Education is Ground Zero In Arizona’s Immigration Battlesby tcguestblogger on Aug. 18, 2010, under Uncategorized
by Jacquelyn Jackson
The forum that featured four candidates in the race for State School Superintendent of Public Instruction Aug. 11 was a microcosm of the highly charged emotions in the national immigration battle where Arizona is on the frontlines. But instead of merely providing fodder for political rhetoric and punch lines for late-night television, the forum made obvious that our schools, kids and teachers are the real victims in this highly toxic debate.
As the head of Tucson Values Teachers, I had a stage-level seat in the Little Theater at Rincon High where I shared the job of vetting the many written questions from the audience, deciding which ones should be passed along to moderator Jim Nintzel of the Tucson Weekly.
I was impressed with the range of issues raised by audience members. They wanted to know where the candidates stood on early childhood education, adult education, special needs students, the role of charter schools, funding levels for our schools and the fate of AIMS testing. But clearly, the highest percentage of questions focused on La Raza studies at Tucson Unified School District. In that Little Theater, where Secure the Border advocates anchored one side of the room and First Amendment shouters held court on the other, debate on the broader issues facing our educational system were, quite literally, drowned out.
While the debate was forced to end early due to the high levels of emotion in the room, there were no physical encounters. However, it was obvious that our schools have become both battleground, and pawns, in this highly politicized debate. This is a reality that is bad for our region, our kids, and our long-term future and economic viability.
When did education become such a polarized political issue, and why can’t we turn down the volume and realize that our kids are literally being sacrificed on the altar of inflamed political rhetoric. Further, the underlying subtext of racism that played out Thursday night is a topic that needs to be faced head on if we really want to find solutions that build, not destroy, our collective future.
In a country where the Hispanic resident population increased 52% from 2000 – 2008, and where Hispanics in Arizona are the fastest growing segment of the population, it would seem that a wiser course of action would be to plan for this new reality. In just over one more generation, Hispanics, not Caucasians, will be the majority population, and today’s anger and vitriol is nothing more than a head-in-the sand reaction.
We are all avoiding the planning and preparation required for this major demographic shift. We need to be wiser, and prepare for this inevitable new reality. We must bury our anger, tone down vitriolic language, roll up our sleeves and make sure, just as our Founding Fathers did, that the highest quality education for all, not denial, is our top priority.
Children, whatever their ethnicity, are the future of our state, and in Arizona, especially, we should be doing everything possible to ensure quality education. We must reduce the very high drop-out rate among Hispanics. We should encourage Hispanic kids to know their history and work together to weave that history into what will be the new fabric of existence in our nation and state.
When I left the building Thursday night, one of the young Hispanic men – 20-something, starkly handsome and shimmering with anger – caught my eye. As he shouted for First Amendment rights, I wanted to sit down with him, know more about who he was and what he believed, and then work with him to find common ground.
This young man is the future of Arizona. His children will enter adulthood as the new majority in our State. We need to accept and prepare for this new reality, which is not very far down the road. We need to become a state where his child will be able to respect and understand his roots and get the best possible education, which has forever been the path toward the high-paying jobs and diverse economy that must be the future of this state.
The changing demographics of Arizona are inevitable. It is in our hands today to lay the groundwork, to assure quality education for all, to create a future for our state of growth, cultural richness, and economic stability. Today’s politicians need to be the stewards of this strong future – they need to lead with wisdom, intelligence and open hearts.
We must all put down the banners, tone down the harsh words, shake hands, and sit down at tables all around this state, working together, calmly and intelligently. Together, we must create today the strong future for the Arizona of tomorrow.
Jacquelyn Jackson is an educational advocate in Tucson. She moved to Tucson seven years ago from Washington, D.C. where she was the chief lobbyist for the Times Mirror Company.