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Arizona bill to ban school ‘social justice’ courses dies quickly

Rep. Bob Thorpe, R-Flagstaff (Photo by Howard Fischer, Capitol Media Services)

Rep. Bob Thorpe, R-Flagstaff (Photo by Howard Fischer, Capitol Media Services)

Republican Rep. Bob Thorpe’s bill to ban K-12 schools and universities from teaching “social justice” is dead for the year, according to the chairman of the committee to which it has been assigned.

Republican Rep. Paul Boyer, chairman of the House Education Committee, said he would not hear Thorpe’s bill, effectively killing the legislation for the year. Boyer said the bill simply didn’t have the votes to pass his committee.

Thorpe’s HB2120, filed Thursday, would have banned classes that promote “resentment or social justice toward a race, gender, religion, political affiliation, social class or other class of people.”

Thorpe described the legislation as his “Martin Luther King Jr. bill” – even putting into the law that his intent is that the state not educate or judge people “by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.”

But civil rights activists have called the legislation an attempt to shut down conversations about racial and economic privilege.

The legislation was modeled after a bill lawmakers approved in 2010 that banned K-12 schools from offering courses that advocate “the overthrow of the United State government” or promote “resentment towards a race or class of people.” That bill was aimed at Tucson Unified School District’s Mexican American Studies class.

Thorpe’s HB2120 would have taken the same ban, beefed it up, and applied it to university courses as well.

And it would have given the attorney general the unilateral power to withhold up to 10 percent of state aid if he or she determines a college or university is in violation.

Thorpe said his bill is aimed specifically at things like a “privilege walk” exercise sponsored by the University of Arizona and a course entitled “Whiteness and Race Theory” at Arizona State University.

The former is described in UA literature as helping participants “recognize the privileges that they have been granted and to learn about the backgrounds of their peers.”

Among the exercises is telling students to step up if they meet certain criteria, like having more than 50 books in a home, going to a private school or having inherited money. Conversely, those who were raised in a single-parent household, had to rely on public transportation or were ashamed of their clothes while growing up take a step back for each. Participants are supposed to notice where they are in relation to others.

Despite its short life, the bill already made waves on the internet and in the national press.

Activist Shaun King teed off on the bill in the New York Daily News, calling HB2120 “completely and utterly disgusting.”

“It appears that Bob Thorpe actually has a bigger problem with students and staff discussing white privilege than he does with the unfair privilege itself. That should disturb all of us,” he wrote. “For all of their talk about local rights, it’s deeply telling to see conservative lawmakers go so far as to say what individual dormitory directors and instructors can and cannot discuss with their students.”

King has also repeatedly tweeted about the legislation to his 561,000 followers.

Daily Kos heaped more opprobrium on the bill, questioning whether it would also ban the teaching of Henry David Thoreau and Cesar Chavez.

Teen Vogue’s Lily Herman wrote about the bill on Friday, as well.

HB2120 is even getting some attention on the other side of the pond. The Guardian covered the bill, noting that critics are saying the bill “broadly targets academic freedom and students of color.”

While the online left castigated Thorpe’s bill, conservative outlets and websites lauded it. The Daily Caller, for example, described the legislation as an attempt to block taxpayer funding of “ridiculous social justice classes.”

Thorpe could not be reached for comment.

Jeremy Duda of the Arizona Capitol Times and Howard Fischer of Capitol Media Services contributed to this report.  

5 comments

  1. Thorpe would prefer the schools teach “social injustice,” with which he’s more familiar. He strives to set a good example of it every single day, in the Capitol and away–and so often succeeds! That’s the Thorpe Act we’re all waiting for.

  2. What about HB 2089? It appears to be focused on restricting student’s first ammendment rights, was read on the house floor for the second time today, and was also sponsored by Rep. Thorpe.

  3. To be fair, some conservative websites also criticized the bill (e.g. National Review – http://www.nationalreview.com/article/443930/arizona-social-justice-course-ban-free-speech).

  4. @Greta – That would be compelled speech, unless the students are individually able to designate what political speech their student activity fees are used to support.

  5. Its short life, not it’s.

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