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Save Ethnic Studies in Tucson

Internets, do you know what really irks me? Banning books. Any books. I think banning books is wrong, even if I think the books themselves are hideous.

In this case, the books are far from hideous: they are Tucson public school textbooks. They are fiction and non-fiction. There are lists available here and here, courtesy AICL - those I have read are all great. They are by Native, Latin@ and other PoC writers, and White writers - including Shakespeare.

And they are being boxed up and removed from classrooms because, through imposing massive economic penalties, the State of Arizona essentially decreed the shutting down of Tucson's amazingly popular and nationally acclaimed Ethnic Studies/Mexican American Studies program.

Arizona's Superintendent of Public Instruction John Huppenthal has decided the program “promotes resentment toward a class of people,” and “promotes the overthrow of the U.S. government.” Mr Huppenthal says the classes assert that "Latino minorities have been and continue to be oppressed by a Caucasian majority."

While I'd be very surprised if this was the sole focus of the classes, I imagine that they do touch upon White oppression of Latin@ minorities because that happens to be... true. Way to prove otherwise by banning study and question, Mr Huppenthal! No oppression here, no siree.

"“We would find it nearly impossible for them to cure the program,” Mr Huppenthal told the LA Times. “The problems are so widespread and so deep that it would be very difficult.”

Would that be the problem of teaching children to think critically about history and ethnicity? Or the problem of being wildly successful in raising the overall academic profile of those students who participate? As Debbie Reese of American Indians in Children's Literature points out:

On December 29, 2011, Amy Goodman quoted from the audit [of the program]:

"[A] Tucson Unified School District audit found its Mexican American Studies program gives students a measurable advantage over their peers. The audit was conducted by David Scott, the district’s director of accountability and research. In it, he wrote, quote, "Juniors taking a Mexican American Studies course are more likely than their peers to pass the [state’s standardized] reading and writing ... test if they had previously failed those tests in their sophomore year," and that "Seniors taking a Mexican American Studies course are more likely to persist to graduation than their peers."

Moreover, Reese notes that the independent auditor hired to check out the program recommended it continue: "Cambium [Learning Ltd] was hired by the district to do the audit. They recommended the Mexican American Studies program be continued. The superintendent disagreed with the audit findings and shut the program down."

Bill Bigelow, an editor of one of the banned books, Rethinking Columbus, points out that this is the first time the book has been banned by a school district in its twenty-year plus history. Bigelow says:

... the last time a book of mine was outlawed was during the state of emergency in apartheid South Africa in 1986, when the regime there banned the curriculum I’d written, Strangers in Their Own Country, likely because it included excerpts from a speech by then-imprisoned Nelson Mandela. Confronting massive opposition at home and abroad, the white minority government feared for its life in 1986. It’s worth asking what the school authorities in Arizona fear today.

Save Ethnic Studies is fighting the order through the legal systems. Their website has a LOT of information and a number of documents relating to the situation, including the state audit and Huppenthal's Statement of Finding.

Save Ethnic Studies is accepting donations.

I spend a month or two in Tucson most years, that being the home of BFF Robyn. Since she runs a martial arts school, I know a number of Tucson teens and kids, many of whom are Mexican-American. They and their peers cannot now participate in classes studying their heritage and ethnicity, question the dominant narratives of white-dominated America, and learn in an environment which has been proven to measurably improve their scores. This moves me from "irked" to "absolutely furious".


( 9 — comment )
Jan. 18th, 2012 04:26 am (UTC)
Donation made, and thank you. I saw the article about banning Shakespeare, but never even thought about trying to find out if there was an organized effort against this nonsense. I would expect ANY decent curriculum to touch on issues of class, race, and colonization when discussing The Tempest and can only wonder what "standard" courses in the AZ schools are like.
Jan. 18th, 2012 12:16 pm (UTC)
They really went through with it. UGH.

Thank you for this alert, brighteyes.
Jan. 18th, 2012 08:51 pm (UTC)
Lacking a dog in this hunt -- not residing in Tucson nor even Arizona -- I'm not overly concerned about the outcome, especially as I must aim a baleful eye at the Orwellian Newspeak utilized by the protesters.

Usually, in cases such as this, I employ the goose-gander substitution of terms test.

So, if the State of Massachusetts, USA, passed a law prohibiting Massachusetts public schools, funded by taxpayers, to establish classes intended predominantly for one ethnic group -- White Anglo-Saxon Protestants [WASPs], forex -- that promoted ethnic divisiveness [by singling out blacks or immigrant Vietnamese Hmong, f'rinstance, for lost jobs and decreased property values], sedition, and overthrow of the government to oppose this other targeted ethnic group AND such ordered that any so described public, taxpayer-funded school system must desist in such practice or lose portions of critical funding for all programs as a penalty, would there be an equal outcry?

Would the shutting of the program in response to the law constitute banning when copies of the books remained available in the school library system?

I don't know enough of the on-the-ground details beyond a casual glance to judge whether my parallel suffices, yet -- from gut instinct honed over years dealing with courts and as a discivil libertarian -- my guess is the district Federal courts will apply an "equal protection" standard to the matter, upholding the law; the 9th Circuit will narrowly overturn those decisions; and SCOTUS will affirm the district court's original ruling.

Jan. 18th, 2012 11:42 pm (UTC)
Re: Contrariwise
You are not overly concerned about the outcome, especially since the protestors aren't using vocabulary of which you would approve, and instead you respond with a "reverse racism" example that accepts the premise that these classes indeed promoted sedition and overthrow of the government.

How nice for you to be able to be unconcerned.

Refrain from further comment on this post.

Edited at 2012-01-18 11:44 pm (UTC)
Jan. 18th, 2012 11:50 pm (UTC)
Re: Contrariwise
I think in fact if such a law as you describe were created and implemented then the outcry would in fact be much much larger (think war on Christmas levels).

Jan. 18th, 2012 11:52 pm (UTC)
Re: Contrariwise
jjbrannon has been asked not to respond, so I would prefer if no one addressed further comment in that direction to prove a temptation.
Jan. 19th, 2012 06:42 pm (UTC)
One clarification, garnered from our local NPR station this morning: apparently the books aren't banned entirely--they're available in the library--but may be being packed up because the courses they were used in have been banned. A subtle-but-important distinction.

Thanks for the saveethnicstudies link, which I'd not been aware of!

Weeks like this, the Baja Arizona Tucson secession movement doesn't seem so crazy, you know?

Edited at 2012-01-19 06:42 pm (UTC)
Gary Roulston
Jan. 20th, 2012 03:44 am (UTC)
Freedom of speech
While not a fan of JJBrannon, it seems a valid comment and your refusal to allow the discussion is quite frankly given your topic quite hypocritical! Allow me to suggest you reexamine your stated belief system and give a valid response! I do have a horse in this race. Yo soy de Nuevo Mexico y tango Chicano compadras!
Jan. 20th, 2012 03:55 am (UTC)
Re: Freedom of speech
My house, my rules, and in my house I do not choose to entertain derailing topics such as "BUT would a law prohibiting a class that targeted Black and Vietnamese Americans receive equal outcry?"
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