Arizona Attorney General Tom Horne argued his stated belief that ethnic studies programs divide students by race during a panel addressing Latino UA law students and the Tucson community on Tuesday.
Horne was on the panel with two professors from the James E. Rogers College of Law and Richard Martinez, the lawyer representing 11 teachers suing the state over former House Bill 2281. Horne said that the jobs of public schools are to take students from different backgrounds and teach them to treat each other as individuals. Tucson Unified School District and ethnic studies, he said, do just the opposite.
""If you divide students by race, it (ethnic studies) is a racist program,"" he said.
Martinez argued that there is nothing in the TUSD curriculum that states or suggests ethnic studies promotes racial superiority, and that students of all colors are welcome into ethnic studies classes and programs.
""For every group to be proud (of their culture) doesn't mean you're not proud of being a part of this country,"" he explained.
The bill, passed last year, prohibits courses advocating ethnic solidarity. It states that students attending public schools should be taught to treat and value each other as individuals and not to resent other races or classes of people. Both Horne and Martinez called the other's argument racist and both spoke on how either support or opposition toward the bill has created bullying and intimidation.
""Ethnic solidarity is a racist concept,"" he said. ""If you tell me that someone is Hispanic, that is irrelevant. I want to know about their character.""
Horne said he is in favor of students learning about different perspectives of different groups, however it is ""wrong"" to say ""if you're African American, go to that class.""
He added that some teachers in TUSD who told him they support the law felt bullied at school by administrators and that those who believe in the First Amendment of the Constitution should not be proud of these occurrences.
""In my America, you get to pick what you believe because you have developed critical thinking skills founded in facts and analysis,"" Martinez said. ""Not a dogmatic conclusion or orthodoxy.""
Martinez added that Horne was exercising power from his own personal perspective by advocating for the bill's passage and not the perspectives of the students, teachers and parents who voiced their support for ethnic studies programs. These supporters, he said, were the ones that were intimidated when they tried to discuss their views on the subject with Republican officials at the state Legislature.
Saumya Kumar, a first year law student and a law clerk for Martinez, said that she felt the panel told people the truth behind the bill and that Horne was main player in pushing the bill to get passed.
""It was a great debate, but I wished there was more questions from the audience,"" she said.
Timothy Bearese, a third year law student, said that although he thought the discussion was interesting, he felt that the arguments were too political and less legal.
""The conflict is state versus school,"" he explained. ""I want to understand Arizona's power to dictate education.""