caucasian dominated," but before you get to that you have thousands of years of Middle Eastern, Asian, and other Histories leading up to that. Most history classes cover the dominant cultures, regardless of race. The fact that we are the most recent doesn't mean we're getting special treatment. In fact, there are more specialty classes in college for "minorities" than there are for the so call "dominant" ethnicity, which isn't even a single group. Everyone, it seems at least, speaks against White's having run everything, and completely ignore the prejudice and discrimination faced by the Italians, Germans, Irish, Scottish, Scandinavian, Spanish, Austrian, and all the other so called "White Caucasians" when they came to this country. Heck, the election of JFK, a Catholic Irishman, was the literal equivalent in the sixties to Barack Obama being elected in the two-thousands.

      So, I would council you before you go and suggest we ban "Caucasian ethnic" classes, or before you start complaining that all that is taught is just that, you remember that White isn't a unified group of one people with one experience, and our classes aren't being taught either. We are many peoples, who exist ethnically beyond the color of our skin, and most of us have faced as much persecution, prejudice, and hate, as any Latino, Black, Gay, or other minority in our history. We are all minorities in this land. It's time we stopped hating people because of the color of their skins.

      • We do have those classes, in some areas–Scandinavian Studies in Seattle, for example, Irish Experience in NY and Boston and Philadelphia. And we have these as subspecialty courses in sociology and history in many, many of America's colleges.

      • lynn

        Hi Norse, you had me until your last paragraph. You have made some salient points, but I really don't see how one can argue in any convincing manner that white Americans have been discriminated against in the US as much as Native Americans or blacks have. The American Indians were nearly exterminated, and black people were brought here in chains and made to be slaves. After that there were decades of Jim Crow where 'separate but equal' was the law. Native American children were forcibly removed from their homes en masse to be indoctrinated in special government-run boarding schools. No immigrant from Europe had a similar group experience (although I agree the Irish had it pretty bad, until they gained the privilege of becoming 'white).

        And speaking of the Irish, no one ever questioned JFK's citizenship. There is a long history of attacks on black citizenship in this country, from the "3/5 of a person" provision in the Constitution, to the Black Codes of Antebellum times (ex: some states passed laws banning free black people from owning firearms) to the Jim Crow era of 'separate but equal,' special literacy tests black people had to pass at the ballot box, etc. It is within this historical context that the recent demands that Obama show his birth certificate, his SAT scores, college transcripts and the rest of it should be considered.

        • Lynn, if you don't see it, then I would recommend you study it. For instance, do you know why the Italians were so big into crime? It was because they (and the Irish) faced laws that were virtually Identical to the Jim Crow laws and prevented them from getting legal jobs, living in certain areas of time, and living under racism equal to anything blacks faced.

          As for the large numbers of Native Americans being wiped out, we must remember that was the result of Europeans introducing diseases to the "New World." However, since for the first several hundred years of involvement no one knew how such things were spread or how immunization worked, I believe we can hold them blameless. Yes, there were attempts latter to use this deliberately, but I've read that they all failed. This is true at least in North America, though the Spaniards did do a large number of deliberate wipe outs in Latin and South America.

          And I said that JFK was the equivalent of Obama, not the exact same. No, he never had his citizenship questioned, or that whole 3/5s of a person (although, Obama didn't have to deal with the 3/5s person thing either). However, could argue that Irish Catholics did face more oppression and racism in the sixties than African Americans face as a general rule in this decade.

          Now, you say you don't see how one can argue convincingly that White Americans have been discriminated against as much as say Native Americans or Blacks. This is perhaps true, but only if we allow ourselves to make the mistake of seeing only skin color, rather than actual ethnic bloodlines. When we look at ethnicity, we find that the story of so called "white" America isn't really all that much different from anyone else, except for a few select individual groups.

          • Don

            JFK may not have had his citizenship questioned, but his loyalties certainly were (which is really at the bottom of Obama's questioned citizenship). Americans thought a Catholic would be more beholden to the pope than to Ameircan interests.

          • lynn

            I've done some studying of American immigrant history, and I still don't agree with you. When you add in being forcibly removed from your culture, with no knowledge of your original gods, your homeland, your family, nothing, the devastation that black Americans endured in this country far outweighs what any other group has suffered in the US. With the exception of Native Americans.

            But how about this: you're a Pagan, I'm a Pagan. You're white and I'm black. You're Asatru, I'm eclectic. Instead of playing the "oppression Olympics," and arguing back and forth about which group got it worse, why not instead take this opportunity to learn a bit about each other's cultures? I challenge you to read the book of my choice on black history. I get to pick it; you have to read it. And I'll do the same: you pick a history book about something you think is important for me to know, and I promise to read it. Within reasonable length (say under 400 pages; I already have a couple of tomes on my summer reading list).

            By the way I have what Alice Walker calls "triple blood:" In addition to African ancestry I also have Irish on both sides of my family, and Seminole Indian on my dad's side. Slave, immigrant and native. So I have a dog in several fights. And it is all very interesting to me.

          • Souris Optique

            You ignore a *lot* in your dismissal of the Native Americans.

  • This is an interesting article, but I feel it deserves more thought than most seem to be giving it here.

    I do think that such classes are probably a good think. Knowledge, is good, at least. The problem is that such classes tend to have unintended consequences. I once took a class on the history of the Civil Rights movement. It was a good class, and very informative. It also showed me, towards the end of it, just how racist black people could be towards white people, including those that had never done anything to a black person (myself included).

    I've taken a lot of history classes, and never have I ever gotten the impression of an "inevitable WASP hegemony" nor that it was a happy ending. The story goes on, nothing is inevitable, except that which is found in the wyrds of individuals, and even that is shaped by our choices.

    It is true that these classes can give those who fall into their catagory the sense that they can accomplish things. I would argue along with everyone else that this is a good thing. Sadly, my own personal experience in such classes has taught me that the classes do not stop at simply encouraging ability. They also encourage resentment and villianization of the "dominant." In a women's studies class, women are empowered, but men are vilified, demonized, and treated as sexist monsters. In the civil rights class, even though our teacher was good and told of how Whites had helped the Civil Rights movement, keeping it going when it would have faltered or providing needed skills, by the end of the course, the Black students still felt that "Whitey was Evil!" and the White students were left with feelings of guilt, and a general sense that they didn't deserve anything good in life.

    There is nothing wrong with classes such as this. But the results aren't always what we would hope for. In the case of these Latin-America classes, I'm sure there are many they put forth as Heroes. The problem arises when these heroes have values that run counter to American values. Not that American Values are inherently better, nor are they inherently worse, than any other values. The fact is that America probably opposed some of these "Heroes" and while this leads to a great underdog story, (though sometimes America had good reason to oppose them), it creates resentment towards our Government and our people. People who find out they are capable of great things, yet find themselves in mediocrity or worse, often try to find someone to blame, and they will often blame the biggest target they can, to explain why it is has been impossible for them to do anything. And that's something that happens a lot in these classes, regardless of what the true cause might be (even if sometimes it was the big guy, often enough it was something else too).

    If you think I have misjudged, then look to our own Pagan selves. Look at how we react towards all things Christian. Look at how we are reacting now, or have reacted whenever a Christian does something. It's to the point where we see a cross, and we see blood, regardless to the fact that these people might be kin, family or friends. And our resentment to them has grown so great that if anyone mentions either a good or neutral thing the Christians have done, or mentions something that is a threat to our paths that isn't Christian (say Islam) then the general response (at least the one I tend to get) follows the lines of "You are teh stupid, how dare you speak of something else being bad when there are CHRISTIANS! to be done away with!" When we do that, we do not empower ourselves, we only hurt ourselves. Yes, we have much to face from the Christians, and they are a threat, but our resentment blinds us to others, to ourselves, and to those in the Christian world that are feeling lost and instead of finding a home with us and our traditions, face only rage and hate.

    It is good to empower people. It is good to know our history and our culture and the great deeds. But too often with that people allow themselves to come to resent the "other" and that leads to hatred and violence. If these classes only brought about the former, I would support wholeheartedly. Yet I know that they often lead to the latter even more so. That is why I could see why someone might feel the need to ban them. It isn't about Racism, it's about preventing Racism. Is banning such classes the best way? No, of course not. Knowledge should be shared and valued, but when you have no answers to deal with the problem, maybe doing something, even the "Wrong" thing is better than doing nothing.

    My humble thoughts.

    The Norse Alchemist

    • Syna

      " If these classes only brought about the former, I would support wholeheartedly. Yet I know that they often lead to the latter even more so. "

      Classes based on specific groups of people do this? Do you have sources, can you elaborate?

      • Generally it's from personal experience, or first hand accounts of things that have happened in these classes. For instance, my own experiences in several classes, especially a Civil Right's history class (which I only survived because the teacher was understanding of my rather unique back ground and understood I asked without prejudice, even if my questions were a bit weird at times). An example of one I heard was a classmate who was taking a women's study class and was told that as a man, he wasn't getting a good grade (or at least an A, anyways, it's been a few years) and that any man that spoke in the class was going to be ignored, regardless of what they said. More still were instances in even generally classes, especially when we got to talking about gender or race. Holding a "morally neutral" pov is not something recommended, apparently.

    • Derek

      You make an interesting argument Norse Alchemist. I feel that I should preface my statement with the guarantee that the following is meant only as a contribution to this conversation and not in any way intended as a veiled attack on you or any other. ( I'm not assuming that you or any other will automatically view it this way' it's just that I'm a bit sleep deprived and in the middle of exam season, so my ability to articulate my ideas in the most effective manner may be a bit compromised and I want to minimize any misunderstandings that could possibly arise.. 🙂 )
      I'm not terribly familiar with this issue other than than the cursory amount I've gleaned from the media when it occasionally comes to the forefront. This may be a reason for me to remain out of the conversation, however, I found your comment so intriguing I felt the need to respond.

      As with most forms of knowledge, the value of what is taught in these classes is how it is applied to the other areas of one's life. There are certainly going to be those who will extend the oppression suffered by others to their own, however real or imaginary, ordeals. The fact is, at least in my experience, those who react to a class such as this by ascribing all the negative aspects of life to a particular group, were searching for someone to blame, and would have attached it to another figure just as readily. In my experience, it is rare that such information leads a person to completely vilify the descendants of the oppressing group. ( Perhaps the key is effective instruction. Yet another contentious issue in U.S. education, as good teachers are, unfortunately, often difficult to find.) One of the ways we, as humans, acknowledge the importance of history is by making it personally significant. Students will certainly want to identify with the figures they are studying, and they may express this through righteous indignation towards those with any tenuous link to the oppressors. One would be suitably outraged by the atrocities inflicted onto indigenous people, these may feel magnified if they felt personally impacted by them culturally. (Consider the way many people react to Germans, as though they had a personal hand in the holocaust.) A good instructor will, hopefully, redirect this reframe this anger by highlighting the fact that the injustice is the oppression of any group, not only those serving as the focus of the class.

      The hard fact is that oppressing people who are different from you has been ingrained in human civilization for the majority of human history. The Egyptian Empire oppressed, the Romans after them, and the White people ( mainly Western Europeans) after them. White people are responsible for horrific levels of oppression over the past 1000 years. This, obviously doesn't mean that white people are inherently more oppressive, only that they are the most recent group to employ such a mindset. It is, however, important to acknowledge that the attitudes and practices of past society does impact the present. Following World War II, the large exodus of soldier families to the suburbs and the increase in potential for home ownership created the opportunity for the U.S. to diminish racial inequality. Racial segregation pretty removed that possibility. The fallout of this still effects the opportunities of scores of young people, many only a generation removed from those denied home ownership based purely upon race. Racism is also, unfortunately, still a very real problem in our society. The triumph of president Obama's election, his politics aside, was the fact that a man who would be discerned as Black could reach the nation's highest office. Prejudice still rears its head though through the racially motivated, at least in my understanding, questioning of his citizenship.

      • Derek

        I've taken many history classes from a number of diverse perspectives. It may be due to my good fortune, but I have rarely encountered a course that specifically demonized one group out of context. We also have to remember that the notion of a society that even considers the value of contributions from diverse or multicultural perspectives is relatively recent and barely fifty years old, which isn't very long, in the grand scheme of civilization. Evidence of this fact can be observed in older people who still believe it unjust for people of different races to marry. (Not trying to generalize; it's just that in my experience, most of those who hold this opinion tend to be of a generation that preceded its acceptance.) Courses teaching history from a point-of-view different from the victorious or dominant culture are still new and nowhere near complete. Classes about women's studies or other alternative viewpoints were formed as a reaction to the dominant ideology that was largely dismissive, becoming reactionary, as a result, because the issues they raised were, and in some cases are, still relevant in wider society.

        The point you raise is very intriguing and approaches the issue from a perspective that is very different from the mainstream. I fear, however, that the reasons you mention are not the motivation for this legislation. I've met a number of people who, after learning the "alternative histories" wish that only the dualistic "noble savage civilized by white American society" version of history, or at the very least gloss over the atrocities committed in recent memory by the United States. These are many of the same people who choose to teach that the founding fathers didn't have slaves, or that the war between the Union and Confederacy ended in a tie. One of the most significant effects of teaching history from the perspective of oppressed peoples is the undermining of the idea of American exceptionalism. It's a bit more difficult to demonze someone else as inherently inferior and prejudiced, if your nation and relatives did the same in the not so distant past. An informed electorate forces politicians to search for more than just the simple answers to complex questions, making their job much more difficult.

        As stated above, the solution for the problems you suggest is not dissolution of these programs -not that you proposed that – but rather refinement in the way in which students are instructed. The major problem with his legislation that what politicians are proposing is akin to declaring a completed city unfit and calling for its demolition, while the foundation is just barely being completed.

        Apologies for the length of this post. It turned into more of a commentary on the legislation itself than a response to your comment. Kudos if you made it through the entire thing and hopefully its all more or less coherent. In case you're wondering, I'm a young white, and, from appearances, straight male who is very aware of the privilege I enjoy in U.S. society.

        Have a nice day.
        Your neighborhood long-winded commenter

        • Oh, I agree, dissolution would not be the answer, and I doubt my reasoning is the same as the legislature.

          Also, you are right, in my own experience it isn't the teachers who demonize as much (there are exceptions I've heard about, especially in the area of women's studies.) The problem tends to arise more from the students themselves, in my experience. Again, you are likely right in that they were most often looking for someone to blame already.

          I'm not sure I'd agree that Europeans have horrific levels of oppression, or at least I would place the modifiers that in those last thousand years we have also been responsible for amazing levels of equality, understanding, and brotherhood with others than ourselves. I would also note that we've had better tech than some in the past, but my own study of history has taught me that everyone has been at least as horrific as anything we've done (for instance, the Chinese Communist Government has slaughtered at least 3-4 times the number of people as Hitler did, scarily enough). And again, there was the whole Christianity thing that really took power over the last thousand years, so we can make of that correlation what we will.

          And I will also agree that racism is still a problem, but it is not the racism of our fathers or our grandfathers. The racism of this day is as much people looking and screaming racism as it is actual racism, at least in my experience. That said, such a topic is beyond what I can get into at them moment.

          Thank you for the well thought out comment, Derek

      • Arizona has a long history of actively suppressing its own populace, and there is some flagrant racism behind it. It's unfortunate, because it sounds like these students are getting a *full* history, the one written by the conquerors that most of us know, and the one written by the conquered that most of us have no idea about – and it serves these students because most are descended from both the conquerors and the conquered. Knowing history, and knowing it well, is apt to cause change, especially when you have a broad spectrum view. A better educated populace of up and coming voters that includes more than the usual amount of minorities will scare the living daylights out of those running Arizona right now.

    • Cathryn Bauer

      I am intensely eager to remove myself from the "we" that is described by the following: "It's to the point where we see a cross, and we see blood, regardless to the fact that these people might be kin, family or friends." This Pagan is not this way at all. I want the constitutional right to freedom of religion to be honored for absolutely everyone. If I am uncomfortable once in a while, it is a price I will happily pay.

      One day, I was assigned to work in Family Court (court reporter here) on a calendar that handled custody disputes, including co-parenting disagreements. In one of these cases, a divorced father was seeking an injunction to prevent his ex-wife from taking their son to Scientology events during her time with their son. The judge slapped that down in less than three minutes, telling that father that constitutional freedom of religion included the right to raise your children in the religion of your choice. I personally loathe Scientology, but rejoiced behind my professional poker face anyway. We don't have to like it. But if we don't tolerate it and stand up for everyone's rights, they will be eroded.

      NA, I greatly appreciate your contributions here, and I read all of your posts carefully. But your "we" ain't me, no way, nohow.

      • Cathryn, I was using a general "we." If you are not guilty of it, feel no offense.

        • Cathryn Bauer

          Suggest you substitute a phrase such as "I have read here from a few people" or "I have heard a few Pagans say" if that is what you really mean.

  • Baruch Dreamstalker

    Fallback strategy: Community-supported supplementary private schools. A lot of my public-school classmates in the 1950s also attended "Hebrew School" for a couple of hours in the afternoon. The important thing is to pass along this knowledge; whether it is done in public schools is a question of tactics.

    • Isn't part of the problem, though, that these students tend to be from relatively impoverished areas/demographics, and that private schooling is precisely the kind of option that isn't available to them? Horne justifies his right to judge the MAS program by pointing out that he knows how to speak Spanish because he took private lessons as an adult (to which my sarcastic side says: "woop-di-freaking-do, I eat at Mexican restaurants, but I don't pretend that qualifies me…"). But we're talking about kids who have double the likelihood of dropping out of school altogether if it weren't for these public school programs. Somehow, I don't see these families as having the resources (time, money, energy) to fund additional education to supplement a failed public school system.

      I don't know all the details in this case, but generally I think this kind of idea tends a bit too much in the "separate but equal" line of reasoning, which the Civil Rights Movement taught us is rarely ever as easy or as equal as it's made out to be.

      • Baruch Dreamstalker

        Even a low-income community can produce education programs if it is organized. And I understand from other comments that the Latino demographic will soon be the majority in the jurisdiction, which may render the conflict moot. (In fact I find this prospect the likely motivation for the reactionary legislation.)

  • Miss Lynx

    That is one hell of an articulate 18-year-old! Even aside from the (very good) points she raised, any education program that turns out kids who can write like that is well worth keeping.

    • Aine

      Thank you very much! This letter was actually written for my literature class–our last assignment is writing a speech.

      • Auntie Mame

        Aine, I was thinking the same thing as Miss Lynx. Your writing is excellent — articulate, passionate, thought-provoking, intelligent. I was really impressed.

  • sarenth

    A beautiful post, and it gives me hope for the upcoming generation. They actually care about the information they receive, the power structures in place, and how their future is shaped. Brave words from a very brave student. They have this priest and shaman's support!

  • Ruby Sara

    Yes, my sentiments as well. Outstanding.

  • lynn

    This will ultimately be a moot point. The Latino population is growing and the white population is decreasing. At some point, the white folks in power who are trying to stem Latino influence in the school system will lose their power to enact such bans. It's inevitable.

    It's really not cool to be a person of color and to never learn anything about your history in school. Growing up I never learned anything in my classes about the history of black folks, or Chinese, or Latino in the US. Being rather bookish, I taught myself a lot of this "alternative history" on my own time, but I did get the implicit message that the folks in charge basically considered only white men to be worth learning about. And being a young black girl, yes, that caused some resentment. I am with the students on this one.

    • Of course, this raises the question of what happens to the "Whites" when we are the minority….

      • A lady with a dream

        There was a European Philosopher, whose name I can't remember at the moment, who answered the basic idea of this question.
        Currently, those of European decent or Whites, are considered minority in the global sense. China and India have most people out numbered, not to mention Africa, and South America. The really worrying should start when, those of European decent, no longer hold all the economic, political, and social power. Which is one reason why some would want to stop programs like the ethic studies programs.
        This is where they make the mistake. The reason the philosopher said "nothing" was because he laid out the idea that if Whites changed their out look. Thought less about "what will they do when their in power" and more like "What can I do to help even out the share of power". No one would have reason to seek revenge.

        There will be those who are anger about the treatment they have had under the so called "White Oppressor", but those who started that process have passed on. Instead the focus will be on those of present and whether they have add to or tried to stop the oppression. If the ideas of the past, like revisionist history or the idea of civilizing the native brutes, continue the hate will only grow. Stopping the process will bring forth the philosopher's answer.
        Nothing will happen, when the White lose their dominate grip….because they will be the one to choose when to let go.

      • Souris Optique

        Really? Really? And you dare accuse others of "playing the race card?"

  • Robin

    Wow. As a pagan and a student of anthropology I love the passion here. Issues like this are what drew me to anthropology to begin with. Very moving post A++

  • When Pagans talk about our own history in the way that Aine suggests, we are often met with responses, from our fellow Pagans, along the lines of
    (a) get over it, move on, stop living in the past, or
    (b) Pagans have no history because it was all just made up very recently.

    • Bookhousegal

      Well, Apuleius, I do think that because of precisely this sort of cultural erasure/ignoring/Christian-contextualized treatments *of* history, a number of Pagans may tend to think history itself is hostile to us, but that's part of where*your* skillset comes in. 🙂

      • That's a very good point. The first part, that is. As to my skillset, opinions differ.

        The statement that "Pagans may tend to think history itself is hostile to us" is absolutely pregnant with implications and meaning. Essentially all historians who deal with subjects in any way impinging on Paganism are partisan. A great many of them are simply modern day Christian apologists in the tradition of Eusebius and Orosius. Among these are some very prestigious names, such as Alan Cameron, GW Bowersock, and Stephen Mitchell. In the other corner are historians who carry on the Enlightenment tradition of Edward Gibbon and David Hume. Contemporary representatives of this camp include Ramsay MacMullen, James B. Rives and the late Geoffrey de Ste. Croix. These latter historians are usually not especially sympathetic to Paganism, per se, so much as they are critical of Christianity.

  • How about a bill that prevents a racist from representing the american people in office instead.

    • such a bill wouldn't work, because a) how do you prove a person is racists, b) charges of racism would fly at every turn, and c) the real racists would still get in, you'd just be getting rid of the people who might be innocent, didn't have the needed connections, or fell victim to bad pr

  • As a pagan, a resident of Tucson, and a graduate of the Tucson Unified School District, I am incredibly proud of Aine. I was fortunate enough to attend a school that was very open to this sort of philosophical debate in a friendly and respectful manner, and in a time when I feel such discourse was much more accepted (mid-90s). Now, more than ever, 'mainstream' ideas are codified into our laws and civil disagreement seems to be unacceptable. I long for the day when we can again stand side-by-side to people with whom we don't see eye-to-eye and shake hands while agreeing to disagree. Aine, we are here, and we are with you.

  • Cathryn Bauer

    I agree that this is a Pagan issue and also a human issue. We all are enriched by the resurgence of traditional knowledge and programs that keep young people in school and moving toward a productive future. And we must not allow ourselves to forget the truly terrible mistakes that have been in terms of human rights.

    As a society, we will ultimately be stronger if we bring out into public light the understanding of injustices, whether personal or political. Knowledge truly is power; if we know it happened, we are more likely many times over to prevent it from happening again. I grew up with the knowledge that during World War II, a mere ten years before my birth, people with my ethnic background were being swept in large numbers into internment camps; the total is currently said to be 11,000. There are photographs of German-American individuals in the Crystal City, Texas camp alongside Japanese detainees. German-Americans, many of whom emigrated out of fear and outrage, were suspected of espionage and harassed. I remember asking my mother, "But why did they think we liked Hitler when everybody came so far to get away from him?" This didn't appear in my history books, and it was not discussed in my college history texts. I have heard a college professor blatantly state that Germans and Italians were not imprisoned in this country during World War II when I know for a fact is not so. This has changed, largely because of agitation on the part of individuals like Aine.

    I would be very interested in hearing more specifics about how we can be helpful here, e.g., names and addresses of officials whom we can contact to express our views. Yes, this is important.

  • afsanaydely

    Yes, we should care and fight for the rights of all cultures and their history to be taught openly in all schools. When I went to school, we had just Social Studies and History, both focused on American and to be honest I had no interest, I learned many things about our freedoms, but I was not interested is the Iron Revelation when companies started to destroy the earth to make way for what now has taken over the true beauty of the country. I wanted to learn of Ancient History, cultures outside of my own, where and how we became who we became. We all come from far deeper roots than is being taught today, and I for one would like to see classes taught on the Ancient Philosophers and how the seeds of the Western world were created, I would like to see studies allow the teachings of the Pantheons of all the cultures that forged the way for our civilisation to even exist.

    We are born in the U.S. but our Ancestors and our true Roots are that of European, Middle Eastern, Asian and those lands that all of our Ancestors migrated to have a better way of life.


  • saffronrose

    The world itself loses when we let all, or a part of, an indigenous culture die. That bell tolleth for us all, in perhaps many more ways that Jonne Donne ever forsaw.

    It used to be that Native Americans/First Peoples were sent away from the reservation to schools where they were not allowed to hold on to any aspect of their native culture. They were punished for any resistance to this regimen, and sometimes very harshly. That's been stopped, for the most part, but education for non-urban natives is often still pretty poor, due to local poverty and lack of infrastructure most of us take for granted–running water, electricity, phone lines…

    These days, many Indigenous Peoples find their culture being taken from them in order to make some non-natives money, or find that what is deeply sacred to them is being taken superficially by wannabes.

    These days, instead of trying to eradicate the languages "savages, there are linguists and anthropologists and others trying to keep smaller indigenous languages from dying out.

    We all need to find something or someone heroic in the cultures we hold in us, ethnic/national/regional, religious/social/gender/sexual–whatever it is that we hold dear. Even if there had been Lebanese cultural & language schools, like the Hebrew, Chinese, and Japanese afterschool porgrams of my youth, we wouldn't have had the money to attend, in my family.

    Some pagans need to have gender separate worship space, some do it in order to heal, some for its comfort, some for its celebration of what makes the gender especially magical, some do it to feel safe enough, and some others *seem* to use it to remind themselves of how they were hurt. Some cultural events, associations & organizations are run for much the same reasons–but just because they focus on one culture or ethnicity, does not mean they are against the ones from which they wish to demonstrate specialness.

    I think Aine is very articulate, and hope the State of Arizona can see the ethnic studies programs the way she does. May she pass her gift of (in)sight to those who need it the most.

  • lynn

    ^The above post was addressed to Norse:

    • That's exactly what I'm trying to do, Lynn. I'm not trying to play the oppression Olympics (well, not really, as for the being torn from kin and religion and old ways, that all happened to us too, remember? It just happened back in Europe). I am trying to learn and share with you, and show that "whites" didn't have it as hunky dorry as everyone likes to pretend, either.

      • lynn

        So are you up for the challenge?

  • Imari Kariotis

    I’d like to get in contact with the writer of this post. I am the Secretary of CUUPS and we are having an event in Phoenix in 2012, can someone please direct me on how to contact them, or have them contact me at Thank you

  • Imari Kariotis

    I’d like to get in contact with the writer of this post. I am the Secretary of CUUPS and we are having an event in Phoenix in 2012, can someone please direct me on how to contact them, or have them contact me at Thank you

  • Enavarro74

    To Aine, your article was fantastic. It is incredibly sad how hatred has been geared towards Mexican Americans in Arizona. I am also Mexican American and a pagan. It saddens me to see that society is sitting back and letting the powers that be enforce absurd laws in a sorry attempt to squash an essential part of US history. Mexico and it’s people have made a huge impact on making the US what it is today.

    I wish I had the opportunity to learn more about the history of my ancestors as you have. I do hope that these classes continue to be offered in your area, and can only hope that one day this type of class would be offered to young latinos and Mexican/Americans all over the U.S. I have lived in Pennsylvania all my life and have never had the honor of partaking in such a class. Not even the local community college has such a course. Sadly I am left trying to find groups to talk to in hopes that I can find others out there who share my beliefs, and can help me to connect with the history of my ancestors. In my local pagan community I am the one and only token Mexican American so there is nobody here for me to learn from. I have been guided by my grandmother to follow my gut and go where I feel I need to go. I hope to move closer to your area in the next few years. I do hope that at that time I will be able to help my fellow knowledge seekers to fight the fight. Till then I will keep you all in my prayers and workings.

    Elena (Autum Rose)

  • Enavarro74

    To Aine, your article was fantastic. It is incredibly sad how hatred has been geared towards Mexican Americans in Arizona. I am also Mexican American and a pagan. It saddens me to see that society is sitting back and letting the powers that be enforce absurd laws in a sorry attempt to squash an essential part of US history. Mexico and it’s people have made a huge impact on making the US what it is today.

    I wish I had the opportunity to learn more about the history of my ancestors as you have. I do hope that these classes continue to be offered in your area, and can only hope that one day this type of class would be offered to young latinos and Mexican/Americans all over the U.S. I have lived in Pennsylvania all my life and have never had the honor of partaking in such a class. Not even the local community college has such a course. Sadly I am left trying to find groups to talk to in hopes that I can find others out there who share my beliefs, and can help me to connect with the history of my ancestors. In my local pagan community I am the one and only token Mexican American so there is nobody here for me to learn from. I have been guided by my grandmother to follow my gut and go where I feel I need to go. I hope to move closer to your area in the next few years. I do hope that at that time I will be able to help my fellow knowledge seekers to fight the fight. Till then I will keep you all in my prayers and workings.

    Elena (Autum Rose)