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Raising Arizona: Tucson’s Mexican-American Studies Program Under Attack January 9, 2011

Posted by legalethicsemporium in Education, Law, Ethics & Society, Racial Discrimination, U.S. Constitution.
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Dueling perceptions of the reality of Tucson’s ethnic studies’ programs have caused the state legislature to pass a bill directed at Tucson’s ethnic studies program.  No, wait a moment…Did I say ethnic studies? Seems that the African-American and Native-American studies program are safe, but the Mexican-American program is so controversial that it resulted in its own “private” legislation.

The bill, known as HB2281, was actually passed last fall, but just became effective.  Tom Horne, Arizona’s Superintendent for Schools who has just become  Arizona’s Attorney General, is a proponent of the law that “authorizes the state superintendent to stop any ethnic studies classes that promote the overthrow of the U.S. government, promote resentment toward a race or class of people, are designed primarily for pupils of a particular ethnic group or advocate ethnic solidarity instead of the treatment of pupils as individuals.” In fact, Horne has conceded that Tucson’s program is the target of this law. His successor, John Huppenthal, supports Horne’s findings against Tucson’s Mexican-American Program.

Shortly after this law was passed last fall, a group of Tucson’s teachers filed suit to have the law overturned, alleging constitutional violations including First Amendment free speech claims and a lack of due process under the Fourteenth Amendment.  While Horne and Huppenthal have alleged that the Mexican-American program teaches anti-American precepts such as Ben Franklin was a racist and promotes undesirable “ethnic chauvinism”, both student and teacher testimonials applaud the inclusion of history from a “Mexican-American” perspective and assert that the program “has been effective in reducing dropout rates among Latino students, as well as discipline problems, poor attendance and failure rates.”

The controversy in general and the lawsuit specifically could serve as another great opportunity for a sociological, legal and cultural debate on both free speech and the educational system in a diverse democratic setting except for one serious constraint.  HB2281 comes equipped with some serious financial teeth; if Tucson does not dismantle its program within 60 days then the state can devastate the entire Tucson educational system by imposing a 15 million dollar penalty upon Tucson. The lawsuit requests an injunction to prevent the law from being imposed prior to the lawsuit being resolve and apparently the Tucson School Board has already submitted a letter to the state detailing the current program’s compliance with the law.

Arizona’s battle is one worth watching as it represents cultural and educational issues that impact our children and the future of our country.  Besides….after seeing the copy cat immigration legislation popping up in campaigns last November, it won’t be surprising if other states’ legislatures start debating and attempting to legislate ethnic studies programs in our own backyards.

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Roger Clemens Throws a Destructive Curve Ball…And Other Matters of Deception, Ethics and Mindfulness August 24, 2010

Posted by legalethicsemporium in Law, Ethics & Society, Mindfulness, sports.
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Perhaps we should add boomerang pitch to the baseball accomplishments of Roger Clemens.  What is the boomerang pitch?  It is a pitch that is thrown VOLUNTARILY despite the fact that it is destined to return and hit the pitcher upside the head.  Roger Clemens has been indicted for perjury after voluntarily  testifying before Congress and adamantly denying that he used illegal performance enhancing drugs.  The reaction of the public has ranged from shock, awe and disgust to calls for forgiveness based upon Clemens’ notable contributions to baseball and a suggestion that he is being singled out for prosecution because of his celebrity.  (That’s a new twist on the analysis of celebrity status and its impact on prosecution….)

We could easily dismiss that argument except that it seems to be a current cultural theme.   Huh?  Well, there has been much speculation and analysis about why Rod Blagojevich, former governor of Illinois, was only found guilty on 1 of the 24 criminal counts against him that involved allegations and an abundance of evidence of  dishonesty, fraud and an attempt to sell the Senate seat left vacant by President Obama’s election.  Apparently, some of the jurors just thought that Blagojevich was being “singled out” by the government for activities that are just typical political behavior.

Clemens and Blagojevich maintain that they are not lying–-In fact, Clemens’ attorney has recently defended Clemens with a questionable “doesn’t make sense that he would lie” argument and Blagojevich is spending time at  a Comic Convention, appearing on talk shows and claiming that his political future is not over.   While the final “jury” is not in on these two, their denials are reminiscent of the deceptions perpetrated by the likes  of John Edwards, Mark Sanford, and Elliot Spitzer, just to name a few.

What’s the problem?  Is it a “simple” matter of ethics and morality?  There certainly has been a call for more ethics and character education in schools. And the media and criminal justice system seems to have sharpened the focus on ethics violations in recent years.  The problem is not simply one of ethics–-Surely, most of these people who stumbled and the many others who we all know, but do not have the notoriety to make “the news” with their missteps,  knew right from wrong.  In fact, unless there is a developmental mishap, we all develop a conscience by about the age of six years old.

So, what’s the problem?   The problem is a lack of mindfulness.  What’s that? Mindfulness has to do with an individual’s conscious awareness in the moment.  We  teach a course in Professional Responsibility and Mindfulness at the University of Miami School of Law. When  students were asked on the opening day of class to define mindfulness, they offered descriptive words and phrases such as: awareness, overcoming animal instincts, deliberate action, finding work/life balance , considering the effects of your actions.

Scott Rogers, the founder of the Institute for Mindfulness, who co-teaches the course provides the students not only with an understanding of the concept of mindfulness, but also with the underpinnings of the neuroscience that explains decision-making and what occurs when we impulsively react as opposed to thoughtfully respond.

It is a complicated topic about which much has been written, but it is a simple concept for the purposes of our discussion today.  The bottom line is that we should be teaching not only ethics, but also mindfulness.  It is important to teach children moral lessons, but if you do not give them the tools to understand how to apply these lessons, then the instruction is incomplete.  Why not teach children from a young age how our minds function, how emotion influences decisions and actions, and how to be aware of their own feelings and reactions.? Why not continue this education every year along with math and english?  (And, by the way, it’s not too late to teach the adult population—Neuroscience confirms that we are able to continually learn, expand and change our brains.) Just imagine a world in which most people existed in a conscious state of awareness most of the time.

Maybe Clemens and Blagojevich and all of the other ethical “missteppers” in our midst were aware, considered their primal impulses, the effects of their actions  and took deliberate, conscious action.  Maybe the earth is flat.  Maybe it’s time to teach mindfulness along with the orbiting earth.

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