Feathered Bastard

Ethnic Studies: Doug MacEachern's Anti-Intellectual Quackery

Courtesy of the Three Sonorans blog. Now here's a quiz: What do all these people have in common? Just a coincidence, I'm sure...

It's the easiest thing in the world to label someone a Marxist, a commie or un-American. You don't need any real evidence. All you need to do is show that someone read the "wrong" book, supported the "wrong" cause, or thinks differently than you.

Back in the day, Wisconsin Senator Joseph McCarthy was a genius at this. Hence the word, "McCarthyism."

I remember so clearly, during my formative years in North Carolina, Senator Jesse Helms' demonizing the Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr. as having communist ties, being the willing puppet of "Marxists," and for having "an essentially Marxist and anti-American ideological view of U.S. foreign policy."

This was Helms' reason for opposing an MLK holiday.

Such red-baiting is an old tool of the right, one they've clung to despite the end of the Cold War and the paucity of actual communist countries remaining. I don't count China, of course, because China is communist in name alone these days.

The Arizona Republic's Doug MacEachern is still fighting the Cold War in his columns. He wants to re-fight the '60s as well. In one recent offering, he compared the student demonstrators attempting to save the ethnic studies program in Tucson to the 1968 San Francisco State University student strike.

In the process, he smears both the pro-ethnic studies teachers and students at the Tucson Unified School District.

"You've got your radical Marxist teachers manipulating the people for whom they supposedly work," he writes. "And you've got your insufferable students (with the able assistance of those Marxist teachers) going all `Saul Alinsky' on school administrators: Wrapping themselves in chains and occupying administrative buildings and gleefully issuing non-negotiable demands. With bullhorns."

The students are insufferable. (High-school kids, remember.) The teachers are Marxists. And Saul Alinsky? Ain't he the Marxist who taught Obama at that Muslim school in Indonesia?

I wonder if MacEachern's ever sat in on an ethnic studies class? Has he ever talked to the intelligent, committed young people he's smearing?

How does he know the ethnic studies teachers are Marxists? I've met and talked with several of them. I've yet to find any of them plotting the dictatorship of the proletariat.

Truth is, they do not teach Marxism.

Among the scores of texts they draw upon for their history, literature and government classes, MacEachern likes to point to Paulo Freire's Pedagogy of the Oppressed, as an example of a Marxist being taught at TUSD,

Freire, a Brazilian, was deeply influenced by Karl Marx, as were a lot of great thinkers of modern times. But Freire was also profoundly influenced by the teachings of Jesus Christ, and, of course, the German philosopher G.W.F. Hegel.

Freire's work is often mentioned in the same breath by scholars with that of American John Dewey, a giant name in the field of education. But because Freire was a Marxist (as well as a Christian and a humanist) seniors in TUSD's ethnic studies classes can't read a couple of chapters from the guy?

That, my friends, is the very definition of anti-intellectualism.

MacEachern essentially posits this formula: Ethnic studies equals Marxism.

This, too, is anti-intellectualism, as well as McCarthyism. It's interesting to note that the 1968-69 battles between students and administrators at San Francisco State led to the development of the ethnic studies department there.

Score one for the "commies," I reckon.

On the 40th anniversary of the strike, the San Francisco Chronicle reported the following:

Before the strike, the university occasionally offered a black music or black sociology class taught by part-time faculty, said Joseph White, who was dean of undergraduate studies and was faculty sponsor for the Black Student Union at the time.

"Black people were invisible in higher education in California," White said. "We were invisible on the faculty, in the curriculum and on the staff. And we were almost invisible in the student body."

The strike "changed the legacy of San Francisco State," White added. "It changed San Francisco State to a multicultural campus. Those ideas we fought so hard for now are a reality not only at San Francisco State University but all over the United States."

On both sides of that battle, there were excesses and acts of violence. The cops got to bust quite a few heads.

The situation in Tucson is not quite as drastic. So far, the demonstrations have been non-violent.

Nearly 700 students were jailed during the San Francisco State strike. Seven have been arrested at TUSD board meetings. All for essentially speaking out of turn, though the official charge was "trespassing."

MacEachern claims the students are being manipulated by activists, teachers and some school board members.

This is incorrect. The student group UNIDOS has received contributions from adults. (MacEachern ignores the money UNIDOS got from Sound Strike, and hones in on a grant they're supposedly getting from U of A.)

To which, I say, "So what?" If I had the money, I'd cut 'em a check, too. Moreover, if MacEachern would get out of his office occasionally and have some conversations with some of these kids, he'd realize they can organize, protest and speak for themselves.

From what I've seen of the course material, there's more in it from Howard Zinn's A People's History of the United States than anything from that dangerous Marxist-Christian Paulo Freire.

Zinn was no Marxist, slanders to the contrary. He once referred to himself as a "democratic socialist." (Sorry, red-baiters, it's not the same thing.) Though he admired Marx as a historical figure, and liked some of his writings.

That would be enough to make him a commie in the eyes of MacEachern, surely. But what MacEachern and the other angry white males in his club are really challenged by is Zinn's history of the U.S., which jumps off with Columbus landing in the new world and almost immediately beginning to enslave, rob and pillage.

This also happens to be the truth.

But MacEachern and his crowd can't handle the truth. They want a whitewashed version of American history taught, one without all the slavery, the discrimination, Jim Crow, killing off the Indians, the repression of the labor movement, our meddling in other countries' affairs, yadda-yadda-yadda.

Is it more "American" to look honestly at the past and examine it critically, or to treat the horrors and errors of our past as mere peccadilloes to be glossed over, and hopefully forgotten?

You know what my answer is. Which is likely why MacEachern & Co. probably figure me for a red as well. But, truth be told, I'm far too decadent at heart to make the Marxists' cut.

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Stephen is a former staff writer and columnist at Phoenix New Times.
Contact: Stephen Lemons