Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Abandon critical thought, ye who enter here

Banning books and closing a successful Mexican American Studies program: How ironic is Arizona’s oppression of Latinos who simply wish to learn of oppression?

January 10, 2012. You have just settled into your chair in the Chicano studies classroom at a high school in the Tucson Unified School District. You are prepared for discussion concerning the historical struggles of your ancestors, when in walk several school officials with carts and empty boxes. An announcement is made by one of the officials that Mexican American Studies (MAS), the program in which you’re enrolled, has been terminated, and that your teacher will now box up your text books. You are initially stunned, then in disbelief, and finally in tears- like your teacher- as your text books are taken from your hands.

This story didn’t start on January 10, 2012. Nor did it begin when the state school superintendent, John Huppenthal, threatened the Tucson school district with the potential loss of millions of dollars in revenue if the MAS program were not closed, or even earlier when then state senator Huppenthal co-authored, with Tom Horne, the very law against ethnic studies he now used in crushing the program. This is a story with origins from long ago stemming from racial intolerance and fear (immigration-phobia) that has been building in intensity over time.

For Arizonans, it is yet another plunge deeper into a dark abyss. A New York Times editorial described this latest development:
The Tucson Unified School District has dismantled its Mexican-American studies program, packed away its offending books, and shuttled its students into other classes. It was blackmailed into doing so: keeping the program would have meant losing more than $14 million in state funding. It was a blunt-force victory for the Arizona school superintendent, John Huppenthal, who has spent years crusading against ethnic-studies programs he claims are “brainwashing” children into thinking that Latinos have been victims of white oppression. 1)
The N.Y. Times editorial was critical of Huppenthal:
If Huppenthal wanted to diminish resentment and treat Hispanic students as individuals, he picked a lousy way to do it. His action has Hispanic critics saying they feel their culture is under attack — and has students in a well-established, well-liked program feeling dejected. 2)
Native Americans Beware:
Presumably, Huppenthal considers studies that discuss the oppression of your ancestors as “brainwashing,” too. And heaven forbid you consider the plight of some of your ancestors in terms of genocide

Moreover, the editorial framed the action in light of the broader element of racism that permeates Arizona and its politics:
To say that Arizona’s Anglo and Hispanic populations have had multiple points of collision and misunderstanding is putting it mildly. Arizona, the state that also showed some of the most bitter resistance to a federal Martin Luther King holiday, enacted the first in a recent spate of extremist immigration laws and spawned the Minuteman border-vigilante movement. 3)
About Tucson and its Mexican American Studies Program

Nearly 53,000 students attend classes in the Tucson Unified School District (TUSD) where 60 percent, or approximately 32,000, come from Mexican-American families. The White/Anglo population is second highest, at 24 percent, followed by African-American, Native American and Asian American at 6, 4 and 3 percent, respectively. 4) Logo for Tucson's Mexican American Studies Department

Several different ethnic study programs have traditionally been offered within the district, including Native American, Asian and Mexican American. As of May, 2011, more than 1,300 Tucson middle and high school students were enrolled in MAS. Ninety percent of those students were of Mexican American background, followed by five, two, and two percent for White/Anglo, Native American and African American ethnicities, respectively. 5)

Over its 13 year history, MAS steadily gained recognition as one of the state’s most successful programs, largely due its educational outcomes: graduation rates and testing measures have invariably showed Mexican American Studies students outperforming peers. 6) Later, we will quantify both when we examine the results of the independent Cambium Report.

Tucson’s MAS was co-founded in the late 1990’s by Sean Arce, who was Director of the program at the time of its suspension. Under Arce’s leadership, MAS was sheparded through a court-mandated desegregation order and challenging stipulations in the ‘No Child Left Behind’ act. Interestingly, Arce has been compared to Esteban Ochoa, Tucson’s first Mexican American mayor who, in the 1870’s defied the Arizona territorial legislature by founding and funding Tucson’s first public school. Over the years and in collaboration with other educators, Arce has helped design curricula used in many ethnic or Mexican American Studies programs. 7)

As an educator, Sean Arce is nationally renowned and the MAS program is recognized for its educational excellence. According to Dr. Pedro Noguera, Executive Director for the Metropolitan Center for Urban Education at New York University,
"Anyone who has visited classrooms run by the Mexican American Studies program in Tucson would know that the goal is not to teach hate or sow division. Under the leadership of Sean Arce, the program has paved the way in helping students and teachers make connections between the school curriculum and the student's history and culture. These efforts have produced heightened student engagement and deepened their motivation to learn. Those who are serious about finding ways to help schools reach all students should support such efforts." 8)
Dr. David Stovall, from the University of Chicago, states:
“Sean's work is emblematic of a collective struggle to ensure the rights of students throughout TUSD to ask critical questions of themselves and society while making informed decisions based on such inquiry. By providing a model for young people to interrogate the disparities familiar to their conditions, they are simultaneously creating pathways to guarantee quality education for current and future students in the district. For these reasons and countless others, their program should serve as a national model for Ethnic Studies initiatives in K-12 education.” 9)
Arce also received accolades from Dr. Devon G. Peña, former Chair of the National Association for Chicana and Chicano Studies, who credits Sean’s intellect and administrative skills and says,
“Under (Arce’s) leadership, MAS-TUSD has become the nation's most innovative and successful academic and instructional program in Ethnic Studies at the secondary school level." 10)
However, perhaps the greatest testimonies come from those who have been in the classroom. According to Jesus “Tito” Romero,
"It wasn't until I had Sean Arce as a history teacher that I discovered what it meant to be as a student, and I soon realized that Mr. Arce had not only saved my life, but had changed and touched so many others. Mr. Arce has been in the business of saving lives for many years, whether he realizes it or not." 11)
Jacob Robles, a 2008 alumni of MAS, also credits Sean Arce for changing his life:
"Mr. Arce greeted me like a neighborhood friend, and on the first day he immediately made the class room space something familiar and comfortable. It was easy to get us engaged. He made things funny, interesting, but also very serious. I had never had a teacher quite like him; he had all of the goofballs in the class quiet and listening. I was interested right away and knew I was in the right place. I am forever grateful for having Sean Arce as a teacher." 12)
Tucson’s Mexican American Studies program is not a one man show, though. Like any good administrator, Sean Arce must surround himself with teachers who excel. Literature instructor Curtis Acosta is one example.

In 2009, Acosta won the Martin Luther King Jr. Classic Dream Award, and in 2010, the Tucson High Magnet School Teacher of the Year. In 2011, Curtis Acosta was named winner of the University of Arizona Goodman Award, and he’s been a finalist for the University of Arizona's Circle K Teacher of the Year. 13)

Following the shooting of Congresswoman Gabby Giffords, CNN visited one of Acosta’s classes, where students were discussing Shakespeare’s “The Tempest.” CNN’s goal was to better understand the challenges in teaching in an environment where racial and immigration tensions have created a divisive atmosphere, and their report painted a very complimentary picture. 14)

Successful programs Like Tucson's Mexican American Studies exist because of the efforts of dedicated and talented educators like Acosta and Arce. That success, along with the sheer number of students who have graduated under the MAS banner, means the MAS program has many supporters.

Timeline of Events concerning Tucson's Mexican American Studies

That is not to say Tucson’s Mexican American Studies program has no detractors. Certainly there are none quite like Arizona state politicians Tom Horne and John Huppenthal.

It was Horne who first decided to take on the Tucson school district and its MAS program, largely after Dolores Huerta, who co-founded United Farm Workers with Cesar Chavez, gave a 2006 speech at Tucson’s Magnet High where she stated, “Republicans hate Latinos.” 15), 16) Huerta came under immense fire for her comments, which became a rallying cry for Arizona Republicans.

While I found no supporting documentation, it is conceivable that a perception of liberal partisanship within MAS is one reason Horne decided to take it on. On June 11, 2007, as State Superintendent of Public Instruction, Horne wrote an open letter to the citizens of Tucson, declaring MAS should be terminated for three principle reasons:

  • Curriculum (text books and course materials),
  • Philosophy (people are individuals, not exemplars of racial groups), and
  • Personal observations concerning what Horne saw as negative student reaction to a speech he perceived should have been non-partisan. (the Huerta speech?) 17)

In Huppenthal, then a state senator, Horne found a like-minded ideologue. Horne and Huppenthal are Tea Party Republicans, and for both the academic achievements of MAS apparently meant little versus what they perceived as a plethora of practices within the program which were more indoctrination than teaching, where American history was being transformed into stories of Latino oppression, and where curricula seemed more about inflating racism and agitation than informing or developing skills for critical thinking.

Together, Horne and Huppenthal pushed for passage of legislation (S.B. 1069) in 2009 that ultimately failed.

On February 26, 2010, Horne resigned from the Arizona region board of the Anti-Defamation League (ADL), stating he would not remain in an organization opposed to his proposed legislation. 18) The head of the ADL, Bill Straus, commented:
“Tom obviously had a philosophical difference with the people on the board and me over the proposed ban on Latino-American ethnic studies programs like the one in the TUSD. There's a strong feeling of opposition to his attempt to rescind a program that has so obviously resuscitated the desire to learn in so many students." 19)
Later in the spring of 2010, just weeks after the passage of S.B. 1070, which placed Arizona in a national spotlight given it allowed police to question anyone they thought might be in the country illegally, Horne introduced House Bill (H.B.) 2281. Co-authored by Huppenthal, this time the measure quickly passed and was signed into law by Arizona Governor Jan Brewer. 20)

Horne wrote a letter to TUSD interim Superintendent John Carroll on August 2, 2010 stating Horne was aware TUSD had declined to end any of its ethnic classes despite passage of H.B. 2281- which would take effect December 31. 21)

In November, 2010, Horne won election as Arizona’s Attorney General. Huppenthal replaced Horne, winning election as State Superintendent of Public Instruction.

On December 29, 2010, new TUSD Superintendent Dr. John Pedicone received a written request for public records concerning MAS pursuant Arizona Revised Statute (ARS) 39-121.01(D)(1). Collection of materials began immediately, while the next day, TUSD Board President Judy Burns sent a letter to Horne and Superintendent elect Huppenthal informing them TUSD’s governing board had adopted three resolutions “to ensure compliance with H.B. 2281 and A.R.S. 15-111 and 15.112 with the intent to implement ethnic studies programs and courses compliant with all applicable laws.” 22)

However, on January 1, 2011- yes, on the New Year’s Day holiday- Horne issued a summary finding declaring the Tucson school district’s MAS in violation of state law. 23)

Huppenthal, upon succeeding Horne as the state’s education chief, decided to establish his own facts on the matter. One of Huppenthal’s first actions was to commission an audit of MAS through Cambium Learning, Inc., at a cost of $170,000 dollars. 24) The purpose of the Cambium audit was three-fold: to determine

  • If and how MAS is designed to improve student achievement,
  • If statistically valid measures indicating student achievement occurred, and
  • Whether MAS curriculum complied with A.R.S. 15-112(A). 25)

Work on the audit commenced on March 7, 2011 with Cambium returning its final report on May 2. The results of the audit relative the stated goals are noteworthy:

Improving Student Achievement

Concerning student achievement, the Cambium report stated,
“MAS programs are designed to improve student achievement based on the audit teams’ findings of valuable course descriptions aligned with state standards, commendable curricular unit and lesson plan design, engaging instructional practices, and collective inquire strategies through approved Arizona state standards. Therefore, such visual evidence presented within the classroom observation and instructional context demonstrated effective use of curriculum to support student achievement.” 26)
Cambium did issue recommendations in terms of improving curriculum. Among other things, three of nine MAS curriculum units were found to contain an “overabundance of controversial commentary inclusive of political tones of personal bias in the ‘Introductory’ sections of units.” Words that dehumanize or belittle were also found which should have been eliminated. Moreover, the auditors did not find an overarching document which “provided the integrated, comprehensive guidance needed to direct, monitor and assess effective curriculum implementation” nor documentation detailing “long and short-term goals within each course.” 27)

Determine if Statistically Valid Measures Indicating Student Achievement Occurred

Here, the Cambium audit confirmed claims that Mexican American Studies students are high achievers: in their words, “there is a positive measurable difference between MAS and non-MAS students.” 28)

Analysis of Arizona’s Instrument to Measure Standards (AIMS) over a six year period from 2005 through 2010 shows MAS students scored an average of 12 percent higher in reading comprehension, 11 percent higher on writing, and six percent higher on math. Over the same time period, graduation rates averaged 7.5% higher for MAS versus non-MAS students. 29)

The Cambium report added,
“Many research-based practices that promote enhanced critical thinking and higher-order comprehension of difficult topics are in place and are used on a daily basis. Regardless of program, teacher effectiveness achieves results… Students learn to be proud, regardless of ethnicity, and are motivated to exceed and excel.” 30)
Determine whether MAS curriculum complies with A.R.S. 15-112(A)

Here, the Cambium report found no evidence indicating

“… any classroom within the Tucson Unified School District was in direct violation of the law. In most cases, quite the opposite is true. Consider, if classes promoted resentment or ethnic solidarity, then evidence of an ineffective learning community would exist within each school aligned with MAS. That was not the case. Every school and every classroom visited by the auditors affirmed that these learning communities support a climate conducive to student achievement… Teachers collectively are building nurturing relationships with students and work to improve student achievement, attendance, and graduation. A culture of respect exists and students receive additional assistance beyond the regular classroom instruction in support of their academic learning.” 31)
However, when state Superintendent Huppenthal later issued his statement of finding, TUSD was declared out of compliance and was given 60 days to correct the situation; otherwise, ten percent of state funds would be denied. 32)

How ironic, given the Cambium audit recommended it’s expansion. 33) Interestingly, the Huppenthal statement of finding made no mention of the Cambium Report other than reference to “a curriculum audit conducted by a contractor.”

Thus, even though Cambium’s audit was commissioned by Huppenthal, the Cambium findings stating MAS was in compliance with Arizona laws were essentially ignored. Instead, justification for Huppenthal’s finding primarily came from evidence collected through Arizona Department of Education audits directed by Huppenthal, and through an examination of material on the Mexican American Studies website. 34)

Now think about that: Arizona’s Superintendent of Public Instruction is an elected office which essentially runs Arizona’s Department of Education (ADE). The problem with Huppenthal calling for an ADE audit of Tucson’s Mexican American Studies program is that Huppenthal, who held a strongly partisan perspective, and who helped author the laws and then sought the very position that could enforce them, is also in position to exert undue influence on the results of any internal ADE audits. Employees within Arizona’s Department of Education, like everyone else, have families to support, mortgages to make, and jobs which, in this economy, they certainly can’t afford to lose. Therefore, do you really think they’re going to tell someone like Huppenthal something he doesn’t want to hear?

At best, Huppenthal’s internal ADE auditing could supplement the independent Cambium report; instead, they were the foundation. Given Huppenthal’s long-standing public opposition to MAS, one must ask: Since Cambium didn’t deliver the facts he wanted, did he simply resort to manufacturing his own?

Others were certainly wondering about it. Take the editors at The Arizona Star:
State Superintendent John Huppenthal has decided that TUSD's Mexican American Studies program violates state law - but to get to his flimsy conclusion he had to ignore the clear findings of the outside auditors he hired to investigate the program in the first place.

He would be asked, repeatedly, about the specific provisions of the law he determined TUSD is violating- the one commonly known as HB 2281- and he would turn the conversation back to the curriculum development process.

It didn't make sense.

When you read the full audit, the problem is obvious. Huppenthal was proclaiming TUSD to have violated a state law, A.R.S. 15-112, while simultaneously releasing an independent audit that explicitly states that TUSD has not violated A.R.S. 15-112. 35)
The Arizona Star editorial did agree with Huppenthal on one point: that the TUSD governing board has not done its job in terms of overseeing MAS curriculum. From their perspective, the relationship between the TUSD administration, some board members, and MAS faculty and supporters has eroded to the degree MAS now operates with too much autonomy. The Arizona Star editors concluded by writing, “The audit provides a window into MAS, a program that has administrative concerns but works for kids. Huppenthal, who revels in reports and information, should follow the data and support a program that shows results.36)

Shortly after the Huppenthal finding was released, a motion for a stop-order was brought to the U.S. District Court by Richard Martinez on behalf of several MAS students and faculty including Curtis Acosta. The Tucson school district also appealed the Huppenthal finding.

In December 2011, Lewis Koval, an administrative law judge, ruled against the TUSD appeal stating, “MAS violated state law by promoting racial resentment, advocating ethnic solidarity versus treating students as individuals, and through existence of one or more classes designed primarily for one ethnic group.” Koval also ruled H.B. 2281 was legal since it had not been ruled unconstitutional. 37),38)

Then, the new 2012 year had hardly begun when Huppenthal ordered ten percent of the Tucson school district's monthly state aid withheld until what time the district was in compliance. Estimates placed the potential loss in TUSD revenues at more than $1,000,000 per month. 39)

Soon thereafter, the Tucson school board voted 4-to-1 to suspend the program. Adelita Grijalva, the lone vote against closing MAS, instead called for the school district to defend the program through a court challenge of H.B. 2281’s constitutionality: 40)
"This is an issue that is not going to go away by this vote. When bad laws are written, they are usually picked up by other states. This is an opportunity to fight a bad law." 41)
Federal Judge A. Wallace Tashima, on January 10th, then denied the request for a stop order that had been brought by the group of MAS students and faculty. 42) However, Judge Tashima left open constitutional issues. Rulings on the constitutionality of H.B. 2281 are expected in February or March, 2012.

Oppressing Those Who Wish to Learn of Oppression

It is beyond the scope of this article to explore the varied ideological motivations of Horne and Huppenthal in regard to their opposition to Mexican American Studies. However, recent comments by Huppenthal concerning the teaching of history relevant ethnic oppression were readily available and are important to note.

Confiscation of text books accompanied the suspension of the MAS program, a matter we explore in the next section. One of the confiscated books was Paulo Freire’s “Pedagogy of the Oppressed.” Here is John Huppenthal from a recent broadcast concerning Freire’s work:
“That word "oppressed" (referring to ‘Pedagogy of the Oppressed’) is taken right out of 'The Communist Manifesto,' where… Karl Marx talks about the struggle of the history of man, the entire history of mankind being the struggle between the oppressed and the oppressors... The designers of the Mexican American Studies classes explicitly say in their journal articles that they’re going to construct Mexican American Studies around this Marxian framework with a predominantly ethnic underclass, the oppressed… filling out that Marxian model, and a predominantly Caucasian class filling out the role of the oppressor.” 43)
Huppenthal has stated, per numerous press accounts, that MAS portrays history in a fashion that has ‘indoctrinated’ students, fosters ethnic resentment, and even prepares them for acts of violence or evil. In a Democracy Now! interview, Huppenthal talked of his one visit to a Mexican American Studies classroom where he saw a poster of Che Guevara on the wall and heard Ben Franklin characterized as racist. 44)

At one point, Huppenthal stated,
“What we want to do is create a society in which everybody is working for a better tomorrow, not working to get even. We all know the evil that came out of the Balkans in Western Europe. So we want to make sure these students are educated and able to be critical thinkers in a variety of viewpoints.” 45)
Whoa! Is Huppenthal insinuating that history as taught through MAS could somehow lead to that kind of violence? By ‘working to get even,’ did he truly mean revenge?

If so, shame on you, Mr. Huppenthal: ethnic studies programs are not the Western equivalent of fundamentalist Islamic madrasses designed to churn out terrorists; they are, in fact, the very opposite. If intended, such an implication is more than irresponsible; it is nearly criminal, given such misstatement of fact only panders to fear and results in furthering racial and ethnic division.

Or, to give benefit to doubt, was Huppenthal simply referring to equality while, unfortunately, making his comment in such a way that revenge could be construed?

On that level, I would suspect many, if not most, students graduating from ethnic studies programs become:

  • Life-long learners driven to improve not only themselves but their friends and communities;
  • Citizens who will challenge the status-quo, weigh alternatives, question authority, and stand for what they believe, and
  • Humanists called to seek equality, justice, and the peace that justice brings.

Would not these be exactly the kind of students capable of ‘working for a better tomorrow?’

Or, is that really the problem, Mr. Huppenthal- Latinos working for a better tomorrow?

Unfortunately, that is the perspective of scholar Carlos Munoz, who accredits the closing of Mexican American Studies and the confiscation of its books as “an effort to return to the days of the 1950s, previous to the Chicano movement and other civil rights movements in this country, to try to ‘Americanize’ and re-colonize the minds of young people in the state of Arizona.” 46)
“I think that’s the bottom line here. They want to put a stop to this process of producing young leaders that are going to speak truth to power, and are going to make a difference in the future in terms of turning the tide against racism and other things that are negative in Arizona.” 47)
In the Aftermath of the Suspension

Immediately after the suspension of the Mexican American Studies program, students from several Tucson area middle and high schools organized and staged walkouts.

Incredibly, those students were then ordered to perform janitorial duties on the following Saturday. It was “an amazing message-- something right out of Newt Gingrich’s playbook,” as Roberto Cintli Rodriquez subsequently wrote. 48)

Wakefield Middle School students who participated in a district-wide walkout January 23, 2012 found they were subsequently suspended from school. TUSD Assistant Superintendent Abel Morado said the students were not suspended for walkingout in support of MAS, but for past infractions or other unexcused absences. 49) At post time, it was unknown whether these student suspensions had been lifted.

Most controversial was the subsequent confiscation of MAS teaching materials: books, artwork, posters, etc. 50) Initially, seven books were removed:

  • 500 Years of Chicano History in Pictures, edited by Elizabeth Martinez,
  • Chicano! The History of the Mexican Civil Rights Movement, F. Arturo Rosales,
  • Critical Race Theory, Richard Delgado and Jean Stefancic,
  • Message to Aztlan,” Rodolfo Corky Gonzales,
  • Occupied America: A History of Chicanos, Rodolfo Acuña,
  • Pedagogy of the Oppressed, Paulo Freire,
  • Rethinking Columbus: The Next 500 Years, Bill Bigelow. 51)

Bill Bigelow, author of “Rethinking Columbus,”said TUSD has shown “tremendous disrespect for teachers and students” by removing the book.
“(Rethinking Columbus) is a book that has sold over 300,000 copies and is used in school districts from Anchorage to Atlanta, and from Portland, Oregon to Portland, Maine. It offers teaching strategies and readings teachers can use to help students think about the perspectives that are too often silenced in the traditional curriculum.” 52)
Bigelow noted the only other time a book of his was banned was in 1968, when apartheid South Africa banned “Strangers in Their Own Country,” a curriculum he had written which included a speech by Nelson Mandela. 53) Said Bigelow,
“We know what the South African regime was afraid of. What is the Tucson school district afraid of?” 54)
Loss of money, probably. Rather than TUSD, Bigelow should have directed the question to Horne, Huppenthal and any others who signed or supported the legislation that led to the TUSD administrative decisions.

Beyond the initial seven, all of the approximately 50 books in the MAS curriculum were subsequently removed. 55) As Roberto Cintli Rodriquez wrote,
Teachers are being told to turn in the books that have not been "confiscated". This might strike the average person as odd: it's as if the presence of these books inside classrooms constitutes a distraction or bad influence. Apparently, students should not be able to even see those books in the classrooms. 56)
Among the additional books in the MAS curriculum packed off to storage were:

  • A People’s Guide to History, Howard Zinn
  • Civil Disobedience, Henry Thoreau,
  • The Tempest, William Shakespeare 57)

Shakespeare? Really? Confiscating Thoreau’s book on civil disobedience? Howard Zinn? Well, rather than ‘white-washing’ the American story, Howard did write about the oppression which occurred in the history of building the United States. And that's a problem, Mr. Huppenthal?

Following the confiscation of text books, numerous press articles categorized the action as a ‘banning’ of books, a claim vehemently denied by the Tucson school administration. Officials claimed the text books had simply been taken to a supply repository, and that copies of all books were still available in libraries and other areas, just not in MAS classrooms. 58) A spot check of the library catalog by reporter Jeff Biggars returned one copy of “Critical Race Theory,” two copies of “Pedagogy of the Oppressed,” and 16 copies of “Rethinking Columbus” 59) -- which would now need to serve a student population of more than 50,000.

Lorenzo Lopez, a teacher at Tucson’s Cholla High School, charged the district with being less than forth-right in its characterization of the book removal:
“In regards to this double-speak about these books being banned, it is irrelevant if these books are banned from the entire district or just from our classes. If our kids can’t have access to that knowledge, and it was urgent that these books be removed immediately from our classes, they are, in effect, banned.” 60)
Sadly, the forbidden books also had to be removed from teacher’s personal libraries, according to Pueblo High’s Sally Rusk:
“Our own personal copies were not to be on the book shelves either. It seems obvious to us that being made to take certain books out of the classroom — even when used as reference books and not class sets — is censorship. How can not allowing teachers to use these books, even as reference material in a traditional U.S. history course, not be interpreted as banning those books?” 61)
For scholar Carlos Munoz, the reason these books were banned is because they spoke truth to power:
Scholars of Mexican-American background and other… scholars of color, have collectively made a profound contribution to the body of knowledge of people of color in this country, and have documented and rectified a history that speaks the truth that this country has been historically an empire, a promoter of imperialism throughout the world… (Take) scholarship like Rodolfo Acuña’s incredible path-breaking book. He was the first one to put out a true history of America, in a sense that he documents, beyond shadow of a doubt, the nature of our society and how, in fact, Mexican-Americans in particular have struggled for social justice throughout the nation’s history… All this knowledge that ‘Occupied America’ represents, they (Arizona’s politicians) don’t want to acknowledge.” 62)
MAS teachers are certainly scared, given an environment where anyone complaining about anything that may be construed as a violation to H.B. 2281 could result in loss of their job. 63)

Yolanda Sotelo, who has taught at TUSD for thirty-years, was informed monitors would visit her classroom to ensure confiscated books were not being used and that any instructors who made assignments from prohibited titles would be reprimanded. She was told monitors would also evaluate classroom walls and posters. 64)

School administrators have instructed teachers to simply avoid any lesson plans or books touching themes of race, ethnicity or oppression. 65)

According to Curtis Acosta, the award-winning Mexican American Studies literature instructor,
“We’re filled with the vagueness the law is founded upon. No one knows what to tell us definitively when we ask specific questions.” 66)
In yet another irony, the law’s vagueness has increased educational inequality in the Tucson school system, as it is only the teachers who worked in the MAS program who are now forbidden from teaching from the confiscated books. Other teachers in the district can- and are- using them. 67) An example is Tucson’s University High, where college-bound students have access to all curricular materials, including those forbidden to MAS. 68)

Acosta often teaches Shakespeare’s “The Tempest.” Here he explains why he no longer may:
“What is very clear is that “The Tempest” is problematic for our administrators due to the content of the play and the pedagogical choices I have made. In other words, Shakespeare wrote a play that is clearly about colonization of “the new world” and there are strong themes of race, colonization, oppression, class and power that permeate the play, along with themes of love and redemption. We study this work by Shakespeare using the work of renowned historian Ronald Takaki and the chapter “The Tempest in the Wilderness” from his a book A Different Mirror where he uses the play to explore the early English settlements on this continent and English imperialism. From there, we immerse ourselves in the play and discuss the beauty of the language, Shakespeare’s multiple perspectives on colonization, and the brilliant and courageous attention he gives to such important issues.

However, TUSD is basing our compliance upon their appeal and (the court) ruling. Thus, I believe our administrators advised me properly when they said to avoid texts, units, or lessons with race and oppression as a central focus… (Staying) away from teaching “The Tempest” not only seems prudent, but intelligent. We also have not received confirmation that the ideas, dialogue, and class work of our students will be protected. In clearer words, if I avoid discussing such themes in class, yet the students see the themes and decide to write, discuss or ask questions in class, we may also be found to be in violation. The stakes are far too high since a violation of the law could cost the district millions, our employment, and personal penalties from the state for breaking the law.

Due to the madness of this situation and our fragile positions as instructors who will be frequently observed for compliance, and be asked to produce examples of student work as proof of our compliance, I cannot disagree with their advice. Now we are in the position of having to rule out “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn,” “The Great Gatsby,” etc. for the exact same reasons.” 69)
So, Huckleberry Finn’s gone, too? I suspect many Mexican American Studies teachers and students have been asking, “What’s the world coming to?”

What is obvious is the vaguely worded passages of A.R.S. 15-112(A) have placed Tucson’s Mexican American Studies instructors in a untenable position: incapable of teaching on many issues crucial to the development of critical thinking. Per university professor Jorge Mariscal, there will now be:
No critical thinking, no critical history, and no critical pedagogy for the new Calibans who must take their designated places in the market economy and forget their past. 70)
That is the crime that Horne and Huppenthal have wrought.

Reaction to the Issues

There have been many interesting perspectives written in response to Arizona H.B. 2281 and the closing of Tucson’s Mexican American Studies programs.

The opinions that follow have been expressed far more eloquently than any encapsulation I may attempt. Here are a few:

Concerning the Suspension of the MAS Program

Anthropologist and author Tom Sheridan sees racial and poor fiscal ideology driving the closing of MAS. Rather than demonized, Sheridan sees a program that state official should be emulating elsewhere:
The recent dismantling of Mexican American Studies in the Tucson Unified School District represents the convergence of two disturbing trends in Arizona: 1) the systematic assault on Mexican society and culture and 2) the starvation of public education at all levels across the state.

Students enrolled in the program were more likely to graduate and much more likely than their peers to go to college. Instead of trying to replicate it in other largely Hispanic school districts, however, the Arizona Legislature passed Arizona Revised Statute (ARS) 15-112, which prohibited "a school district or charter school in this state" from offering courses that "promote the overthrow of the United States government" and "advocate ethnic solidarity instead of the treatment of pupils as individuals… If Arizona truly wants to nourish a "knowledge economy," TUSD's Mexican American Studies program should be applauded, not demonized. 71)
Dr. Roberto Cintli Rodriquez decries the censorship at the heart of the matter and what that censorship means for public education:
"This is an attack specific to Chicano studies, but at its core this act of censorship is a black eye to the U.S. educational system. It is a black eye to the very idea of education because the state and TUSD are attempting to determine what is valid knowledge- what is acceptable and what is unacceptable. This dangerous precedent gives the message that students are free to learn everything except what the state finds objectionable. This should be a concern to every human being anywhere." 72)
Arizona Republic columnist Linda Valdez sees great value in ethnic studies and blames the racial nature of Arizona’s state politics for the closing of MAS:
Mexican American studies is an important element in teaching Tucson’s youth about human rights, and in fighting discrimination and ethnic resentment rather than fomenting it.

The underlying reason why Mexican American studies is being targeted in Southern Arizona is a political one. The fight to ban this particular ethnic studies program is one more in a long line of battles being waged against the state’s Latino population. 73)
Luke Witman from the Tucson Examiner writes,
At a time when racial intolerance against Latinos in this country appears ever increasing, it seems that a program aimed at educating youth about the pitfalls of such intolerance is more valuable than ever. 74)
English professor Joel Shatzky speaks to the irony of the oppression at hand:
That officials in Arizona believe that by closing down these programs and thus insulting those who have enrolled in them they will not increase a sense of oppression by Latinos and other ethnic groups, is as illusory as the words on a sign a colleague of mine hung in his office many years ago: "The flogging will stop when morale improves." 75)
Then there is this from author Luis J. Rodriguez:
Let's be clear--adequate educational criteria needs to include several important aspects: 1) that information provided be factual and verified; 2) that this knowledge include varied perspectives and ideas; 3) that it be grounded in the historical record as well as vibrate with the experiences and stories of all peoples; 4) and that the content is real and relevant from a literary and educational standpoint to all students.

In such a classroom, even the Tea Party's views would be heard and debated. Why not the Ku Klux Klan's and Hitler's positions? But these should also be enriched with other views that challenge these and add to a student's treasury of learning--those of Frederick Douglass, Malcolm X, Cesar Chavez, Maxine Hong Kingston, Elie Wiesel, Leslie Marmon Silko... and many others.

A thriving educational environment allows reality into the curriculum and won't mediate or censor the truth. It is not about the idealized beliefs of a small minority, which the Tea Party is no matter how you look at it. The state has no right to determine what are the "right" ideas and which perspectives to cut out. Teachers who dare to expand the knowledge base of their students by continuing these classes and teaching from these texts can presumably be removed, perhaps even jailed.

That's worse than "group think," it's tyranny. 76)
Concerning H.B. 2281

Richard Martinez, attorney for the Mexican American Studies program, is angry that a community-based program like MAS has been usurped by state mandate. Martinez sees racism as the primary motivation behind both the legislation and Superintendent of Public Instruction Huppenthal’s finding against TUSD:
"What has occurred here is that [Huppenthal] has taken away from our entire community a curriculum that was adopted by our school board, that was developed by our school district, and that had successfully operated for well over 10 years. It’s just part of the same kind of tactics that have been employed in Arizona reflected by [SB] 1070, the anti-immigrant perspective. It is the anti-Latino perspective that exists in this state." 77)
Dr. Sonia W. Soltero, from DePaul University’s College of Education, frames the Arizona legislation as both anti-American and unproductive, unfortunately undermining an educational program that has been demonstrably successful:
The political move by the state of Arizona to make the teaching of a social studies curriculum illegal is both draconian and anti-democratic. A curriculum that offers the often ignored histories, experiences, and contributions of the largest ethnic group in the U.S., and presents different perspectives in literature, expands the knowledge and understanding of both Mexican-American and non-Latinos students. Without any empirical evidence, detractors claim that the Ethnic Studies Program promotes antagonistic relations between Mexican-American youth and mainstream society. By contrast, advocates of the program can point to empirically-based record of increased academic outcomes and graduation rates for students who participate in the program. 78)
Tom Sheridan, speaking of the combined effects of S.B. 1070 and H.B. 2281 A.R.S. 15-112(A), writes:
There has not been such a concerted effort by Arizona state government to suppress Mexicans and Mexican-Americans since early statehood, when the Legislature attempted to disenfranchise Mexican voters and keep Mexican labor out of the copper mines. 79)
Former educator Jame E. Garcia writes White/Anglo worries over the upcoming change in population demographics is why HB 2281 became law:
It happened because the state's Latino population has nearly doubled in the past 20 years and the right wing is angry and afraid that it is helpless to stop it. In one generation, Latinos will be 50 percent of the state's population and, short of declaring martial law and deporting everyone with brown skin, there's nothing anyone can do to prevent it. 80)
Professor Jorge Mariscal, much like Garcia, wrote wondering whether Arizona’s attack on Mexican American Studies was less about ethnic studies and more about denying the right to education to the coming Latino majority? 81)

After all, as Garcia and Mariscal indicate, population trends show an ever-growing Latino presence in Arizona. The Hispanic population increased 5.5 percent over the past decade to 30.8% of the state’s total population, with a median Latino age of 25 years versus 43 for non-Hispanic whites. 82 In time, it is inevitable Arizona’s Latino population will become the majority.


Given the events that have transpired concerning Tucson’s Mexican American Studies program, it is difficult to summarize without focusing on the efforts of two men: Tom Horne and John Huppenthal.

If you want to know why MAS has been suspended, you simply need point to Horne and Huppenthal. It was this tandem which, unfortunately, had the will, drive, finesse and political power to make it happen.

It is unfortunate because a program delivering significantly positive educational outcomes was sacrificed in the name of an extremely partisan ideology. It is also unfortunate Delores Huerta made partisan comments in a public, non-partisan venue, for that sent Horne, and ultimately Huppenthal, on a political vendetta: the assassination of Tucson’s Mexican American Studies. Yes, both men talk of biased teaching, indoctrination, and a MAS program that racially divides students, but that is not only unfounded but a mask: one intended to divert attention from their ulterior motives. Frankly, if the pair made a mistake, it was Huppenthal’s hiring of Cambium Learning, Inc. for an audit where he could not control the outcome, or perhaps Huppenthal never really considered that Cambium’s evaluation might differ from his own. At any rate, Cambium’s final report countermanded Horne and Huppenthal’s predetermined course of action, so the report had to be ignored or, as Huppenthal later attempted, discredited.

The greatest tragedy in this story is the affect of the loss of Mexican American Studies on thousands of current and future Tucson students. That loss is at a minimum two-fold: loss of

  • Knowledge concerning the history of Latino culture, its struggles for equality, and the oppression that has been suffered, and
  • An environment conducive to group analysis, discussion and the development of critical thinking skills.

This is the irony of Horne and Huppenthal’s legislation: they have legally mandated the oppression of those who simply wanted to learn of oppression.

As someone commented in a reply to a blog:
This law (H.B.2281) and everything that has been done to force it within Arizona proves that white people are still quite happily oppressing the rights of non whites. It's not history, it's called current events. 83)
The “society in which everybody is working for a better tomorrow,” to borrow a phrase from Huppenthal, should apply to state legislators, too. However, in yet another irony, H.B. 2281 instead moves Arizona
closer to the realm of Dante’s inferno. Perhaps visitors to the Grand Canyon state arriving via highway deserve a more appropriate welcome: “Abandon critical thought, ye who enter here.”

Fortunately, all is not lost. Tucson attorney Richard Martinez filed a motion in late 2011 for a summary judgment on three constitutional claims relative H.B. 2281. Martinez has stated he hopes to hear the motion in February, 2012, and that there may be a decision by March. 84)

Presuming the arc of the universe truly bends toward justice, Arizona H.B. 2281 will be ruled unconstitutional, Tucson’s Mexican American Studies will begin to pick up the pieces, and- someday soon- it will again thrive.


House Bill 2654, ‘An Act Repealing Sections 15-111 and 15-112, Arizona Revised Statues, Relating to School Curriculum,’ was introduced to the Arizona legislature by Representative Sally Gonzales. The resolution has support of the American Library Association 85) and Mujeres Activas en Letras y Cambio Social (MALCS), a national professional association of Chicanas, Latinas, Native American and Indigenous women. 86) However, no information was available on the Arizona House of Representatives website concerning the bill and its status as of February 5, 2012.

The American Library Association (ALA) issued a resolution denouncing the suppression of open inquiry caused by the closing of MAS, condemning the restriction to educational materials associated with MAS, and urging the Arizona legislature to pass Gonzales’ H.B. 2654. The ALA resolution came from the group’s mid-winter meeting in Dallas, Texas, where the ALA Office for Intellectual Freedom worked with various ALA committees in creating the statement. The resolution was passed by the ALA’s governing council on January 24, 2012. 87)

One week later, more than two dozen organizations joined the American Booksellers Foundation for Free Expression in a statement of opposition to TUSD’s book censorship. Organizations joining the ABA’s Foundation included the Author’s Guild, American Association of University Professors, Association of American Publishers, the National Education Association, and 25 others. Their opposition is primarily based on first amendment rights and states in part, 88)
School officials have insisted that the books haven't been banned because they are still available in school libraries. It is irrelevant that the books are available in the library… School officials have removed materials from the curriculum, effectively banning them from certain classes, solely because of their content and the messages they contain. The effort to "prescribe what shall be orthodox in politics, nationalism, [or] religion" is the essence of censorship, whether the impact results in removal of all the books in a classroom, seven books, or only one.

Book-banning and thought control are antithetical to American law, tradition and values… The First Amendment right to read, speak and think freely applies to all, regardless of race, ethnicity, sex, religion, or national origin. 89)


1 “Rejected in Tucson,” Editorial, The Opinion Pages, The New York Times, January 21, 2012.
2 The New York Times, ibid.
3 The New York Times, ibid.
4 “Curriculum Audit of the Mexican American Studies Department, Tucson Unified School District,” Cambium Learning, Inc., May 2, 2011.
5 Cambium Learning, ibid.
6 Cambium Learning, ibid.
7 “Profile in Courage: On Frontlines of Arizona Crisis, Mexican American Studies Director Sean Arce Teached Nation an Enduring Lesson,” Jeff Biggars, Education, The Huffington Post, August 15, 2011.
8 Biggars, ibid.
9 Biggars, ibid.
10 Biggars, ibid.
11 Biggars, ibid.
12 Biggars, ibid.
13 “TUSD Banning Books? Well Yes, and No, and Yes,” Mari Herreras, The Range, Tucson Weekly, January 17, 2012.
14 “Tucson battles Wild West image after shooting,” John D. Sutter, CNN, January 13, 2011.
15 “Activists fire back at Tom Horne for comment over Dolores Huerta,” KVOA, February 23, 2010.
16 “Arizona Bans Ethnic Studies,” Jessica Calefati, Mother Jones, May 12, 2010.
17 “Curriculum Audit of the Mexican American Studies Department, Tucson Unified School District,” Cambium Learning, Inc., May 2, 2011.
18 “Horne resigns from board of ADL,” Deborah Sussman Susser, Jewish News of Greater Phoenix, Volume 62, Number 24, March 5, 2010.
19 Susser, ibid.
20 “Banning ethnic studies won’t end idea,” James E. Garcia, The Arizona Republic, January 24, 2012.
21 “Curriculum Audit of the Mexican American Studies Department, Tucson Unified School District,” Cambium Learning, Inc., May 2, 2011.
22 Cambium Learning, ibid.
23 “Statement of Finding Regarding Tucson Unified School District’s Violation of A.R.S. 15-112,” John Huppenthal, Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction, Department of Education, State of Arizona, 2011.
24 “Arizona’s Attack on Chicano History and Culture is Against Everyone,” Luis J. Rodriguez, Latino Voices, The Hugffington Post, January 18, 2012.
25 “Curriculum Audit of the Mexican American Studies Department, Tucson Unified School District,” Cambium Learning, Inc., May 2, 2011.
26 Cambium Learning, ibid.
27 Cambium Learning, ibid.
28 Cambium Learning, ibid.
29 Cambium Learning, ibid.
30 Cambium Learning, ibid.
31 Cambium Learning, ibid.
32 “Statement of Finding Regarding Tucson Unified School District’s Violation of A.R.S. 15-112,” John Huppenthal, Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction, Department of Education, State of Arizona, 2011.
33 “Arizona’s ‘banned’ Mexican American books,” Roberto Cintli Rodriguez, The Guardian, January 18, 2012.
34 “Statement of Finding Regarding Tucson Unified School District’s Violation of A.R.S. 15-112,” John Huppenthal, Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction, Department of Education, State of Arizona, 2011.
35 “Huppenthal’s conclusion is way off base,” Editorial, The Arizona Star, June 17, 2011.
36 The Arizona Star, ibid.
37 “Tucson Schools Ethnic Studies Program Dismantled, Deemed Illegal,” Education, The Huffington Post, January 11, 2012.
38 “Arizona’s Apartheid War Against Mexican American Studies,” Roberto Rodriquez, TruthOut, January 4, 2012.
39 “Tucson Schools Ethnic Studies Program Dismantled, Deemed Illegal,” Education, The Huffington Post, January 11, 2012.
40 The Huffington Post, ibid.
41 The Huffington Post, ibid.
42 The Huffington Post, ibid.
43 “Debating Tucson School District’s Book Ban After Suspension of Mexican American Studies Program,” Democracy Now, January 18, 2012.
44 Democracy Now!, ibid.
45 Democracy Now!, ibid.
46 “Banning Books in Tucson,” Dennis Bernstein, Consortium News, January 22, 2012.
47 Bernstein, ibid.
48 “Arizona’s ‘banned’ Mexican American books,” Roberto Cintli Rodriquez, The Guardian, January 18, 2012.
49 “Students in walkout suspended,” Alexis Huicochea, The Arizona Daily Star, January 27, 2012.
50 “Arizona’s ‘banned’ Mexican American books,” Roberto Cintli Rodriquez, The Guardian, January 18, 2012.
51 Rodriquez, ibid.
52 “Ethnic book ban even includes Shakespeare,” Rheana Murray, The New York Daily News,January 16, 2012.
53 Murray, ibid.
54 Murray, ibid.
55 “Arizona’s ‘banned’ Mexican American books,” Roberto Cintli Rodriquez, The Guardian, January 18, 2012.
56 Rodriquez, ibid.
57 “Mexican American Studies Department Reading List,” Debbie Reese, American Indians in Children’s Literature, January 15, 2012.
58 “TUSD Banning Books? Well Yes, and No, and Yes,” Mari Herreras, The Range, Tucson Weekly, January 17, 2012.
59 “Tucson says banished books may return to classrooms,” Jeff Biggers, Salon, January 18, 2012.
60 Biggers, ibid.
61 Biggers, ibid.
62 “Banning Books in Tucson,” Dennis Bernstein, Consortium News, January 22, 2012.
63 “TUSD Banning Books? Well Yes, and No, and Yes,” Mari Herreras, The Range, Tucson Weekly, January 17, 2012.
64 “Neo-Raccism in the Southwest,” Jorge Mariscal, Counterpunch, January 18, 2012.
65 “TUSD Banning Books? Well Yes, and No, and Yes,” Mari Herreras, The Range, Tucson Weekly, January 17, 2012.
66 Herreras, ibid.
67 Herreras, ibid.
68 “Neo-Raccism in the Southwest,” Jorge Mariscal, Counterpunch, January 18, 2012.
69 “The ‘Madness’ of the Tucson Book Ban: Interview with Mexican American Studies Teacher Curtis Acosta on ‘The Tempest’,” Jeff Biggars, AlterNet, January 17, 2012.
70 “Neo-Raccism in the Southwest,” Jorge Mariscal, Counterpunch, January 18, 2012.
71 “Attack on Mexican American Studies is shortsighted,” Tom Sheridan, Arizona Daily Star, January 18, 2012.
72 “Arizona’s Attack on Chicano History and Culture is Against Everyone,” Luis J. Rodriguez, Latino Voices, The Huffington Post, January 18, 2012.
73 “Axed Mexican American studies program still polarizing Tucsonans,” Luke Witman, Tucson Examiner, January 15, 2012.
74 Witman, ibid.
75 “Educating for Democracy: Big Brother is Watching in Arizona,” Joel Shatzky, Education, The Huffington Post, January 16, 2012.
76 “Arizona’s Attack on Chicano History and Culture is Against Everyone,” Luis J. Rodriguez, Latino Voices, The Huffington Post, January 18, 2012.
77 “Debating Tucson School District’s Book Ban After Suspension of Mexiacn American Studies Program,” Democracy Now, January 18, 2012.
78 “Profile in Courage: On Frontlines of Arizona Crisis, Mexican American Studies Director Sean Arce Teached Nation an Enduring Lesson,” Jeff Biggars, Education, The Huffington Post, August 15, 2011.
79 “Attack on Mexican American Studies is shortsighted,” Tom Sheridan, Arizona Daily Star, January 18, 2012.
80 “Banning ethnic studies won’t end idea,” James E. Garcia, The Arizona Republic, January 24, 2012.
81 “Neo-Raccism in the Southwest,” Jorge Mariscal, Counterpunch, January 18, 2012.
82 “Attack on Mexican American Studies is shortsighted,” Tom Sheridan, Arizona Daily Star, January 18, 2012.
83 “TUSD Banning Books? Well Yes, and No, and Yes,” Mari Herreras, The Range, Tucson Weekly, January 17, 2012.
84 “Mexican American Studies Legal Update Today,” Mari Herreras, The Range, Tucson Weekly, January 26, 2012.
85 “Resolution Opposing Rewstriction of Access to Materials and Open Inquiry in Ethnic and Cultural Studies Programs in Arizona,” OIF Blog, Office for Intellectual Freedom, American Library Association, January 24, 2012.
86 “MALCS Protests Arizona Ban on Ethnic Studies,” MALCS Executive Committee, Mujeres Talk, Mujeres Activas en Letras y Cambio Social, January 30, 2012.
87 “Resolution Opposing Rewstriction of Access to Materials and Open Inquiry in Ethnic and Cultural Studies Programs in Arizona,” OIF Blog, Office for Intellectual Freedom, American Library Association, January 24, 2012.
88 “Joint Statement in Opposition to Book Censorship in the Tucson Unified Schoold District,” American Booksellers Foundation for Free Expression, January 30, 2012.
89 American Booksellers Foundation for Free Expression, ibid.

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