"What is this babbler trying to say?" Acts 17:18

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Making Light of Oppression

Taking a cue from President Barack Obama, who encourages those who watch Glenn Beck and Fox News to vary their diet with the views of “the other side,” I decided to read a news blog that one of Obama's own advisors on religion and politics maintains. Rev. Jim Wallis's blog is called Sojourners: Faith, Politics, Culture. A large number of contributors write on it, including some Emerging Church familiars, most notably, Brian MacLaren. So perhaps this can hardly be called “the other side.”

If I must take a side, however, it would be strongly against a certain contributor's post entitled: Pedagogy of the Oppressor: Arizona's Ethnic Studies Ban. The author, Cezar Baldelomar, first points out that the US forcibly took the land that comprises California, Arizona, and Texas, and therefore illegal immigrants have a right to be there. In his words, “current immigrants... were once the rightful owners of the very territory they are now trying to enter.” But the focus of his article and the focus of my disagreement is not over this somewhat angry side note. The decline of “ethnic studies” in Arizona is what elicits his strongest barbs because Arizona is trying to make light (pun intended) of its “oppression” towards minorities. He quotes the Arizona Schools Superintendent Tom Horne as saying: “We should be teaching these kids that this is the land of opportunity. If they work hard, then they can achieve their dreams. And not teach them that they are oppressed.” But in Baldelomar's view they are “oppressed” and need to be reminded that they are. I believe our President also said he would welcome more “oppression studies.”

It is hard for someone like me who is rediscovering western classical education to be enamored of “ethnic oppression studies.” No pun intended this time, but the idea is foreign to me. Nor can I understand why Mr. Baldelomar (who is a graduate student at the prestigious Harvard Divinity School) thinks he is oppressed. Identifying with his fellow sufferers he exclaims that oppression “is our reality!” Is it really a reality or just an overactive imagination? I can think of one good reason to eliminate “ethnic studies” from schools and it doesn't even have to do with improving grades in important subjects. It is to erase the lingering thought that, “ethnic studies... confirm for minority students what we have been feeling all along, namely, that we were, are, and will be victims of oppression.” Prophesy is a dangerous business because sometimes the prophesy is self-fulfilling. Mr. Baldelomar believes he always will be a victim; maybe he is right... but he should give others a chance to think more highly of themselves. I hope this blog post is not mistaken for a form of oppression against a poor, suffering Harvard student.

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