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

Thursday, February 23, 2012

TUSD's Mexican American Students Skype in at Yale University for Teach-In

[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.]


Last night (February 22, 2012), students from the now-banned Mexican American Studies (MAS) classes at Tucson Unified School District skyped in from Tucson to New Haven, Connecticut, for a Teach-In at Yale University.
It was an outstanding event, with a great deal of enthusiasm and support for the MAS students. The MAS students spoke of the need to censor the writing they do in classes because their work can be collected and examined to see if former MAS teachers are violating the ban by continuing to teach from a Mexican American perspective. When asked about ways of providing them with support as they continue to fight the ban of the MAS program, one student referenced a letter they prepared that asks people to send photos of teach-ins and letters to TUSD that demonstrate support for the MAS program. (See the letter below.)

Here's two photos. First is the Tucson students. Beneath it is a photo of the overview I presented at the start of the Teach-In. Both photos were taken by Theodore Van Alst, Assistant Dean of Yale College and Director of the Native American Cultural Center.

Panel members were:
  • Alicia Schmidt Camacho, Associate Professor of American Studies and Ethnicity, Race & Migration
  • Stephen Pitti, Professor of History & American Studies, Director of Ethnicity, Race & Migration
  • Birgit Brander Rasmussen, Assistant Professor, American Studies
  • Debbie Reese, American Indians in Children's Literature

Conversations will continue between Yale professors and students, and the MAS students in Tucson.


To Supportive Educators and Supporters Who Have Access to Students:

UNIDOS is calling upon YOU to help us launch our first NATIONAL YOUTH SOLIDARITY MOVEMENT for the youth and community here in Tucson fighting to preserve Mexican American Studies and stand up for human rights in our society as a whole! This is a moment we can all contribute to in a way that will not only educate youth and students across the country about the injustices going on right here in Tucson, but it will allow for students everywhere to show love and be a part of this movement that belongs to everyone!

UNIDOS has been organizing in Tucson since January of 2011 and hope to continue spreading the message that YOUTH CAN RISE UP! For the latest on the struggle from Tucson, check out our latest media coverage through Real News, and a simple Google News search of "Ethnic Studies in Tucson" will flood in plenty of recent updates and ways to understand the issue.

Attached is a letter calling for National Youth Solidarity, how we hope to gain support and an information political analysis sheet written by UNIDOS to help spark political discussions and spread information directly from youth fighting in the battle in Tucson. Our contact information is provided on the letter and we hope that you can help us forward this first wave of national solidarity to educators and students EVERYWHERE!

If you would like to have educators/students contact us directly, please forward this email and we will be more than willing to introduce ourselves and our intentions to send love to the students still fighting on the front lines. We would love to add more educators' names to our list to outreach to, so please don't hesitate to forward this to friends of friends across the country since this is a NATIONAL solidarity movement!

Thank you so much for your support and we hope this turns into one beautiful push for something Arizona can never take away from us, and something we can continue to grow with everyone's ideas and love!


(United Non-discriminatory Individuals Demanding Our Studies)


In Tucson, Arizona, youth have been fighting for education and human rights in the midst of systematic racist attacks against people of color throughout the state and country. The influence Arizona has had on the rights of youth of color and our families across the country has become absolutely intolerable. Through anti-migrant bills, tactics to push out Latin@ youth from schools and measures to split apart families, Arizona has become the pillar for racism.



UNIDOS is a youth-led coalition of critical thinkers whose purpose is to stand in defense for all injustices within education and in our communities. While defending ethnic studies is the backbone to our creation, we stand as a direct force to mobilize, empower and educate youth to take a stand against all injustices in our community and society as a whole.

In January of 2012, Arizona State Superintendent of Public Instruction John Huppenthal declared Mexican American Studies in the Tucson Unified School District "illegal." The district immediately forced teachers to put books away in boxes and has now censored teachers and students from discussing anything related to political issues or Mexican American history.

Mexican American Studies is not just a course; it?s our history!

The ban on Ethnic Studies in Arizona is part of a larger battle being fought and with your support, solidarity can become powerful!

  1. We want Mexican American Studies curriculum to return to its successful
    structure and books to be placed back in the hands of the youth taking these
  2. We want the repeal of HB 2281
  3. We want Tucson Unified School District board members Michael Hicks, Miguel Cuevas and Mark Stegeman to immediately resign for cowardice decision-making.
  4. We want the immediate resignation of TUSD Superintendent John Pedicone for his bullying tactics against MAS teachers, students and Tucson community members.


As part of a larger youth movement, UNIDOS wants to encourage educators throughout the nation to inform their schools about the injustices happening in our classrooms and how solidarity will help us fight back!

With your classes, youth can create powerful images like the photo of ARISE High School in Oakland, CA! Take a photo with your students and send love directly to the youth and teachers fighting for Mexican American Studies in Tucson and across the country!

UNIDOS has attached a political analysis information sheet of the opponents that wouldn't have ever expected youth to rise up nationally. Use that for your reference and discussions as well as contacting us directly for tips on how to begin conversations about the battles in Arizona. We would also love the opportunity to Skype with your classes if students would like to know more directly!

We want an educational system where many cultures fit and a society where borders are obsolete!


UNIDOS (United Non-Discriminatory Individuals Demanding Our Studies)

Please send photos, letters of solidarity, donated books, checks ($), ideas
or thoughts to:


Mailing Addresses (For Books/letters/checks [payable to UNIDOS]):

Derechos Humanos (UNIDOS Donation)
P.O. Box 1286 Tucson, AZ 85702
Derechos Humanos (UNIDOS Donation)
631 S. 6th Avenue Tucson, AZ 85701

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Sherman Alexie on Tucson student reading TEN LITTLE INDIANS

[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 a screen grab from Sherman Alexie's website:

Do you know someone in a self-involved bubble that insulates them from the fact that our civil rights are under assault by well-funded conservative politicians? If so, tell them about what is happening in Tucson, where the conservative-power-elite wrote, passed, and enforced a law banning the perspectives of Mexican Americans...

Where that same conservative-power-elite is now trying to get a law passed (SB 1202) that prohibits teachers from teaching partisan documents like Barack Obama's 2004 DNC speech in social justice courses...

And where that same conservative-power-elite is also trying to pass a law that prohibits teachers from using words that violate the obscenity and profanity guidelines set up by the Federal Communications Commission. If passed, what will that mean for teachers who teach young adult literature that has the F-word in it?

Who is among that conservative-power-elite? The Chicago Tribune article points to Floyd Brown, the founding chairman of Citizens United. He complained to school administrators that a teacher used the F-word in class, but, he says, they didn't take him seriously. So he went to Klein, and now, that complaint is a bill that has passed one committee and will be voted on by the house and senate in Arizona...  The photo that accompanies the Trib article shows Brown and his now-home-schooled daughter, sitting before a pile of books that includes William J. Bennett's Our Sacred Honor: Words of Advice from the Founders in Stories, Letters, Poems, and Speeches. I wonder if that book would be in violation of the "partisan" documents bill?!

There are people who don't think either bill will pass. They might not, this first round. The Ethnic Studies law didn't pass the first two times it was considered. Third time? It passed and was signed into law by Jan Brewer.

We have to get people around us out of their bubbles of ignorance.

Update: Wednesday, February 22, 9:45 AM ET
Andrew Breitbart's "Big Government" website has a story on SB 1202. It references other states where "liberal agendas" are in place, including actions of teachers in Racine, Wisconsin, and Oakland, California.  The closing line is chilling:
Arizona’s SB 1202 is an encouraging sign that lawmakers are taking the indoctrination issue seriously. Hopefully, the discussion in Arizona will sparking similar public debates in statehouses across the country.
Repeating what I said above: We have to get people around us out of their bubbles of ignorance. 

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Stories, essays, speeches, poems, and music banned in Tucson

[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.]

When the Mexican American Studies Department in Tucson Unified School District was shut down, books on the Cambium audit and referenced in the finding of the administrative law judge could no longer be taught. The volume of materials is far more than those books or the seven books that the district boxed up. For example, the following short stories, essays, speeches, poems and music are no longer being taught. They were used by Curtis Acosta in his social justice course, housed within the Mexican American Studies Department.

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
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
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
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.