Monday, January 23, 2012

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

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