Tuesday, January 31, 2012

American Indian Library Association Statement on Ethnic Studies Programs in Arizona

 [Note: For a chronological and comprehensive list of links to AICL's coverage of the shut-down of the Mexican American Studies Department at Tucson Unified School District, go here. To go right to information about the National Mexican American Studies Teach-in, go here. The best source for daily updates out of Tucson is blogger David Abie Morales at Three Sonorans.]

American Indian Library Association Statement on Ethnic Studies Programs in Arizona

The American Indian Library Association (AILA) wishes to publicly express its strong disapproval of the elimination of the Tucson Unified School District (TUSD) Mexican American Studies classes and removal of books associated with the program due to the State of Arizona Revised Statutes Sections 15-111 and 15-112. We write this statement in support of all students, educators, and families who have been negatively affected by this action.
All students have the right to develop critical thinking skills through a challenging curriculum. All students, regardless of their background, have the right to learn about the history of their own people, as well as the history of the land and peoples where they are currently living. In Tucson, this should include the history and literature of Mexican American people as well as the Tohono O'odham and Pascua Yaqui peoples. The targeting of one ethnic group is an attack on all ethnic groups, and the elimination of a curriculum and books that encourage students to consider the perspectives of those who are often silenced should be a concern to all humanity.
The teaching of Mexican American studies cannot be separated from the teaching of the history of the Indigenous peoples who inhabited this land long before the arrival of Europeans. Indigenous communities have been artificially bisected by the US-Mexico border. People from these communities may speak Spanish, English, as well as their Indigenous languages. Their histories, their stories, and discussion of their contemporary issues have a place in our classrooms and libraries. The curriculum that has been banned in Tucson includes works written by highly acclaimed authors and Tucson residents Ofelia Zepeda (Tohono O'odham) and Leslie Marmon Silko (Laguna Pueblo), in addition to a number of other Native American authors. The censorship of Native voices due to the prohibition of the Mexican American Studies curriculum is part of what prompts the American Indian Library Association to take a stand on this issue.
The systematic banning of ethnic studies and the discouragement of students learning about their own histories is reminiscent of the US federal government’s educational philosophy towards American Indians. As Native Americans, we have witnessed the destructive policies of the federal government in which Indian children were denied knowledge of their own cultures, histories, and languages through the abhorrent practices of the boarding schools and, later, through western educational systems. Because of this history, many Native Americans continue to struggle to maintain the knowledge of our elders and ancestors.
We have rights under the United Nations Declaration of Rights of Indigenous Peoples, and we assert that Arizona state law is in violation of these rights.  Under Article 8, the UN Declaration says, “States shall provide effective mechanisms for prevention of, and redress for:
(a) Any action which has the aim or effect of depriving them of their integrity as distinct peoples, or of their cultural values or ethnic identities; . . .
(d) Any form of forced assimilation or integration;
(e) Any form of propaganda designed to promote or incite racial or ethnic discrimination directed against them.”
The banning of the Mexican American ethnic studies curriculum is in effect denying the students the opportunity to learn about their cultural values and identities as Indigenous peoples.
The American Indian Library Association supports the January 2012 American Library Association Resolution that*
1.     Condemns the suppression of open inquiry and free expression caused by closure of ethnic and cultural studies programs on the basis of partisan or doctrinal disapproval.
2.     Condemns the restriction of access to educational materials associated with ethnic and cultural studies programs.
3.     Urges the Arizona legislature to pass HB 2654, “An Act Repealing Sections 15-111 and 15-112, Arizona Revised Statutes; Relating to School Curriculum.”
The American Indian Library Association worked alongside a number of ALA committees, offices, and affiliates to draft the above mentioned resolution, including the ALA Office for Intellectual Freedom, ALA Committee on Diversity, ALA Committee on Legislation, American Association of School Librarians, Asian Pacific American Librarians Association, Black Caucus of the American Library Association, Chinese American Library Association, Intellectual Freedom Round Table, REFORMA: The National Association to Promote Library & Information Services to Latinos and the Spanish Speaking, Social Responsibilities Round Table, and the Young Adult Library Services Association. We urge other national associations to also take a stand on this issue, particularly other national and international groups with a focus on Indigenous, tribal, Native American, and American Indian communities.
While the issue in Tucson, Arizona may seem to be limited to the Mexican-American population, we recognize that Tucson, and the surrounding area, is home to several Indigenous groups, including the Tohono O'odham and Pascua Yaqui, and many students in this school district identify as Native American. According to TUSD enrollment statistics, 4% of students in the district are Native American, with most students identified as Tohono O'odham, Yaqui, and Navajo.  Additionally, according to the independent audit of the disbanded Mexican American Studies program, conducted by Cambium Learning, Inc., 2% of the students who were enrolled in the program are Native American.
As a membership action group, AILA's focus is on the library-related needs of American Indians and Alaska Natives, including the improvement of library, cultural, and information services in schools and public and research libraries. As librarians and educators, and members of the American Indian Library Association, we write this statement in support of culturally based curriculum that includes libraries as institutions that can freely disseminate information about cultures, languages, and values to the community.
American Indian Library Association, January 31, 2012
Contact:  Sandy Littletree, 2011-2012 AILA President, Sandy505@email.arizona.edu
Cambium Learning, Inc. “Curriculum Audit of the Mexican American Studies Department Tucson Unified School District,” 2 May 2011.  http://www.scribd.com/doc/58025928/TUSD-ethnic-studies-audit
 “Resolution Opposing Restriction of Access to Materials and Open Inquiry in Ethnic and Cultural Studies Programs in Arizona,” Approved by ALA Council III, 24 January 2012. http://www.oif.ala.org/oif/?p=3157
Tucson Unified School District. “Native American Studies,” 5 Dec 2011. http://www.tusd1.org/contents/depart/native/aboutus.asp
UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues. “United Nations Declaration of Rights of Indigenous Peoples,” 13 September 2007. http://www.un.org/esa/socdev/unpfii/en/declaration.html

*This is a corrected copy of the AILA statement.

Monday, January 30, 2012

TUSD School Superintendent Pedicone scolds University Professors

 [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.]

In today's news from Tucson, KNST is reporting that John J. Pedicone, Superintendent of Tucson Unified School District, sent a letter on January 27, 2012 to Dr. Tony Estrada, the Head of Mexican American Studies at the University of Arizona.

Below are screen shots of the two page letter. Read them below, or download the letter from the KNST site.

To protest the shut-down/"suspension" of the Mexican American Studies classes, students organized a protest that consisted of walking out of school to a day-long ethnic studies teach in at the El Casino Ballroom. Once there, there were a variety of activities taking place. At one table, there was a poetry slam. During the day, professors from the University of Arizona delivered lectures.

Pedicone's letter, in essence, tells Dr. Estrada to tell his faculty and staff to mind their own business. These professors, Pedicone says, got the students in trouble! And now, the district has no choice but to follow their disciplinary policies.

Students, Pedicone writes "have been assigned consequences followed by restorative practices to create a learning experience for them." What are "restorative practices"? Sounds a lot like janitorial work.

In fact, students who walked out a few weeks ago were assigned to do janitorial work. Someone must have figured out that was a bad move, and students went to detention instead. That, however, was a couple of weeks ago.

The Fox News network in Tucson reported this evening that "Students who participated in walkouts from school to protest suspension of Mexican-American studies will be disciplined" and that "Students who have participated in walkouts or other activities that violate TUSD policies can face detention, suspension, or if the activity is repeated, more severe penalties." Is it time for more "restorative practices"?!

I'm sure that some people think that TUSD is running things in an appropriate way, but from my perspective, they're just digging a bigger hole. After shutting the program down, they're now trying to shut out university professors.

It is almost laughable, thinking of the superintendent, wagging his finger at the university, scolding its professors for getting students in trouble, and then turning to wag that finger at students as he directs them to do "restorative" practices.

But it isn't a laughing matter. The well-being and future of the students is at stake. Going back over a decade, teachers in the Mexican American Studies Department at TUSD created a program that should be expanded, not shut down. It has a proven track record of student success.

What will tomorrow's news hold?!

All of this is very bad for the State of Arizona. Those behind the racist laws may think all is fine and dandy, but today's statement from over 20 national and international educational organizations should tell the political machinery in Arizona to back down. They are embarrassing the state on a national and international level.


Arizona School Censorship Hit by Salvo of Protest from Free Speech Orgs and Educators

[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.]


This is the press release sent out on Monday, January 30, 2012, announcing the Statement in Opposition to Book Censorship in the Tucson Unified School District, dated January 30, 2012.


Joan Bertin
Executive Director
National Coalition Against Censorship
212-807-6222 x 101

Michael O’Neil
Communications Coordinator
National Coalition Against Censorship
212-807-6222 x 107
Chris Finan
American Booksellers Foundation For Free Expression
212-587-4025 x 301

Amy Long
Communications Coordinator
American Booksellers Foundation For Free Expression
212-587-4025 x 302

Arizona School Censorship Hit By Salvo of Protest
From Free Speech Orgs and Educators

TUSCON, AZ, January 30, 2012

Dozens of national organizations have joined together to protest the banning of books used for the Mexican American Studies program in the Tucson Unified School District (TUSD). “This is censorship at its most brazen,” said Joan Bertin, Executive Director at the National Coalition Against Censorship (NCAC). “Officials at the state and local level are responsible for this unacceptable restriction on the educational opportunities of students and their ability to have discussion in school about historical and contemporary events touching on race and ethnicity.

“We call on them to restore the books and the topics for discussion in the district’s classrooms.”

The TUSD board ordered the books removed after State Superintendent of Public Instruction John Huppenthal threatened to withhold state funding pursuant to a recently-enacted Arizona law. That law is being challenged in court.

“We do not think the students of Tucson should have to wait for a federal court order to get the education they deserve,” said Chris Finan, President of American Booksellers Foundation for Free Expression (ABFFE). “Regardless of the outcome of legal proceedings, this is harming students, whose education should be the primary concern of elected officials.  Instead they are putting politics and ideology ahead of the well-being of young people.”

NCAC and ABFFE have jointly created the Kids’ Right to Read Project (KRRP), which offers support, education, and advocacy to promote the right of young people to read widely and to receive a high quality education that is challenging and relevant.  KRRP provides direct assistance to students, teachers, librarians and others opposing book-banning in schools and communities nationwide, while engaging local activists to promote the freedom to read.

In the shocking case of Tuscon, many national organizations dedicated to education and constitutional rights have organized to speak in one voice, calling on the appropriate authorities to correct what they see as an egregious abuse of power.

The joint statement to Arizona officials, with signatories including representatives from publishers, teachers, civil libertarians, and booksellers from the region, may be viewed at ncac.org and abffe.org.


[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.]


At 8:00 AM, Mountain Standard Time, teachers who taught in the Mexican American Studies Department distributed the statement below at the White House Hispanic Community Action Summit in Tucson, Arizona (updated at 10:33 AM, CST held a press conference where they read aloud the statement below). It is signed by national educational associations such as the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE), the National Council for the Social Studies (NCSS) and the International Reading Association (IRA):

January 30, 2012

The undersigned organizations are committed to protecting free speech and intellectual freedom. We write to express our deep concern about the removal of books used in the Mexican-American Studies Program in the Tucson Unified School District. This occurred in response to a determination by Arizona Superintendent of Public Instruction John Huppenthal that the program “contained content promoting resentment toward a race or class of people” and that “materials repeatedly reference white people as being ‘oppressors….’ in violation of state law.” The books have been boxed up and put in storage; their fate and that of the program remain in limbo.

The First Amendment is grounded on the fundamental rule that government officials, including public school administrators, may not suppress “an idea simply because society finds the idea itself offensive or disagreeable.” School officials have a great deal of authority and discretion to determine the curriculum, the subject of courses, and even methods of instruction. They are restrained only by the constitutional obligation to base their decisions on sound educational grounds, and not on ideology or political or other personal beliefs. Thus, school officials are free to debate the merits of any educational program, but that debate does not justify the wholesale removal of books, especially when the avowed purpose is to suppress unwelcome information and viewpoints.

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 – or at the local bookstore. 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.

Students deserve an education that provides exposure to a wide range of topics and perspectives, including those that are controversial. Their education has already suffered from this political and ideological donnybrook, which has caused massive disruption in their classes and will wreak more havoc as teachers struggle to fill the educational vacuum that has been created.

Book-banning and thought control are antithetical to American law, tradition and values. In Justice Louis Brandeis's famous words, the First Amendment is founded on the belief:

that freedom to think as you will and to speak as you think are means indispensable to the discovery and spread of political truth; that, without free speech and assembly, discussion would be futile; … that it is hazardous to discourage thought, hope and imagination …. Believing in the power of reason as applied through public discussion, [the Framers] eschewed silence coerced by law …. Recognizing the occasional tyrannies of governing majorities, they amended the Constitution so that free speech and assembly should be guaranteed.

The First Amendment right to read, speak and think freely applies to all, regardless of race, ethnicity, sex, religion, or national origin. We strongly urge Arizona school officials to take this commitment seriously and to return all books to classrooms and remove all restrictions on ideas that can be addressed in class.

American Association of University Professors
Cary Nelson, President
1133 19th St., NW, Suite 200
Washington, D.C. 20036

American Booksellers For Free Expression
Chris Finan, President
19 Fulton Street, Suite 407
New York, NY 10038

American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Arizona
Alessandra Soler Meetze, Executive Director
P.O. Box 17148
Phoenix, AZ 85011-0148

Antigone Books
Trudy Mills, Owner
411 N. 4th Ave.
Tucson, AZ 85705

Arizona English Teachers' Association
Jean Boreen, Executive Secretary
Northern Arizona University, English Department
P.O. BOX 6032
Flagstaff, AZ 86011-6032

Arizona Teachers of English to Speakers of Other Languages
Craig Lefever, President
P.O. Box 881
Yuma, AZ 85366

Association of American Publishers
Judith Platt, Director, Free Expression & Advocacy
455 Massachusetts Avenue, NW
Washington, D.C. 20001

Association of American University Presses
Peter Givler, Executive Director
28 West 36th Street, Suite 602
New York, NY 10018

Atlanta’s Music & Books
Joan Werner, Owner
38 Main Street
Bisbee, AZ 85603

Authors Guild
Paul Aiken, Executive Director
31 East 32nd Street, 7th Floor
New York, NY 10016

Center for Expansion of Language and Thinking
Dr. Kathryn F. Whitmore, President
N275 Lindquist Center
The University of Iowa
Iowa City, IA 52242

Changing Hands Bookstore
Gayle Shanks and Bob Sommer, Owners
6428 S McClintock Drive
Tempe, AZ 85283

Comic Book Legal Defense Fund
Charles Brownstein, Executive Director
255 West 36th Street, Suite 501
New York, NY 10018

Freedom to Read Foundation, an affiliate of the American Library Association
Barbara M. Jones, Executive Director
50 East Huron Street
Chicago, IL 60611

International Reading Association
Richard M. Long, Ed.D., Director, Government Relations
444 North Capitol Street, NW, Suite 524
Washington, DC 20001
(202) 624-8801

Mountains and Plains Independent Booksellers Association
Laura Ayrey, Executive Director
8020 Springshire Drive
Park City, UT 84098

National Coalition Against Censorship
Joan Bertin, Executive Director
19 Fulton Street, Suite 407
New York, NY 10038

National Council for the Social Studies
Susan Griffin, Executive Director
8555 16th St, Ste 500
Silver Spring, MD  20910
 301.588.1800 x 103

National Council of Teachers of English
Millie Davis, Division Director
Communications and Affiliate Services
1111 West Kenyan Road
Urbana, IL 61801
800-369-6283 ext. 3634

National Council of Teachers of Mathematics
Kichoon Yang, Executive Director
1906 Association Drive
Reston, VA 20191-1502

National Education Association
Michael D. Simpson, Assistant General Counsel
NEA Office of General Counsel
1201 16th Street, NW
Washington, DC 20036

National Youth Rights Association
Alex Koroknay-Palicz, Executive Director
1101 15th Street, NW Suite 200
Washington, DC 20005

PEN American Center
Larry Siems, Director, Freedom to Write & International Programs
588 Broadway
New York, NY 10012
212-334-1660 ext. 105

PEN Center USA
Adam Somers, Executive Director
P.O. Box 6037
Beverly Hills, CA 90212

People For the American Way
Debbie Liu, General Counsel
1101 15th Street NW, Suite 600
Washington, D.C. 20005

Reach Out and Read
Anne-Marie Fitzgerald
Senior Director of National and State Programs
56 Roland Street, Suite 100D
Boston, MA 02129

Reading is Fundamental, Inc.
Carol Hampton Rasco, President/CEO
1255 23rd Street NW, Suite 300
Washington, DC 20037

Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators
Lin Oliver, Executive Director
8271 Beverly Boulevard
Los Angeles, CA 90048

Spark Teacher Education Institute
Educational Praxis, Inc.
P.O. Box 409
Putney, Vermont 05346

Student Press Law Center
Frank LoMonte, Executive Director
1101 Wilson Boulevard, Suite 1100
Arlington, VA 22209-2275 USA

TESOL International Association
John Segota, CAE, Associate Executive Director for Public Policy & Professional Relations
1925 Ballenger Ave., Suite 550
Alexandria, VA 22314

(List in formation)
For further information contact:

Joan Bertin, National Coalition Against Censorship, 212-807-6222, Bertin@ncac.org
Chris Finan, American Booksellers Foundation for Free Expression, 212-587-4025, chris@Abffe.org

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Chris Crutcher on Matt de la Pena's book being banned: "This is racism, plain and simple."

Tucson Unified School District has a long history of failing its Mexican American students. This is true elsewhere, too, across the country. The PBS documentary "Taking Back the Schools" (below) is primarily about Mexican Americans in East Los Angeles in the 1960s.

In the 1960s, tired of being tracked into vocational classes and feeling shame for being Mexican American, students in East LA decided to go before the school board asking for changes. They did a survey of fellow students asking them what they wanted to present to the school board. They wanted  bilingual instruction, Mexican American history courses, Mexican American teachers, and an end to corporal punishment. They also wanted access to college prep classes so they could go on to college.

Carmen Lomas Garza, author of In My Family/En Mi Familia, was a young child in the schools then. In the video (at the 5:45 mark) she talks of being made fun of when she took out her lunch of tacos with frijoles, meat, and rice. It was so bad that she didn't want to take that lunch to school anymore.

Her book won the Americas Picture Book Award in 1996, and in 1997 it received the Pure Belpre Honor Award, and was listed as a Notable Book by the International Reading Association.

In 1997, her book also won the Tomas Rivera Children's Book Award, which brings us back to the present and the ban of the Mexican American Studies Department in Tucson Unified School District. Tomas Rivera's books are among those that were taught in the MAS program.

Until it was shut down in January, the Tucson MAS program was doing precisely what students wanted in 1968, and it was doing precisely what college students are been taught in teacher education courses. Use multicultural literature and teach critical thinking!

The outcome? Students did better in school, graduated at higher rates, and went on to college at higher rates than students who were not in the MAS classes. They read Matt de la Pena's Mexican WhiteBoy.

Matt de la Pena

Matt de la Pena's Mexican WhiteBoy is amongst the books that were taught in the MAS literature courses, but it is more than that...  His book is mentioned on page 29 of the Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) Kowal's decision about the program, in the section titled "Latino Literature." As such, it is evidence that the MAS program violates the law. Here's the text from that section:
Latino Literature
160. Drafts of the Pacing Guides for the MAS junior and senior Latino Literature courses demonstrate that elements of critical race theory and critical pedagogy encompass a significant portion of the course.
161. Proposed required reading for these classes include "Justice: A Question of Race," by Roberto Rodriguez and "Mexican Whiteboy" by Matt de la Pena.
162. Juniors in Latino Literature appear to study "Our History-Indigenous Roots and the Mexican Revolution Novels."
163. Senior Latino Literature students appear to devote an entire quarter of the semester to "Critical Race Theatre," in which they are required to "critically dissect and identify components of critical race theory through literary works."
164. Student assessments from these courses show that the focus on Latino Literature is the oppression of Mexican Americans by the White European race.
165. As an example, one second semester final exam for a Latino Literature course used in the spring of 2011 tests students with the following essay prompt:
All year long we have read stories where the Mexican Americans were discriminated against, taken advantage of, oppressed, etc. We are destined to repeat history if we don't do something to change it. Reflect on what we have read about this year and in an essay, write about what we can do as a group to change things. What will you do as an individual to change things? Select one of the pieces we have read this year that reflects the point that you are trying to make in your essay.
Throughout the document, some things were underscored (as shown above) by the Department of Education. Apparently, those portions are "the smoking gun", so to speak. From my perspective, however, all of that sounds fine, especially for college prep classes. 

Matt de la Pena has been following and writing about all of this at his blog. He will be in Tucson, at Tucson High School, on March 13. He writes:
Ironically, I'm scheduled to speak at Tucson High School on March 13. A young female student there spearheaded the whole thing. She went to the administration on her own accord and helped raise funds. She's a self-admitted reluctant reader, but she was introduced to my books in a class much like the one above, and something clicked. Because of her effort and passion, this has been the visit I'm most looking forward to this year. I can't wait to meet her. 
He links to the video (below) of Yolanda Sotelo who taught at Pueblo High School and used his book.

Among the comments to his blog post is one from Chris Crutcher. He writes:

Hey Matt, the responders here have said it as well as it can be said. I’ll what I can to bring as much light to this as possible. Let me know if you have ideas. I’ve been able to laugh off book bannings based on irrational right wing Christian fears (and politically correct left-wing fears as well) for years. There were even times I (foolishly) believed those folks wanted the same things for young people that I wanted; just had a different belief about how to get there. But this is racism pure and simple. I’m sick of living in a country in which it’s become more heinous to CALL someone a racist than it is to BE a racist. There will come a time, I hope in my lifetime, when the ethnic scales will tilt and these assholes will be voted out of office. Until then, let’s do what we can to make their lives interesting.

Crutcher is right. This is racism pure and simple. Crutcher's "I'm sick of living in a country in which it's become more heinous to CALL someone racist than it is to BE a racist" is especially powerful.

I'm glad some of the well-established authors like Crutcher are paying attention. Students in TUSD's MAS program read works by Mexican American, and American Indian, and Asian American, and African American authors. They were taught to think critically. They went from being uninterested---and perhaps reluctant readers like Matt was---to being students like Matt who go on to college.

I'm closing this post with part one of a four-part video of Matt de la Pena talking with high school students. His personal story is important, and the opportunity to read his books from a Mexican American perspective in a Mexican American class should never have been taken away from the students in TUSD.

For a chronological list of AICL's coverage of the shut-down of the Mexican American Studies program, click here.

To participate in the Feb 1, 2011 National Teach-In, go here.

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