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Originally published Tuesday, May 4, 2010 at 3:33 PM

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Lynne Varner / Times editorial columnist

Anti-immigration zealotry goes after the children

Anti-immigrant zeal morphs into bullying as Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer prepares to sign legislation targeting a Mexican-American-studies program in the Tucson Unified School District.

Seattle Times Editorial Columnist

It didn't take long for Arizona to turn its anti-immigration vitriol on children.

A bill on the desk of Gov. Jan Brewer would outlaw a Mexican-American-studies program in the Tucson Unified School District because it supposedly promotes ethnic solidarity.

Uh oh, there goes gender studies, which, if one is not vigilant, can foster a sense of sisterhood among girls. Adios also to all those European history and literature classes, long suspected to be creating little Francophiles and Anglophiles in our schools.

Actually, those programs aren't under threat. Arizona's bigotry is fixated only on Hispanics and it is the littlest ones that the bill sponsor, state Rep. Steve Montenegro — a freshman Republican from a Phoenix suburb — say are being taught "resentment or hatred" toward whites.

I don't think so. My high-school reading of "Roots" and "The Diary of Anne Frank" did not create a class of bigots.

Students can expect zero defense from Arizona's Superintendent of Public Instruction, Republican Tom Horne. A candidate for attorney general, Horne has hopped on the anti-ethnic-studies bandwagon.

Let's give Montenegro and Horne the benefit of the doubt and assume for a moment they're not taking an opportune ride on rising waves of anti-immigrant sentiment. If they're looking to offer Arizona's children the best education possible, they should leave ethnic studies alone.

A globalized economy and an increasingly multicultural America requires students to emerge from school knowledgeable about cultures other than their own. The popularity of foreign-language studies is indicative of the value many families place on a well-rounded education.

The difference between learning Spanish and learning about historical highlights important to native Spanish speakers is a distinction without much of a difference.

I confess that I have pondered the effect of history's heavy weight on the backs of young children.

I've wondered when would be the right time to tell my son that he is descended from slaves, sharecroppers and entrepreneurs, people who made a way when the law of the land in America provided no way. And let me confess I recoiled the day my first-grader brought home a richly illustrated book featuring a slave girl being beaten, blood splattering and all.

I needn't have feared. He didn't hate anyone. Good, age-appropriate lessons and necessary context helped a 7-year-old develop a full picture of American history, good and bad.

Students studying Mexican-American history are likely getting that same lesson. Fears that students will become anti-American when they learn that the U.S. once invaded Mexico City is silly and a little too convenient considering the national debate about immigration.

Arizona is the poster child for fear of America's growing multiculturalism. It is fear of what University of Louisville professor and futurist thinker Nat Irvin calls the "browning"of America.

People who subscribe to this fear ought to think twice about Arizona's moves. Starting around 2150, most older Americans will be white, and a third of all young adults will be Latino. It might not be a bad idea to be nice to those young folks and ensure they're well-educated.

In that vein, Arizona's elected officials should support classes that inform Hispanic and non-Hispanic students about various cultures and their place in the world. Keeping students engaged requires using a curriculum that allow students to see themselves within its textbooks and lessons. Here in Seattle, multicultural curricula have been a key tool in boosting minority-student achievement.

Brewer has until May 11 to act on the bill or it becomes law. She should veto it and tell lawmakers to pick on people their own size.

Lynne K. Varner's column appears regularly on editorial pages of The Times. Her e-mail address is lvarner@seattletimes.com

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