Friday, February 24, 2012

February 23rd Update from Curtis Acosta, former Mexican American Studies Teacher, 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.]


Photo from "A Teacher Put to the Test"
With his permission, I am posting Curtis Acosta's February 23rd update regarding the experiences of teachers and students who were in the Mexican American Studies courses at the Tucson Unified School District. This is his third letter. Click here to read the first one on January 23rd, and here to read the second one on January 26th. At the bottom is a video of Curtis talking about his courses. And---check out "A Teacher Put to the Test" in The Scene, the alumni magazine published by Willamette University in Oregon where he got his degree. Here's his letter:

Dearest colleagues and supporters,

Forgive the lack of communication as of late, but the new situation that we have been handed since the dismantling of our Mexican American Studies program has been overwhelming. In fact, I am fairly certain the reason why my family and I have been sick so much recently is in direct connection to the stress of this situation.

I want to thank all of you who have pledged your support through the No History is Illegal campaign or the other petitions that have circulated. Your testimonials have been inspiring amidst the chaos in Tucson and our students were thrilled to see so many dots on the globe. It is another act that has helped them feel that people care since our district administration has shown little sensitivity to their pain. They did find the time to visit some of our classes to give a thinly veiled threat that students will be punished if they continued to actively protest during school time. One student leader, Nico Dominguez, was threatened with suspension after a respectful, yet critical, statement to the four members of the school board who voted to eliminate our classes. Fortunately, we were able to advocate for him and make sure that there was some accountability for the administration to follow due process and magically the threats disappeared.

As far as in the classroom, I have been exposed to a word that I have never heard before in any of our Mexican American Studies classes, and that word is "hate." On three different occassions I have heard my students comment that they hate something that we were doing in class. First, it happened as I wheeled in the district adopted textbooks into our room over a month ago. I heard two girls say, "Ewww" and another student say, "I hate reading out of those books." I have never taught out of textbooks in my 16 years of teaching so I was struck by the rawness and veracity of the comment. This happened again yesterday in class when a young woman refused to write an essay citing that she feels dumb when she reads out of the textbook and hates it. Finally, a young man in my senior class was taking a quiz at the end of the first Act of Macbeth and said he hated these types of tests. Of course, these are all district approved instructional materials that I was encouraged to adopt in my classes in order to avoid discipline and possible termination. The students know this, but they still yield visceral reactions that break my heart.

In a similar note, you'll be happy to know that upon the first monitoring session of my class last week, I was found to be in compliance. Of course, when I asked for written criteria or an evaluation instrument that was used to make such an assessment, none was provided and no answer was given. For over a month we have tried to get written expectations and have been ignored. Thus, we now have monitors entering our rooms with an invisible checklist for compliance. This will only get more dangerous for us in the coming weeks since the State is now getting involved. Since my last message, the Arizona Department of Education has informed our district that we will be undergoing unannounced observations for our compliance by specialists. This is without the criteria for our safety being defined, and our district still isn't sure who these specialists will be, nor their qualifications or experience in public education. We were also forced to box up more materials for the state including PowerPoints, texts, and even copies of a vocabulary list I use with my students.

We are in uncharted waters in terms of vagueness and our district remains consistent. Their meager defense of our program during the appeal process is closely related to the open door policy they have given to the state department of education. They have continually played Pontius Pilate in this struggle and we are convinced this will be why justice will prevail. As many of you may know, the Arizona legislature continues to target teachers with outlandish legislation about teacher language and partisan instruction. We have told our colleagues for years that our situation is precursor to the types of government intrusion that could happen to us all. During this spring, I fear we will see such a statement become prophecy.

In the meantime, thank you all for keeping us in your thoughts and actions. Our students and community refuse to embrace this awful reality as permanent and are hopeful that our classes will return.

In Lak Ech,
Curtis Acosta

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