Monday, May 07, 2012

Jim Blasingame: "Ethnic Studies Ban Hits Tucson Hard: YA and Canon Alike Take a Hit"

[Editor's Note: A chronological list of AICL's coverage of the shut-down of the Mexican American Studies classes at Tucson Unified School District is here.]

With permission of Jim Blasingame, I'm republishing his article from the Assembly on Literature for Adolescent's April 2012 online newsletter.  Jim and Simon Ortiz have done some excellent work together with high school students in Arizona. 
I wrote about their work two years ago in "I come to school for this class. I deal with the other ones." Here's Jim's article from the ALAN newsletter:
Things in Tucson continue to go south (pun intended). Just when it seems nothing worse could happen, someone gets fired or the truth is once again held hostage, or some representative of the Arizona Department of Education or the Tucson Unified School Board makes an even more outrageous and racist claim. The recent announcement that the contract of Sean Arce, Director of the now defunct Mexican American Studies program for the Tucson Unified School District, was not renewed comes on the heels of another announcement: Arce was named winner of the 2012 Myles Horton Education Award for Teaching People's History.

The Horton award is given by the Zinn Education Project, an organization that believes "through taking a more engaging and more honest look at the past, we can help equip students with the analytical tools to make sense of - and improve - the world today" (Zinn). The award is named for Myles Horton, who founded the Highlander Folk School in 1932. According to the Civil Rights Digital Library: Between 1932 and 1962, the Highlander Folk School in Monteagle, Tennessee, provided a valuable training ground for two generations of southern labor organizers and Civil Rights activists. During the 1930s and 1940s, the school was instrumental in unionizing textile, timber, and mine workers throughout the region, often working in concert with national organizations such as the Congress of Industrial Organizations. In the 1950s, Highlander became a seedbed of Civil Rights activism, holding regular educational workshops to promote nonviolent protest and encourage black voter registration.

Myles Horton's students at Highlander included Martin Luther King, Ralph Abernathy, and Rosa Parks, all of whom would become emblematic of the Civil Rights Movement. "We Shall Overcome," often recognized as the anthem of the Movement, was adapted from a gospel song by Horton's wife, Zilphia.

After southern newspaper ran frequent attacks on the school for allegedly generating racial unrest and promoting communism, the state of Tennessee revoked the Highlander Folk School's charter in 1961. Which are almost exactly the charges against the Mexican American Studies Program filed by the Arizona Department of Education (ADE) against the Tucson Unified School District (TUSD).

For those who have not been following this series of events, a quick recap in chronological order may be helpful.

1998: TUSD initiated the La Raza Studies Department in an effort to improve the retention and graduation rates among Latino students. The program yielded some pretty impressive results. More than 97% of students in the program graduated from high school, compared to 44% nationally, and 70% entered college compared to 24% nationally. Students scored higher on the AIMS test compared to other Hispanic students who did not take the classes.

2006: Dolores Huerta, cofounder of the United Farm Workers, speaks to students at Tucson Magnet High School that "Republicans hate Latinos" (Sagara), after which ADE Superintendent of Schools Tom Horne sends Assistant Superintendent and fellow Republican Margaret Garcia Dugan to Tucson to give a speech on recognizing stereotyping of the nature allegedly committed by Huerta. Dugan's own ethnic loyalty was challenged by students attending her presentation. (Page) Horne attacks the Mexican American Studies program in the media, asking for TUSD to examine and eliminate it. A new school board votes 4-1 to retain the program despite Horne's diatribes.

2008, 2009: Superintendent Horne enlists AZ Representative Steve Montenegro to draft legislation to ban "Ethnic Studies," which Montenegro introduces in the House Education committee, failing to cite any statistics on the educational impact of the bill but, rather, descrying it as "anti-American, racist . . . [and] otherwise unfit for teaching in public schools" (Lundholm, 1047). AS Senator Russell Pearce, author of Arizona's SB 1070 sponsors a bill to ban any sort of campus activities or classes that promote ethnic solidarity in Arizona's public schools. This legislation fails to get traction two years in a row in the Arizona Legislature.

2010 (May ): Three weeks after the enactment of Arizona's SB 1070, legislation requiring people stopped by police on suspicion of having committed a crime to present documents proving their citizenship, the bill banning Ethnic Studies HB 2281 also passes. As reported in the Los Angeles Times on May 12, 2010: A bill that aims to ban ethnic studies in Arizona schools was signed into law Tuesday by Gov. Jan Brewer, cheering critics who called such classes divisive and alarming others who said it's yet another law targeting Latinos in the state. (Santa Cruz)

According to the bill: Section 15-112. "Prohibited courses and classes; enforcement" states

A. A school district or charter school in this state shall not include in
its program of instruction any courses or classes that include any of the following:
1) Promote the overthrow of the United States government.
2) Promote resentment toward a race or class of people.
3) Are designed primarily for pupils of a particular ethnic group.
4) Advocate ethnic solidarity instead of the treatment of pupils as
(HB 2281)

2010 (October 18): Anticipating the law's passage, [Curtis Acosta] and 10 other Tucson high school teachers filed a lawsuit Oct. 18, 2010, against the superintendent of public instruction (Horne has since moved up to attorney general of Arizona) and the Board of Education, maintaining House Bill 2281 violates the First and 14th Amendments (Fleming).

2010 (December 30): The Tucson Unified School District Governing Board, in agreement with TUSD Superintendent of Schools, John Pedicone, unanimously passes the "Resolution to Implement Ethnic Studies in Tucson Unified School District in Accordance with All Applicable Laws."

2010 (December 30): Just days before leaving office, Tom Horne declares the TUSD Mexican Studies program to be in violation of the law. He does not observe any of the classes but, rather, bases his judgment on his own perusal of the textbooks and his conversation with five former teachers of the class (Lundholm, 1043). Horne says the only way TUSD can be in compliance with state statute is to completely discontinue the program (1043).

2011: Newly elected ADE Superintendent, John Hupenthal, hires an educational consulting firm to complete a study of the program at the cost of $110,000. Consultants evaluate the textbooks, observe classes, conduct interviews and focus groups with people connected with the program and conclude that it in no way violates the state law. Hupenthal vacates the firm's findings and issues his own findings in June that conclude the program violates three of the four tests in 15-112 based on his "independent research" (1044). It is interesting to note that Hupenthal was a member of the Arizona Senate who had added amendments to the bill while in office.

2011 (December 27): Administrative Law Judge Lewis Kowal rules that Mexican American Studies as taught in TUSD violates H.B. 2281 (now A.R.S. 15-111 and 112), as written, validating ADE's power to withhold 10 percent of Tucson Unified School District's funding.

2012 (January 10): The TUSD votes 4-1 to discontinue the Mexican American Studies program.

2012 (January 17): The following books are boxed and relocated to the TUSD storage facility: Critical Race Theory, by Richard Delgado; 500 Years of Chicano History in Pictures, edited by Elizabeth Martinez; Message to AZTLAN, by Rodolfo Corky Gonzales; Chicano! The History of the Mexican Civil Rights Movement, by Arturo Rosales; Occupied America: A History of Chicanos, by Rodolfo Acuña; Pedagogy of the Oppressed, by Paulo Freire; and Rethinking Columbus: The Next 500 Years, by Bill Bigelow. District spokesperson Cara Rene says the books are not banned from school libraries but will not be used in classes (Gersema). For a complete list of additional books from courses in the now defunct Mexican American Studies Program, see Debbie Reese's excellent blog, American Indians in Children's Literature. According to Tucson officials, these books remain available in school libraries.

2012 (April): School Board member Michael Hicks and TUSD teacher Curtis Acosta are interviewed on The Daily Show.

2012 (April): Constitutionality of the law, as challenged by 10 TUSD teachers will be examined at the federal level by Judge Wallace Tashima of the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit.

The elimination of the courses which used these books amounts to 10 giant steps backwards to all the teachers, librarians, parents, authors, and scholars who have tried to provide quality, engaging literature that represents as many ways to be a human being as we know of after so many years of the elitist (and boring) DOWM curriculum, as Ted Hipple referred to it (dead, old, white men).

Among these books are many we have been promoting heavily for their power to help young people make sense of the world and understand the valuable part they have to play in it. The loss of these classes means the quieting of the voices of Sherman Alexie, James Baldwin, Jane Yolen, Jimmy Santiago Baca, Sandra Cisneros, Isabella Allende, Matt de la Peña, bell hooks, Malcom X, Francisco Jimenez, Luis Rodriguez, Rudolfo Anaya, Martin Luther King, and even our own local treasures, Ofelia Zepeda and Stella Pope Duarte. Lori Carlson's collections of Latino/a and Native American pieces are boxed and stored, too. The voice of Cesar Chavez, for whom the center square in
downtown Phoenix is named, has been removed, as well as the voice of our own United
States President, Barack Obama.

Which brings us to now, April 16, 2012, a few days after the TUSD school board voted 3-2 not to renew the contract of Mexican American Studies Director Sean Arce in a heavily protested school board meeting. This is also a few days after Arce won the Horton Award for his efforts to teach the truth about history and politics in the Southwest. Perhaps no one said it better than Myle's Horton himself when the state of Tennessee attempted to bring an end to the efforts of the Highlander Folk School: "A school is an idea, and you can't padlock an idea" (Zinn).

And you can't keep books in boxes forever.

James Blasingame
Past president of the Assembly on Literature for Adolescents of
Past co-editor of The ALAN Review.
Resident of Chandler, Arizona

Works Cited

Fleming, Susan Domagalski. "A Teacher Put to the Test." Willamette University The Scene. Winter 2012. Web. 16 4 2012.
Gersema, Emily. "Tucson District Denies Ban of Mexican-American Books." Arizona Republic. 17 1 2012. Web. 16 4 2012. district-denies-ban-mexican-american-books.html

"Highlander Folk School 25th Anniversary." Civil Rights Digital Library. 11 7 2012. Web. 16 4 2012.

Huicochea, Alexis. "TUSD Board Shuts Down Mexican American Studies." Arizona Daily Star. 11 1 2012. Web. 16 4 2012.

Lundholm, Nicholas B. "Cutting Class: Why Arizona's Ethnic Studies Ban Won't Ban Ethnic Studies." Arizona Law Review 53.1041: 1041-1088.

Menkart, Deborah. April 2, 2012. "Zinn Education Project Honors Sean Arce." Teaching a People's History: Zinn Education Project. 2 4 2012. Retrieved 16 4 2012 from

Page, Clarence. "Ethnic Studies Can Unite Us." Chicago Tribune. 16 5 2010. Web. 16 4 2012. column,0,6783724.column

Reese, Debbie. "Mexican American Studies Reading List." American Indians in Children's Literature. 15 1 2012. Web. 16 4 2012.

Sagara, Eric. "'Hate-Speak' at School Draws Scrutiny." Tucson Citizen. 13 4 2006. Web. 16 4 2012.

Santa Cruz, Nicole. "Arizona Bill Targeting Ethnic Studies Signed into Law." Los Angeles Times. 12 5 2010. Web. 16 4 2012.