Friday, January 27, 2012

Nation-wide responses to the shut-down of the Mexican American Studies Department at Tucson Unified School District

 [Note: A chronological list of links to AICL's coverage of the shut-down of the Mexican American Studies Department at Tucson Unified School District is here. Information about the national Mexican American Studies Teach-in is here. The best source for daily updates out of Tucson is blogger David Abie Morales at Three Sonorans.]

On Tuesday, January 24, 2012, the American Library Association issued a resolution condemning what is happening in Tucson Unified School District (TUSD) and calling for the law that banned Mexican American Studies to be repealed.

However, the harsh reality in Arizona is that the Republicans hold a super majority. They passed the law banning ethnic studies, and the newly introduced bill calling for its repeal is not likely to be passed.

Meanwhile, Tom Horne, the Attorney General for the State of Arizona continued misrepresenting the program in the US and abroad. He gave an interview on BBC in which he said that students in TUSD are divided by race. He said "if you're this race you take this class. If you're that race, you take that class." That is not true. Students from several racial groups have taken classes offered in the program. Last year, John Huppenthal, Arizona's Superintendent of Public Instruction, hired an independent firm to conduct an audit of the program. The audit includes information about the ethnicity of students who have taken MAS courses as follows:
  • Hispanic, 90%
  • White/Anglo, 5%
  • Native American, 2%
  • African American, 1.5%
  • Asian American and Multi-racial, just under 0.50%
The audit also found improvements in school attendance, grades, and graduation rates of students of all races who were taking classes in MAS.

State level politics in Arizona are driving the shut-down of the program. For background and analysis, I recommend you go to Huffington Post (start with the article dated January 25) and read all the stories Jeff Biggers has written over the last few years. Use the "Mexican American Studies" tag to find them.

Attacks on, and misinformation about, the MAS program in Arizona are not an isolated case. Too many of us express outrage when we learn about this, but, we've got to do more than express outrage! Outrage doesn't stop what is happening. Actions are what is needed. 

A few days ago, CNN ran a story that the United States Congressional Hispanic Caucus is asking for an investigation of the law that banned the MAS program.

The CNN story also includes information about how the program's shut-down is playing out on the lives of students and teachers who were in, or teaching, MAS classes when they were shut down. Imagine being given 48 hours to rewrite your lesson plans and curriculum so that it is stripped of anything that you did from a Mexican American perspective.  Here's two examples:
  • Norma Gonzales, a teacher who taught Mexican American History was reassigned to teach American History and given a textbook that says that the Tohono O'odham people mysteriously vanished. She has two Tohono O'odham students in her class. Ironically, students who took the Mexican American Literature courses read Ofelia Zepeda's Ocean Power. She is Tohono O'odham and received the MacArthur Genius Grant for her work. In MAS, curriculum reflected who they are. In the core curriculum, they have "mysteriously disappeared."
  • Curtis Acosta, a teacher who taught Mexican American Literature, had a meeting with district administrators. Listen to the audio of Acosta being told how he can and cannot teach The Tempest.

As news spread about the banning of books in TUSD spread across the country, people asked what they could do to help. There are several initiatives in progress.


In Tucson, students walked out of classes on Tuesday and held an Ethnic Studies Teach-In off school grounds. Some were suspended for walking out, and rather than stay home yesterday, they attended Mexican American courses at the University of Arizona. Those are localized educational responses to the shut-down of their classes.

A nation-wide educational response in the form of a National Teach-In will take place on February 1st. Some things people can do include the following:
  • View excerpts--specially selected for the Teach In--from Precious Knowledge, the documentary about the MAS program that will be aired on PBS in May.
  • In elementary classrooms or library read-alouds to elementary-aged children, tead aloud from one of the picture books used in the MAS program. Two suggestions are Pam Mora's The Desert is My Mother, Gary Soto's Snapshots from the Wedding.  
  • With older students, introduce them to Matt de la Pena's Mexican WhiteBoy or Sandra Cisnero's House on Mango Street. 
  • Share what you know with your family, friends, and colleagues. 
  • Purchase a copy of Rethinking Columbus or one of the other books that was boxed up and removed from classrooms, or, one of the books that was used in the program.
  • Purchase a copy of Precious Knowledge. To order, write to (Individual copy is $28. Public library copy is $40. Rights for university or public performance are $200.)
  • Sign the petition set up by Norma Gonzales. She taught in the MAS program.
  • Donate to the fund to support the work to fight the ban.
Another option is to watch "A Teach-in on Tucson" that will take place at Georgia State University's College of Education. Portions of it will be streamed online. Initial information is here. The flier for the event is shown below. I'll share more information on the Teach In as I learn more details. 

In addition to the educational teach ins, there are other ways people are pushing back on the shut-down of the program. I will add others as I find them, and I invite you to send me information about other initiatives that you know about.
  • Librotraficante is a planned caravan in which carloads of banned books will be driven from Texas to Arizona.
  • At Banning History in Arizona, you can submit a video of yourself reading from one of the banned books.


Anonymous said...

There will be a read-in in front of the Arizona Department of Education on Monday, January 30, from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. Visit Occupy Books on Facebook for more information.

Anonymous said...

I have a question. Does the ethnic breakdown of the MAS classes match the demographics of the area? If not, then I agree that the class is dividing the students. What classes have a majority white enrollment? I think all students should have the opportunity to take the classes and the enrollment numbers don't seem to show that happening.

Debbie Reese said...

There are more Mexican American students in the district than any other demographic. The school that has a majority white enrollment is University High School, which is a college-prep school. It receives a lot more funding per student than is the case in other schools.

The MAS classes are open to everyone, but, there aren't that many of them offered.

Based on federal court findings regarding the school's efforts to desegregate, the school district was supposed to expand the offerings but that did not happen.

If you go online for the live stream at 11:00 Eastern time today, you can ask the two MAS teachers your questions.

Anonymous said...

Are the MAS courses also offered at University High School?

Debbie Reese said...

Anonymous on Feb 6:

I'm looking at a chart titled "TUSD MASD High School Class Enrollment, 2011-2012" which lists the following schools:

Catalina High Magnet School
Cholla High Magnet School
Palo Verde High Magnet School
Pueblo High Magnet School
Rincon High School
Tucson High Magnet School

I don't see University High listed, so at least for this academic year, I think the answer to your question is no.

Anonymous said...

I left an earlier comment that hasn't been posted. So these classes were not offered at the majority white high school. That to me seems to be dividing the students and is one argument TUSD used for stopping the program. Am I wrong in this assumption?

Debbie Reese said...

I think you're right, Anonymous.

For over 30 years, TUSD has been under a desegregation order.