The Common Good
September/October 2008

Teaching Pluralism

by Rose Marie Berger, Alexis Vaughan | September/October 2008

Successful democracies, ac­cording to Thomas Jeffer­son, require an educated citizenry.

Successful democracies, ac­cording to Thomas Jeffer­son, require an educated citizenry. But when Los Angeles Unified School District high school teacher Karen Salazar taught the school district-approved course material on Malcolm X and Langston Hughes, she was fired. Sala­zar, a Salvadoran-American second-year Eng­lish teach­er, was dismissed from her Watts school for “presenting a biased view of the curriculum” and “indoctrinating students with Afro­centrism,” Salazar quoted her principal as saying. The principal later recanted these statements and charged that Salazar wasn’t teaching to state standards. “For years in this country our educational curriculum was ‘mono-cultural,’” wrote Gabrielle Foreman, a professor at Occidental College in a letter supporting Salazar. “No one fired the teachers who taught that curriculum.” Salazar is fighting her dismissal.

Meanwhile, a committee of the Arizona House of Representatives, prodded by anti-immigrant and nativ­ist groups, passed an amend­ment to a state homeland security bill that seeks to ban “dissent” and “race-based” organizations in public schools. The bill as amended would remove state funding from public schools that promote “any political, religious, ideological, or cultural beliefs or values that denigrate, disparage, or overtly encourage dissent from the values of American de­mocracy and Western civilization.” The amendment would prohibit “race-based organizations,” such as the Chicano student group MEChA and the Native Ameri­can Jour­nalism As­­soci­­ation. An Ari­zona Dai­ly Star op-ed commented, “The measure is the latest attempt by anti-immigrant-rights ideologues to im­pose their will on a majority of Ari­zonans who, we be­lieve, are tolerant of and encouraging of cultural diversity.”

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