Sunday, February 12, 2012

Critical thinking about Thanksgiving? Not allowed in 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 their website, Tucsonans United for Sound Districts (TU4SD) posted a series of items taught in the now-banned Mexican American Studies program in Tucson's public school district.

The first is Robert Jensen's "No Thanks to Thanksgiving", published at AlterNet on November 23, 2005.  Jensen is a journalism professor at the University of Texas at Austin. He writes:
In the United States, we hear constantly about the deep wisdom of the founding fathers, the adventurous spirit of the early explorers, the gritty determination of those who "settled" the country -- and about how crucial it is for children to learn these things.

But when one brings into historical discussions any facts and interpretations that contest the celebratory story and make people uncomfortable...
Reading his words reminds me of the things that John Huppenthal, Arizona's Superintendent of Public Instruction said on NPR on January 18th, 2012. He says he was "challenged" to visit a classroom. Maybe he was invited. Here's what he said on NPR:
And one of the students challenged me. Come on down to our class and sit in our class, so I sat down in the class and up on the wall there's a poster of Che Guevara, and I said - well documented historical fact – Che Guevara helped run the communist death camps. They put 14,000 people to death down there, many of whom their only violation was free speech violation. So you're sort of glorifying him by having that romantic picture of him up there.

Simultaneously one of the creators of Mexican-American studies, right while I'm in there, characterizes Benjamin Franklin as a racist. So I'm, whoa, time out. Benjamin Franklin was the president of the Abolitionist Society in Pennsylvania. Directly he argued and was successful at making Pennsylvania the very first state to ban the slave trade.

Huppenthal was definitely uncomfortable with a full picture of Benjamin Franklin, and I have no doubt he'd object strenuously to Jensen's essay, too.

The second item on TU4SD's site is from Rethinking Columbus, one of the books the district "boxed" up and removed from classrooms because, they assert, the courses are no longer being taught, and the books are no longer needed.  The item is "Plagues & Pilgrims: The Truth about the First Thanksgiving" by James W. Loewen.

Loewen's article begins with:
Textbooks spin happy yarns about the Pilgrims and the "First Thanksgiving." Here's is the version in one high-school history, The American Tradition: 
He quotes from that history text and then does analysis of Thanksgiving and how it is presented in history texts.

These two items are at the top of the list at the TU4SD site. Seems to me members of TU4SD put them at the top because they find those two particular lessons especially inappropriate. Critical thinking about Thanksgiving...  No way! Not in Tucson.

District officials say it isn't the books themselves that are the problem. If that was the case, they could have left those books in the classrooms. District officials say it was the way the Mexican American Studies teachers were teaching the material in the books that is the problem.  Other teachers, apparently, weren't committing the violations the MAS teachers were.

I think those who shut down the program are ignorant of what is taught in schools. I wonder if any teachers in the district use Michael Dorris's Guests or Morning Girl. Both are the perspective of Native children who observe newcomers to their lands. I wonder if any teachers use Louise Erdrich's Birchbark House? It, too, offers a Native perspective on those newcomers.

Political leaders in the state of Arizona, speaking from their officially elected positions, have said that the reason they targeted the MAS program and not the other ethnic studies programs is that nobody complained about the other ones.

Complaints led to the dismantling of the MAS program. What else is at risk? Who else is at risk? If I was an elementary school teacher there, I'd be very worried about my job and my curriculum.

1 comment:

Doret said...

Debbie thanks for continuing to report on what's going on in Tuscon. I am still waiting for the day when I come here that the MAS has been reinstated. But that seems less likely everyday.

There are many different sides to history and students have a right to be exposed to them.