Thursday, January 19, 2012

What Huppenthal said...

[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 18, 2012, the guest on Michel Martin's NPR "Tell Me More" program was Superintendent of Public Instruction in Arizona, John Huppenthal.

Democracy Now had him on its program, too, but they also had Richard Martinez on the program. Martinez is the lawyer for the teachers and students in Tucson.

On both programs, Huppenthal said pretty much the same things. As you might guess, he was pushed harder by Richard Martinez than he was by Michel Martin.

I wish that we (the public) had access to those lesson plans Huppenthal says teach students to resent white people.

And, I wish Huppenthal would provide his analysis of student performance. In their report, the auditors he hired to examine the Mexican American Studies (MAS) program included evidence that shows that students in the program outperformed students who were not in the program. (Note: Students in the classes reflect the demographics of the school district, which means students in the classes are Mexican American, white, American Indian....). Huppenthal rejected the findings of that audit. He did his own analysis. I want to see what he did!

Huppenthal apparently believes the auditors didn't know how to do their job in analyzing student performance. He said they were comparing oranges to apples, and that in his analysis he compared apples to apples. I want to see his analysis.

Huppenthal then goes on to say that students in Tucson Unified School District (not clear if it is the MAS program or the entire school) were not performing as well as students in other districts. That, he says is another of the reasons he had to shut down the MAS program. That seems to me like HE is comparing apples to oranges!  Is he comparing, for example, a district with a lower SES to one with a higher SES? If so, that's not fair.

In both interviews (NPR and Democracy Now), Huppenthal talks about Che Guevara's poster being on the wall in the classroom he visited. From what he says, the lesson he observed was not about Guevara, but had something to do with Benjamin Franklin. Huppenthal says that the teacher called Franklin racist. I wish that teacher was also on the show. I'd like to know more about what Huppenthal observed.

I'm wondering if the class Huppenthal was observing was studying Franklin's "Observations Concerning the Increase of Mankind"? (Note: I found it by searching on "Was Benjamin Franklin racist?" The link I got was to "Did Benjamin Franklin have ulterior motives" which is a pdf housed at Fairfield University in Connecticut. I think the pdf was developed by Professor Dennis G. Hodgson.)

At the end of "Observations...", Franklin was talking about people coming to America. He wrote:
Why should Pennsylvania, founded by the English, become a Colony of Aliens, who will shortly be so numerous as to Germanize us instead of our Anglifying them, and will never adopt our Language or Customs, any more than they can acquire our Complexion. 
24.  Which leads me to add one Remark: That the Number of purely white People in the World is proportionably very small. All Africa is black or tawny. Asia chiefly tawny. America (exclusive of the new Comers) wholly so. And in Europe, the Spaniards, Italians, French, Russians and Swedes, are generally of what we call a swarthy Complexion; as are the Germans also, the Saxons only excepted, who with the English, make the principal Body of White People on the Face of the Earth. I could wish their Numbers were increased. And while we are, as I may call it, Scouring our Planet, by clearing America of Woods, and so making this Side of our Globe reflect a brighter Light to the Eyes of Inhabitants in Mars or Venus, why should we in the Sight of Superior Beings, darken its People? why increase the Sons of Africa, by Planting them in America, where we have so fair an Opportunity, by excluding all Blacks and Tawneys, of increasing the lovely White and Red? But perhaps I am partial to the Compexion of my Country, for such Kind of Partiality is natural to Mankind.

In that passage, Franklin was trying to keep America for the English and American Indians. He didn't want Africans or Germans, Spaniards, Italians, French, Russians or Swedes here! Huppenthal is right in saying that Franklin was president of the Abolitionist Society in Pennsylvania, but that was later in life. Shouldn't students learn that, at one time, he owned slaves, and isn't it accurate to call that racist? Like I said, I wish we could hear from the teacher. Did he drop it at that? Or did he go on to talk more about Franklin's later life?

Huppenthal says a lot that I want to push back on, but I'll finish with this. Talking about Paolo Freire, Huppenthal said:
I mean, he says, explicitly—he says, explicitly, in his book that his—literally, the Pedagogy of the Oppressed, that word "oppressed" is taken right out of—he says it right in the book—that word "oppressed" is taken right out of The Communist Manifesto, where he talks about—Karl Marx talks about the struggle of the history of man—the entire history of mankind being the struggle between the oppressed and the oppressors.
I've got a copy of it, and I can't find the place where Freire says that he got the word oppressed right out of The Communist Manifesto.  A small point, maybe, but Huppenthal did say he read the book. He accuses the teachers in the MAS program of teaching "to inflame feelings".  By linking Freire and the Mexican American Studies program with The Communist Manifesto, I think Huppenthal is trying to inflame feelings.

Maybe Huppenthal can tell us where he read Freire referencing The Communist Manifesto when he gives us access to the lesson plans and his analysis of student performance.

Update: Friday, January 20, 2012, 6:15 AM CST:
Kelly Howe, President of the Pedagogy and Theatre of the Oppressed, Inc, (PTO) posted a letter to NPR at the PTO website.  She did so to provide a more accurate description of Freire's ideas. Here's two excerpts.
Huppenthal also cast suspicion on the term "oppression." The word is a key term for Freire, who believed that as students hone their critical thinking skills they become savvier at recognizing oppressions. As a result, students seek to transform oppressions into more equitable power relationships. But Freire does not advocate "resentment" or demonization. Instead he values processes in which students gain tools to challenge oppressive systems and work lovingly but relentlessly toward new systems that recognize the full humanity of all. "The pursuit of full humanity," Freire writes, must be carried out "in fellowship and solidarity; therefore it cannot unfold in the antagonistic relationship between oppressors and oppressed" (85). Freire hoped for classrooms where everyone-oppressors and oppressed-might become more fully human.

Despite Huppenthal's claims that he has studied Freire, the interview revealed the Superintendent's embarrassing lack of knowledge about one of the core thinkers of contemporary education theory and practice.  

At the end of her letter, she invites Huppenthal to the PTO conference in May and offers to pay all his expenses so that he can deepen his knowledge of Freire.

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


Anonymous said...

What article is he referring to?

jpm said...

Great job. Huppenthal needs to be called out ON CAMERA with exactly the questions you are asking:
Let's see those supposedly anti-white lesson plans. Let's see evidence that Franklin was not a racist. Let's see how Huppenthal's own audit was more professional and thorough than the one he paid for and rejected. Wonder when he did all that reading of the books he find so much fault with. When he was studying engineering? Or when he got that master's degree in business (those are his degrees, according to bios that accompany announcements about various public speaking engagements I found online). I wonder what led him to devote so much of his time in public life to "education" in Arizona, without actually studying about the field.

George Reese said...

Marx is ok when he's part of highbrow culture. He's on the Great Books lists. The "In Our Time" (IOT) podcast from BBC had listeners vote on the most important philosopher. 30,000 responses. Marx won overwhelmingly. See,

It's sad that America is so frightened by ideas.

Deborah Menkart said...

Thanks for this article and all the others on this topic. I like the idea of posing questions. Such drastic actions should have more justification than is being provided.
I have two questions to add to your list:
(1) If the Cambium study was flawed as Huppenthal said in the interview, why did the state pay for it?
(2) Why would it matter whose work Paulo Freire is informed by? Aren't we all entitled to read and consider a wide range of ideas? Are we saying that students can't read certain books if the authors read books by certain authors? This is taking book banning to a new level. And by focusing on Marx (as if reading Marx immediately discredits Freire -- McCarthy era tactics) Huppenthal avoided addressing or taking issue with any of the actual ideas in Pedagogy of the Oppressed. Basically he put listeners on notice -- use the word "oppressed" and you will be tagged as a Marxist.

Debby Dahl Edwardson said...

I find the charge (in the court documents I've read) that these classes, teaching about oppression through Freire's book and others, were teaching of it in a "biased, political and emotionally charged manner," to be ultimately silly. Oppression is political. If your people are the ones who were oppressed it is an emotionally charged topic. And what, exactly, would a non-biased presentation of oppression look like?