Political shifts in Flores v. Arizona

In the article, ‘Keeping Up the Good Fight’: the said and unsaid in Flores v. Arizona, the authors describe several key aspects surrounding the case, which sought to achieve equitable funding, resources, and instructional programs for English Language Learners (ELLs) in Arizona. The case was brought as a class-action lawsuit on behalf of the parents and students in the Nogales Unified School District, in direct response to what the parents perceived as substantially inadequate funding and a lack of appropriate academic programs to support ELL students in the district. The case has had an extremely long and winding legal history, as it was initially brought in federal court in 1992, before, ultimately, making its way to the Supreme Court of the United States in 2009, 17 years after the suit was filed and the original students, on whose behalf the case was brought, were long since graduated. This article stood out to me, as it touched on several areas of deep interest for me: political theory, legal proceedings, and education in Arizona.

The authors of this article sought to look at the public and political commentary regarding the Flores v. Arizona case and the way(s) it addressed or illustrated underlying beliefs, trends, or political realities in the United States. As their sources, they used press releases, interviews, congressional hearings, and newspapers articles. However, to limit the scope of what they were studying, they focused solely on sources that favored Flores’ side of the case. Through their inquiry, they found several different trends, which, rather than emphasizing the intrinsic values of a multicultural and pluralistic society, supported Flores from a different and much more neo-liberal rationality, such that it promotes competition between people, deregulations, and the strengthening of entrepreneurialism among students of diverse backgrounds.

The above rationalities represent a departure from classical liberalism, to a political ideology that seeks to let the market determine the value of commodities, which, recently, has come to include language, ideas, and information, which the author defines as neo-liberalism (Thomas, Aletheiani, Carlson, & Ewbank, 2014). Three particular quotes, which are not connected to one another in the article, yield new insights as to the shift this represents in  education: “Instead, language is left to the competitive market, a place where individuals and groups have to battle with each other for access” (Thomas et al., 2014, p.250), “The responsibility of learning English now belongs to the individual as well; the well-heeled subject will compete for it, invest in it, attain it, master it and exchange it for other commodities the state need not provide” (Thomas et al., 2014, p.251), and, “the best chance for these children to create a great life for themselves, as appropriate education gives them the skills and resources they need” (Thomas et al., 2014, p. 254).

When taken in conjunction with one another, the above quotes illustrate the idea that ‘we,’ as a collective society, are no longer responsible for the outcomes of our students; that ‘we’ bear no liability in the acquisition of the English language by our ELL students. This removal of our culpability allows the collective ‘us’ to wash our hands of having to adapt to changing student demographics and force the outsiders (ELLs) to adapt to the White, middle-class norms of learning and education, or risk more serious and grievous consequences: dropping out, a life of rejection, or prison (Thomas et al., 2014,).  Forcing students to “compete” for access to English Language education is a moral failure on the part educators and policy makers and the resulting pro-Flores commentary that deemphasized the value of multi-lingual society exemplifies the changes we have seen in political theory and discourse in the United States and Arizona.


Works Cited:

Thomas, M. H., Aletheiani, D. R., Carlson, D. L., & Ewbank, A. D. ‘Keeping up the good fight’: the said and unsaid in Flores v. Arizona. Policy Futures in Education, 12, 242-261.

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