Sunday, June 21, 2009

Tom Horne Blows

by Pa Rock

Tom Horne should be smart. The Canadian-born Arizona politician received his under graduate education at Harvard where, according to his Internet bio, he graduated magna cum laude. He then proceeded on to Harvard Law School where he snagged his juris doctorate "with honors." So, at the very least, Mr. Horne should be one smart lawyer.

But something happened along the way that dimmed the fierce intellect of that young Harvard graduate. My guess is that it occurred when he moved to Arizona. (I fear there is a strong argument for something sinister being in the water!)

As a young transplant to Arizona, Mr. Horne, who is not an educator, managed to get himself elected to the Paradise Valley School Board, the third largest school district in the state. He maintained his seat on that board over two decades, serving as its President many of those years. It was apparently during those years that he honed his conservative view of what is and is not acceptable education.

Horne likes to brag that he "single-handedly" killed the Women's Studies program at Paradise Valley. Clearly the last remnants of his Harvard education had faded into the mists by the time he fought that battle.

In 1996 Tom Horne decided it was time to share his unique educational insights with the entire state of Arizona. He got himself elected to the state legislature (as a Republican, of course) where he served two terms. During the four years that he was in the legislature he chaired the Academic Accountability Committee and was vice chair of the Education Committee. He obviously positioned himself to have maximum impact on the schools and children of Arizona.

Tom Horne moved up the educational power ladder in 2002 when he was elected to a four-year term as the state's superintendent of schools. He was re-elected in 2006 and currently continues to serve in that position. He has drawn on his political experience in the field of education to publish several articles highlighting his beliefs in how things should be.

There is currently a battle being waged in the Arizona over the future of ethnic education. At the center of this political storm is an ethnic studies program that is being offered in the Tucson Unified School District called La Raza. And although the program is designed to assist Hispanic students in understanding and appreciating their cultural heritage, it is open to non-Hispanic students as well.

State Superintendent Horne has worked himself into a snit over La Raza because of his long-held belief that everything should be geared toward the norm (white and male norm), and that anything different detracts from accepted values (such as his). In particular he is upset because a group of students in Tucson, whom he suspects are enrolled in La Raza, got up and walked out on his deputy as she was expounding on the proposition that Republicans are not anti-Latino. He is also twisted because one of his political allies, an Hispanic English teacher at Chollo, feels that he was unfairly castigated as an "Uncle Tom" for supporting his school's Anglo administration.

Sadly, neither of Mr. Horne's expressed reasons for being against the La Raza program have squat to do with education. He wants to cleanse the curriculum of anything that he sees as detracting from American values - his American values.

There is, of course, another side to this story. The La Raza program isn't fostering divisiveness, rather, it is instilling some ethnic pride in a population where pride has been sorely lacking. And what has been the educational impact of teaching students to understand and appreciate their cultural heritage? The students who enroll in La Raza are scoring higher on the state AIMS tests than those who do not.

That bears repeating. Students enrolled in La Raza are doing better on their state-mandated achievement tests than those who are not in the program!

Enter the assorted fruits and vegetables taking up space in the Arizona Legislature. Normally these geniuses spend their few working hours drafting legislation that would encourage more people to carry guns - or cutting social programs, but now they have turned their attention to ethnic studies. At the urging of Tom Horne, the legislature is now hellbent on ending the La Raza program - and the positive impact that it apparently has on student academic performance be damned!

Tom Horne is in-sync with the older white citizens of Arizona, but he is woefully out-of-sync with the future. He continues to blow his political smoke across the knowledge-starved sands of Arizona in a vainglorious attempt to preserve education as it was when he was in high school - the 1950's. He wants Arizona's children to have the opportunity to become just as smart as he is - and therein lies the rub!

How sad for the future of Arizona, and how sad for the students of Tucson.

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