Saturday, January 28, 2012

Jan 28 Updates regarding shut-down of Mexican American Studies program 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.]


Below is Curtis Acosta's January 26, 2012 update from Tucson. Acosta is a teacher in the now-shuttered Mexican American Studies Department in Tucson Unified School District.

Norma Gonzales
In his letter, Acosta writes about his colleague, Norma Gonzales, and her experiences over the last few days. In addition to teaching literature at the high school level, Gonzales worked with elementary school teachers in TUSD, helping them bring Mexican American content into their teaching. She also did art projects with students at Wakefield Middle School.

On January 24th, students at Wakefield participated in a walkout. They were subsequently suspended. Rather than stay home on Thursday, January 26th, they spent the day attending Mexican American Studies classes at the University of Arizona, including Roberto Rodriguez's class. Among the speakers Rodriguez had lined up for that day was Simon J. Ortiz of Acoma Pueblo. Rodriguez has been writing about the attacks on the MAS at TUSD for some time at his blog. In his post on Thursday, he writes that just as his class ended that day, they learned that the suspension of the students had been lifted.

The Three Sonorans YouTube Channel uploaded a twelve-minute video of interviews with the middle school students. I'm sharing it below and urge you to watch the entire video.

Here is Acosta's letter, titled "Behind the Curtain in Tucson". He concludes with a reference to students in the video.

Thank you all for your patience this morning with the earlier message, and I hope this latest update on what my colleagues and I are experiencing in Tucson find you well.

Unfortunately, there has been little guidance and movement toward how my colleagues and I are to move forward in the development of brand new curriculum and the pedagogical changes that must be made. As I wrote to you all last week, anything from the Mexican American Studies perspective is now illegal for the former MAS teachers. We are being asked to use the district adopted textbooks as the model for how to move forward. We have been told that we can still teach about race and sensitive topics, which is contradiction to earlier direction from our school/site administrators, but we must be balanced and cannot reflect MAS perspectives, although this has yet to be defined.

In fact, Norma Gonzalez (one of my MAS colleagues) was specifically told that she “CANNOT teach or discuss in class anything that is specific towards the culture and background of Mexican American Students.” This is an exact quote from her administrator. She was also asked to leave the middle school site that she is currently teaching and forced to abandon all her current students. Norma's mere presence at her school is seen as unbearable to her administration regardless of her quality work, dedication to her classes and amazing relationships she creates with her students. This is the damage being displayed in our classrooms in order to fall in line with the political motivations behind destroying our program. 

What is troubling for all of us is the fact that we have always been balanced, encouraged students to engage in critical thought, and embraced diverse voices and viewpoints throughout our curriculum and pedagogy. The direction from the district implies the opposite regardless of the many audits and observations that have proven otherwise.

To put this in a more concrete way, my classes were designed in a way that showed multiple perspectives and voices. Here is a short list of authors who are not Mexican that I use: Sherman Alexie, Jane Yolen, Junot Díaz, David Berliner, Angela Davis, Pat Buchanan, Ofelia Zepeda, Malcolm X, Maxine Hong Kingston, Jonathan Kozol, and Martin Luther King Jr. 

This is critical since we see a common theme that administration across the district have told my colleagues and myself - we are all to avoid Mexican work and perspectives at all costs. However, these authors are a part of the same censored, banned, or illegal curriculum and this surely means we must abandon these authors and this curriculum, too. We are also forbidden to use the critical lenses to view the work which challenge students to develop academically credible arguments in order to support their own views.

Thus, when they tell us we may move forward and develop multicultural curriculum it feels like we are being set-up to fail. The district has been caught in so much double speak and contradictory language they have no idea how to move forward, and we have no confidence in trusting them as they give advice. As I have mentioned in other interviews I do not feel safe teaching The Tempest or "Beyond Vietnam" by Dr. King as I normally have for years since it is clear that the district wants us to not only abandon the history and culture of Mexican Americans, but also the curriculum and pedagogy developed by Mexican American teachers. The only safe route appears for us to flee from any history or voices of color, authors that echo the themes that we had used in the past, and embrace curriculum that does not venture down those pathways. In other words, for my colleagues and I we must step back in the time machine to Pleasantville.

We are working without a net and there have been credible claims that two TUSD Governing Board members have told our district superintendent that any violations by teachers should be disciplined harshly and immediately. Thus, my colleagues and I feel that our jobs are very much on the line, and we have not been given any reassurance through specific criteria in curriculum and pedagogy of what is to be avoided and how we can confidently move forward with our students.

Yet our students remain dedicated to the restoration of the program and to have their voices heard. This week many of them participated in walkouts and an Ethnic Studies School was created for a day by the youth of UNIDOS, where many community members and professors from the University of Arizona donated their time to teach the youth. Above all else it is their education that matters, and this massive disruption in their lives and schooling is clear proof of how their futures have been dismissed and marginalized by local and state officials. The good news is that they are resilient and we all will continue to ensure that their future dreams are not compromised by the pettiness and spite of the tragic few that made this deplorable and shameful decision.

In Lak Ech,
Curtis Acosta

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.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

AICL Coverage of Arizona Law that resulted in shut down of Mexican American Studies Program and Banning of Books

This is a comprehensive set of links to AICL's coverage of the Arizona law that led to the shut down of the Mexican American Studies Program in Arizona and the subsequent banning of books used in the program. It will be updated as my coverage continues.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Friday, January 20, 2012

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Monday, January 23, 2012

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Friday, January 27, 2012

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Monday, January 30, 2012 

Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Friday, February 3, 2012

Monday, February 6, 2012

Friday, February 10, 2012

Sunday, February 12,  2012

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Wednesday, February 22nd, 2012

Thursday, February 23rd, 2012

Friday, February 24th, 2012

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Thursday, March 8, 2012
Monday, May 7, 2012

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Thursday,  June 6, 2013

Additional information outside of AICL:

For insider updates from Tucson, read these blogs (on a daily basis):
Tuesday, January 24, 2012:
Wednesday, January 25, 2012:
  • CNN is reporting that Norma Gonzales, a teacher who taught in the MAS program, has been reassigned to teach American history and was asked to teach out of a textbook that says the Tohono O'odham tribe mysteriously disappeared. She has two Tohono O'odham students in her class. Among the books no longer being taught in the shut down MAS program is Ofelia Zepeda's Ocean Power. Zepeda is Tohono O'odham, teaches in the American Indian Studies program at the University of Arizona, and won a MacArthur Genius Grant.
Monday, January 30, 2012:

Efforts to support Mexican American Studies teachers and students:
To order a copy of Precious Knowledge, a documentary of the Mexican American Studies program (view trailer here):
  1. Send an email to
  2. Send a check made out to DOS VATOS PRODUCTIONS to:
Dos Vatos Productions
4029 E. Camino de la Colina
Tucson, AZ 85711
The DVD is priced as follows---Individual: $28, Community Group, High School, Public Library, Non-profit: $40, University and public performance rights: $200

Curtis Acosta's letter

Curtis Acosta
 [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.]


Curtis Acosta, one of the teachers who taught in the Mexican American Studies program at Tucson Unified School District, gave me permission to reproduce the following letter. It was published on January 23, 2012 at the Rethinking Schools blog.

As you read his letter, note the duress the teachers are working under, and look at the way his teaching must be stripped of anything that might be construed as "promoting resentment" and therefore a violation of the law.  At the bottom of his letter, I'm reposting an audio recording (presented in video format) of his meeting with administrators regarding how he can and cannot teach The Tempest. 

Acosta's photo is the one used at the Save Ethnic Studies website. At the site are bios of the teachers in the program. This is the group photo used on the site:

I encourage you to visit the site. Read their bios, and if you have time, download and read all the documentation they have compiled there. There are no documents uploaded after November 22, 2011. Prior to that they were uploading a lot of material. I suspect that they are overwhelmed and unable to post anything since then.
Curtis Acosta's letter:

To my friends and all our supporters,

Let me try a few cleansing breaths before all of this.

First, I am deeply moved by the love, commitment and creativity to help honor our plight and support our fight. Thank you all so much and I apologize to all of my friends who I have not responded to as of yet. We all are overwhelmed here in Tucson and I need a new email system for organizing all the love. Muchismas gracias y Tlazocamatli.

This week has provided more challenges. The teachers have still not received specific guidelines for curriculum and pedagogical changes that need to be made in order to be in compliance of the law. TUSD leadership has asked the site administrators on each campus where our classes are taught to lead the process which means that my colleagues and I are all separated from each other, and have not yet come together as a group since the destruction of our program. It also is a way to divide and conquer since we are all struggling at our individual sites for clarity and consistency.

To be more specific, I meet alone with my site administration, with only my union representative as support, but separated from my MAS colleagues who also work at my school. The district leadership has done this move to wash their hands of us and any accountability to us. However, they continue to send out press releases that claim that books that are now boxed in a warehouse are not banned, and that anyone can teach critical issues like race, ethnicity, oppression, and cultura, but do not mention the exception being the censored teachers in the MAS program. The double speak is unseemly and lacks honor. I am so happy that our friends around the nation are holding them accountable since the power structure in Tucson has made sure the local media tows the line. This has been the case for years.

What I can tell you is that TUSD has decreed that anything taught from a Mexican American Studies perspective is illegal and must be eliminated immediately. Of course, they have yet to define what that means, but here’s an example of what happened to an essay prompt that I had distributed prior to January 10th.

{Chicano playwright Luis Valdez once stated that his art was meant to, “…inspire the audience to social action. Illuminate specific points about social problems. Satirize the opposition. Show or hint at a solution. Express what people are feeling.” The novel So Far From God presents many moments of social and political commentary.} Select an issue that you believe Ana Castillo was attempting to illuminate for her audience and write a literary analysis of how that theme is explored in the novel. Remember to use direct citations from the novel to support your ideas and theories.

{Culture can play a significant role within a work of fiction. For generations in this country, the literature studied in English or literature classes rarely represented the lives and history of Mexican-Americans.} In a formal literary analysis, discuss what makes So Far From God a Chican@ novel and how this might influence the experience of the reader. Remember to use direct citations from the novel to support your ideas and theories.

The brackets indicate what I had to edit since the statements were found to be too leading toward a Mexican American Studies perspective. In plainer terms, they are illegal and out of compliance. A quote from a great literary figure, Luis Valdez, is now illegal, and a fact about education in our nation’s history is also illegal.

You can imagine how we are feeling, especially without any clear guidance to what is now legal and what is not, and what makes matters worse is that TUSD expects us to move forward and redesign our entire curriculum and pedagogy to be in compliance.

I cannot speak for all my colleagues but it has become clear to me that I must abandon nearly everything I used to do in the classroom and become “born again” as a teacher. At least for the foreseeable future, since the list of individuals that are waiting to pounce upon us at our first wrong step is long and filled with powerful figures.

However, we have not lost faith that we will overcome all of these atrocious, absurd, and abusive actions to our students and to learning environment centered upon love and academic excellence. Our students have already learned so much this year and this process is teaching them so much more. They are restless, ready to act and eager for their voices to be heard, and our community is equally supportive to their desires. Our lawsuit moves forward and the unconstitutionality of the law will be debated before Judge A. Wallace Tashima. Three of the four men who voted to disband our program will be accountable on November 6th since their seats on the school board are up this election. We are strong in spirit that a better day is ahead.

Lastly, there has been an idea put forward by my good friends, Tara Mack and Keith Catone, that there should be a national day of solidarity where teachers would teach our curriculum all over the nation. I will be discussing this with my colleagues in MAS this weekend and then to Tara and Keith. They have been amazing and fired-up to help, but I have had to navigate the Tempest in our classrooms and schools before more specifics come your way. The first day we are to be officially in compliance is February 1st, so that may be a wonderful, symbolic day to keep our spirit alive through the nation.

Curtis Acosta
Chican@/Latin@ Literature Teacher (forever in mind and in spirit)

Listen to Curtis Acosta's meeting with school administrators as they discuss how he can and cannot teach The Tempest. 

Monday, January 23, 2012

Tweeting Tucson events

As I write (11:31 AM, CST, January 23, 2012), students are walking out of Tucson Unified School District's high schools. They are walking to a rally during which Arizona legislators will announce a bill to repeal the one passed last year that has resulted in an end of the Mexican American Studies program.

At noon CST, Simon Ortiz, author of The People Shall Continue and Winona LaDuke will be on Native America Calling.

I am tweeting these two developments. My twitter ID is debreese.

You can also follow the walkout by going to the Facebook page of DA Morales, or following his blog posts at Three Sonorans, or, by following his Twitter feed: ThreeSonorans.

AICL Coverage of Arizona Law that resulted in shut down of Mexican American Studies Program and Banning of Books

Stegeman's January 22, 2012 letter

[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.]

David Safier, a blogger at Blog for Arizona, posted a letter Mark Stegeman (President of the Governing Board, Tucson Unified School District), sent out yesterday. It raises more questions than it answers about the Mexican American Studies (MAS) program.

To get around the fact that three of the books that were removed actually had approval for use, Stegeman now says that the curriculum itself was never approved. That may, in fact, be the case, but I hope that Stegeman is applying that curriculum approval process in an even-handed manner. Has the curriculum for all their programs been through the curriculum approval process? All along, students have been noting that it is only the MAS program that is being scrutinized. If I walked into the TUSD offices, would I be able to see a document that approved the Native American Studies program? What about the curriculum at the college prep school?

That said, there is research data that demonstrates that students who took MAS classes are succeeding in school (see data on page 44). Their attendance is better. Their grades are better. And they graduate at higher rates than students who have not taken the classes. The independent audit of the program recommended it continue. 

With research that demonstrates the success of the program, it seems to me that an educational leader would say "hey, lets fast track the approval of the curriculum and make it more widely available at all the schools so more students can start doing better in school."

Instead, TUSD voted to end the program rather than fight the political machine in Arizona. As he says in his letter, they're going to revise the social studies core curriculum, making sure that Mexican American history and culture will be covered. This time, he says, they "want to get it right."

Based on everything I've learned about him, I'm doubtful that they will ever "get it right." At the end of his letter, he says developing this core curriculum will be a long process and that he does not expect it to happen any time soon. Again, with research based evidence that demonstrates the success of the program, it seems to me that it would be smart to use the MAS curriculum as the core.


January 22, 2012
Dear friends and correspondents,

Because of the recent media attention on TUSD’s “book ban,” it seems useful to clarify that situation.  TUSD also issued a press release on this subject several days ago, which is posted on the district website.

Every district in the state approves curriculum according to a process guided by statute and local policy, and approving the books to be used is part of that process.  Through such processes a typical district might approve several hundred books for use in instruction.  This leaves millions of books not approved for instruction; it would be silly to say that all of those books are “banned.”

When the TUSD board voted (4-1) to end the Mexican-American Studies (MAS) curriculum, ending use of the books had to be part of that package.  Staff says that the seven titles removed from classrooms and placed into storage are still available in school libraries, and I expect many of the books in storage to be distributed to libraries where they are not already available. 

Because MAS did not actually have a board-approved curriculum, it was not immediately obvious which books to remove, but the staff took guidance from the evidence presented during the hearing on TUSD’s appeal of Huppenthal’s finding against the district.  Because one motivation for the board’s vote to end the MAS classes was to forestall the substantial financial penalty which the ADE threatened to impose, it made sense to remove the books which helped to provide the basis for that finding.

The seven removed books are: 

    Occupied America: A History of Chicanos - Rodolfo Acuña

    Rethinking Columbus: The next 500 Years - Bill Bigelow

    Critical Race Theory - Richard Delgado

    Pedagogy of the Oppressed - Paulo Freire
    Message to AZTLAN - Rodolfo Gonzales

    500 Years of Chicano History in Pictures - Elizabeth Martinez (ed.)

    Chicano! The History of the Mexican Civil Rights Movement - Arturo Rosales

I am not aware of any other school district in Arizona which has approved these books for use in instruction.  If anyone knows of such approvals, then I would be interested to hear about them. 

Shakespeare’s The Tempest is not on this list and never was, despite some media accounts to the contrary.  Instructors are free to use it. 

In the resolution which ended the MAS program, the TUSD board also said:

“The district shall revise its social studies core curriculum to increase its coverage of Mexican-American history and culture, including a balanced presentation of diverse viewpoints on controversial issues.  The end result shall be a single common social studies core sequence through which all high school students are exposed to diverse viewpoints.”

When staff brings this new curriculum to the board, it may or may not recommend that some of the seven books be approved for use in that new curriculum.  I do not expect this to happen any time soon, however.  Developing the new curriculum will be a long process, which will include community input.  Obviously, this time, we want to get it right.

Thank you for your continued interest in TUSD.  The MAS issue has been a long-running distraction for the district, far out of proportion to the small number of students in the MAS courses (currently fewer than 300).  Bringing that issue to closure will increase our capacity to focus on the many large reforms necessary to improve education in TUSD, for all students.


AICL Coverage of Arizona Law that resulted in shut down of Mexican American Studies Program and Banning of Books

Sunday, January 22, 2012

ALA Midwinter Discussions of Tucson Ban of Mexican American Studies Covered by CNN

[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.]

Today (Sunday, January 22, 2012), one of CNN's bloggers covered the banning of the Mexican American Studies Program at Tucson.  Stephanie Siek (the reporter) talked to Barbara Jones:

Barbara Jones, director of the American Library Association's Office of Intellectual Freedom, said the removal of the books was a big topic of discussion at the association’s 2012 midwinter meeting, which began last Thursday in Dallas. Groups including REFORMA, the Latino librarians' group, the American Indian Librarians' Association and the Intellectual Freedom Committee planned to respond and a coalition of civil liberties groups were researching possible legal action and expecting to release a statement this week, Jones said.

Regardless of the words the district used, Jones said, it's actions restricted access to books, which leads to censorship.

"We're gathering facts. Right now it looks like it's just the curriculum that’s affected and not school libraries," Jones said. "But we know from experience this will eventually affect books in the library."
Siek writes:
District leaders said they aren't banning the books, but have removed them from classrooms while their content is evaluated.
While their content is evaluated?! I thought the contents had already been evaluated and found to be guilty of "promoting resentment of a class of people"!

And yet, Siek writes, Stegeman (President of the TUSD governing board) said that the books might be brought back into the classroom after a review, and that the review might be completed by the end of the summer!

Isn't that contradictory? Did the books get reviewed or not? Is someone going to change his or her mind and decide that the content of the books does not "promote resentment of a class of people"???

For a video and more details, see How Tucson Schools Changed after Mexican American Studies Ban.

AICL Coverage of Arizona Law that resulted in shut down of Mexican American Studies Program and Banning of Books

Progressive Libriarian's Guild: Statement on Censorship and the 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 January 21, 2012, the Progressive Library Guild issued the following statement on Censorship and the Tucson Unified School District. Kudos to the Guild for this outstanding and well-researched statement.


PLG Statement on Censorship and the Tucson Unified School District

Recent media reports regarding the mass removal of books from classrooms in the Tucson Unified School District (TUSD) demand a response from librarians, charged by our professional ethics to oppose censorship and restriction on information.  

After reviewing publicly available materials documenting the process leading up to this TUSD action, the Progressive Librarians Guild believes a challenge should be issued regarding not only the onerous situation, but the politics underlying the decision to cut District’s Mexican American Studies program (MAS) program.

At issue is the supposed violation by TUSD of Arizona state law prohibiting classes in public or charter schools from instructions that:

1.   Promote the overthrow of the United States Government
2.   Promote resentment toward a race or class of people
3.   Are designed primarily for pupils of a particular ethnic group.
4.   Advocate ethnic solidarity instead of the treatment of pupils as individuals.
A.R.S. §15-112

The books in question include the following titles used in conjunction with courses taught throughout the TUSD as part of the District’s MAS program:

Critical Race Theory by Richard Delgado

500 Years of Chicano History in Pictures edited by Elizabeth Martinez

Message to AZTLAN by Rodolfo Corky Gonzales

Chicano! The History of the Mexican Civil Rights Movement by Arturo Rosales

Occupied America: A History of Chicanos by Rodolfo Acuna

Pedagogy of the Oppressed by Paulo Freire

Rethinking Columbus: The Next 500 Years by Bill Bigelow

On December 27, 2011, Lewis D. Kowal, Administrative Law Judge, ruled in favor of Arizona’s Department of Education Superintendent’s allegation that MAS courses violated the law, and on January 10, 2012, the Board of TUSD passed a resolution requiring the immediate suspension of MAS classes.  Had TUSD not suspended the program state funds would have been withdrawn from the District. 

The Board’s resolution did not address the removal of books from classrooms, yet TUSD officials removed and stored books even while one class was in session. News of this mass removal of books from schools traveled, and TUSD found itself confronted with accusations that it had “banned books” from the schools. 

On January 17, 2012, the District issued a statement saying, “Tucson Unified School District has not banned any books as has been widely and incorrectly reported.”  The press release described the removal as simply a move of the books to storage and further noted that all of the titles removed from classrooms were available to students through TUSD school libraries.  A check of the online catalog verified that at least one copy of each title is, indeed, available.

The fact that these titles are available through the school libraries has minimal bearing, however, on the extreme and censorious behavior of school officials in at least three respects:

1.   Neither A.R.S. §15-112 nor the TUSD Board resolution requires the removal of books in order to set the District into compliance with the law.

2.   The act of removing books from a classroom during a class session clearly has a chilling effect on students and the entire educational community. Further, removal of materials from classrooms impinges on teacher freedom of speech.

3.   TUSD can quibble over whether or not it banned any books, but it certainly cannot state that it did not ban all the courses being taught through the MAS program.  Compliance with the order to suspend the program is in itself an act of censorship and a violation of academic freedom.

Regarding the political aspects of this situation, A.R.S. §15-112 was signed into law in the spring of 2010 on the heels of the state’s anti-immigration law, considered by many to be racist and neocolonial.  The law is currently being reviewed by the U.S. Supreme Court.  PLG considers A.R.S. §15-112 to have arisen from a climate of racist sentiment among lawmakers in the State of Arizona.  This sentiment has been promoted by Judge Kowal in his siding with Department of Education expert witnesses against TUSD and MAS, which placed TUSD “between a rock and a hard place” – either suspend MAS or lose state funding for the entire school district.  Given the budgetary problems facing school districts across the nation, TUSD’s decision to sacrifice MAS over funding is understandable, but unacceptable.

TUSD is aware its MAS program did not teach “racial resentment” but historical literacy. It is also is aware there is absolutely nothing in the MAS curriculum that affronts civic values or clashes with classes that teach “ethnic solidarity.”  In the face of absurd, draconian laws, the only ethical position to take is one of complete opposition.  Today’s capitulation to A.R.S. §15-112 will be tomorrow’s capitulation to the next absurd, racist law enacted by the Arizona legislature.  The law should be abolished.

The Progressive Librarians Guild opposes the actions of all officials in the State of Arizona responsible for the passage, enforcement, and/or compliance with A.R.S. §15-112. 
Progressive Librarians Guild, Coordinating Committee (PLG-CC)
January 21, 2012

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AICL Coverage of Arizona Law that resulted in shut down of Mexican American Studies Program and Banning of Books