Monday, February 06, 2012

What did Curtis Acosta teach in his Mexican American Literature course?

[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.]


Barack Obama's speech at the 2004 DNC Convention is among the readings Curtis Acosta taught in his Social Justice, Resistance, and Literature course. 

Ever since January 15th when I read Who's afraid of "The Tempest" in Salon, I've been wondering what the teachers in the Mexican American Studies courses were teaching that led people to write laws to penalize school districts that offered courses that sought to "promote the overthrow of the U.S. government" or "promote resentment towards a race or class of people" or were "designed primarily for pupils of a particular ethnic group" or "advocate ethnic solidarity instead of the treatment of pupils as individuals."

Since then, I've learned a lot about the Mexican American Studies (MAS) Department and resistance to it.  There's a lot more to know. I continue to study the historical context that the program and resistance to it are nested within.

It seems the primary targets of the law were ideas taught in MAS history and social justice classes. I say that based on Governing Board President Stegeman's 2011 proposal to make those courses electives rather than allow them to count as fulfilling core course graduation requirements. Students and community that support the MAS program successfully stopped that proposal from being voted on by occupying the board's meeting room. Students chained themselves to board members chairs. Depending on who you ask, it was a violent and threatening event, or, it was a peaceful demonstration.

TUSD's response was to start having heavy police presence at their meetings. This included the use of helicopters, cordoning off streets, and admitting people to meetings only after they were wanded by security. Most of us know about the police brutality at Occupy Wall Street events, but I don't think the police brutality in Tucson is getting that attention. If you've seen it in the national press, please send me links. Here's a video of that brutality (the video is from a story about police brutality at the Three Sonorans page at Tucson Citizen):

What was being taught that moved people to write the law in the first place? What was being taught that motivated supporters of the program to fight so hard to keep the program intact?

Below is Curtis Acosta's syllabus. I didn't get it from him or the MAS program. I found it on the website for Tucsonans United for Sound Districts (TU4SD). Their January 2012 newsletter, written by co-founder Loretta Hunnicutt, takes credit for the shut down of a program that allowed "political predators" in the classroom to be funded by taxpayer dollars. They've got links to the syllabus for eight different courses, but they've reproduced his on their site. Obviously, they view it as evidence of the work of a "political predator."

At present, they are working on new legislation modeled on the Ethnic Studies law that would say "A teacher who uses partisan books and/or partisan materials or teaches any partisan doctrine or conducts any partisan exercises in school is guilty of unprofessional conduct and his certificate shall be revoked."

This new proposal is meant to control what is taught in any classroom by any teacher, but their work to rid TUSD of the MAS program and their use of Acosta's syllabus as an example of inappropriate course content is very telling.

Jane Yolen, author of Twelve Impossible Things Before Breakfast, has wondered why her book is on the list of books that may no longer be taught by teachers who once taught in the MAS program. When I found Acosta's syllabus, I wrote to Jane to let her know it was her "Lost Girls" story that was being taught. That story is Yolen's take on Peter Pan. In Fairy Tales Reimagined: Essays on New Retellings, Susan Redington Bobby writes that it "subverts a story meant to reinforce traditional gender roles and uses it to reinforce values of feminism" (p. 58).

Race. And feminism, too. What stands out to you? I don't like sounding like a fear mongerer, but I definitely thing we have a lot to be fearful of in the politics of the present time, and I hope you are, too. Could a law like the one in Arizona be passed in your state? Given the money driving politics in the United States right now, I think that the right question is not "could a law" but "When will a law like the one in Arizona be passed in your state?"

Social Justice, Resistance, and Latino Literature

First Quarter - Contemporary Fiction
Non-Fiction - Personal Reflections
  • My Dungeon Shook by James Baldwin
  • La Conciencia de la Mestiza: Towards a New Consciousness by Gloria Anzaldua
Short Stories
  • Selections from Ten Little Indians by Sherman Alexie
  • Eleven by Sandra Cisneros
  • Vatolandia by Ana Castillo
  • Love in L.A. by Dagoberto Gilb
  • Lindo y Querido by Manuel Munoz
  • Brisa by Dagoberto Gilb
  • Aurora by Juno Diaz
  • Lost Girls by Jane Yolen
  • Selection from Tuff by Paul Beatty

Second Quarter - Critical Race Theatre
Counter Story Telling and Cultura Through Teatro 
  • And Where Was Pancho Villa When You Really Needed Him? by Silviana Wood 
  • Culture Clash in America and Culture Clash: Life, Death and Revolutionary Comedy by Culture Clash
Shakespeare, Colonization, and Critical Race Theory
  • The Tempest by William Shakespeare

Third Quarter
Immigration - La Lucha Sigue
  • The Devil's Highway by Luis Alberto Urrea

Resistance Through Rhetoric

  • The Puerto Rican Dummy and the Merciful Son by Martin Espada
  • Jesse Jackson's speech at the 1984 Democratic National Convention
  • Barack Obama's speech at the 2004 Democratic National Convention
  • Speech at the Afro-Asian Conference by Ernesto "Che" Guevara
  • "Women, Power, and Revolution" by Kathleen Cleaver
  • "Political Prisoners, Prisons, and Black Liberation" by Angela Davis
  • Message to Aztlan by Corky Gonzales
  • Message to the Grass Roots by Malcom X
  • "Beyond Vietnam" and Where We Go From Here by Martin Luther King Jr.
  • "Does 'Anti-War' Have to be 'Anti-Racist', too? by Elizabeth "Betita" Martinez

Fourth Quarter
Resistance/Revolution in Spoken Word, Slam Poetry, and Hip Hop
  • Selections from William Carlos Williams, Amiri Baraka, Nikki Giovanni, Ana Castillo, Tracy Morris, Paul Beatty
Hip Hop
Selections from Olmeca, Sihuatl-De, Dead Prez, Common, Kanye West, KRS-1, Mos Def, Talib Kweli, Rage Against the Machine, etc.


Anonymous said...

The sad part is I would want my kids to [be able to] take a course where that was the syllabus.

Heck, *I* would take it for the ideas alone.

If it matters, I'm WASPy & my forebears have been on the northeast coast of the North American continent since 1635.

Martin said...

I too would love to take this class, and I'm 38! I'm definitely sharing this syllabus with my wife, who home schools our daughter. Thank you for liberating it for all of us to see!