Saturday, February 11, 2012

Banned in Tucson: Critical Race Studies

In a nutshell: Young Mexican-American students in Tucson are under attack by right-wing, reactionary forces for trying to understand the matrix of oppression and privilege in which their lives are embedded.

UPDATE: April 28, 2012 "When they see students asserting their agency, asserting their voice, matriculating into college, for them that is a threat." Interview with Tucson's ousted Mexican-American Studies director in Colorlines. In a related article, Tucson students took over a school board meeting where a resolution to determine the fate of the entire Ethnic Studies Program (not just the Mexican-American Studies part of it) was up for discussion. Additional coverage of the resolution in the Tucson weekly and the Blog for Arizona. Earlier this month, Inside Higher Ed reported that John Huppenthal, the state school superintendent who began the crusade against Mexican-American studies at the high school level, is now taking his crusade to the college level. His major concern: the college ethnic studies programs produce the state's future high school teachers. That is, his goal is to suffocate critical pedagogy at its source.

UPDATE: March 8, 2012. Judge rejects request to reinstate TUSD class
By The Associated Press. Published: March 5, 2012 at 4:40 pm

UPDATE: Feb. 22, 2012. Read this excellent op-ed piece in the Bellingham Herald on "Why Arizona banned ethnic studies."

Scroll to the end for a new postscript and a new video about the latest in cross-border lawlessness: librotraficante!

Scroll to the end for a new video of a Mexican-American Studies student testifying at the first meeting of the Tucson Unified School District Board since the books were removed from the classrooms (held on Feb. 14, 2012)

This story is so overwhelming, I scarcely know where to begin. Let's start with a video from The Real News website about walkouts and teach-ins staged in recent days by Mexican-American students to protest the suspension of the Tucson school district's Mexican American studies program.

More at The Real News

Here's more background on the story. This video from the PBS program Religion and Ethnic NewsWeekly aired on December 17, 2010.

As you can glean from the video embedded above, ethnic studies had been part of the high school curriculum in Tucson since at least the early 2000s (so far I have not been able to date it more precisely than that). What made this story news was the ethnic studies ban passed by the Arizona legislature and signed into law by Gov. Jan Brewer in May 2010.

According to a fact sheet for House Bill 2281, the bill expressly prohibits public schools from including courses or classes which promote the overthrow of the federal government, as well as courses that promote resentment towards a race or class of people, are designed primarily for students of a particular race or ethnic group, or "advocate ethnic solidarity instead of the treatment of pupils as individuals."

The law, evidently drafted to order by John Huppenthal, the state superintendent of public instruction, gives the school's superintendent the authority to determine violations of the law, and requires the school district to come into compliance within 60 days of any such determination, under threat of a ten percent monthly cut in state funding to remain in effect until the districts rectifies its erroneous ways.

Passage of the law gave Huppenthal the opportunity he had long been waiting for to shut down ethnic studies--in particular, to shut down the Mexican-American studies program. In June 2011, Huppenthal deemed the program to be in violation of the law. As reported in the Los Angeles Times, the Tucson Unified School District appealed the ruling. On December 27, an Arizona administrative law judge ruled that Mexican American studies program violated the law, giving Huppenthal not only legal but now also judicial cover to shut the program down (as reported in the Los Angeles times, among other sources).

What is really going on here is a right-wing, conservative, reactionary opposition to critical race studies.

While the ethnic studies program in the Tucson school district includes African-American studies and Asian-American studies, among others, the Mexican-American studies program was a particular target of Huppenthal, for obvious political reasons. As best I can tell, it was the Mexican-American studies program that was deemed to be in violation of the law, and it was on behalf of the Mexican-American studies program that the legal challenge was brought.

As stated on the school district's Mexican American Studies website, the goals of the program are as follows:
  • Advocating for and providing culturally relevant curriculum for grades K-12
  • Advocating for and providing curriculum that is centered within the pursuit of social justice
  • Advocating for and providing curriculum that is centered within the Mexican American/Chicano cultural and historical experience
  • Working towards the invoking of a critical consciousness within each and every student
  • Providing and promoting teacher education that is centered within Critical Pedagogy, Latino Critical Race Pedagogy, and Authentic Caring
  • Promoting and advocating for social and educational transformation
  • Promoting and advocating for the demonstration of respect, understanding, appreciation, inclusion, and love at every level of service
Key inflammatory words: advocating, culturally relevant, social justice, Mexican American/Chicano cultural and historical experience, critical consciousness, Critical Pedagogy, Latino Critical Race Pedagogy, Authentic Caring, social and educational transformation, respect, understanding, appreciation, inclusion, and love.

Them's socialist words!

On one level, this is an attack on the ideas and writings of Brazilian educator Paulo Freire (1921-1997), in particular, his influential book, Pedagogy of the Oppressed, first published in Portuguese in 1968 and in English in 1970, which virtually single-handedly gave birth to the fields of both critical pedagogy and critical race studies. But of course it's much more than that. Pedagogy of the Oppressed is the message, and Freire is the messenger, but the targets of this tragic conflict are the young Mexican-American students in Tucson who are trying, with the help of their teachers and their public school system, to come to grips with their own socially constructed and historically specific identities, to understand the axes of oppression and privilege that form the matrix of their existence, and to become agents of change and social transformation, beginning with themselves.

A pending federal lawsuit (Acosta v. Huppenthal, CV-10-623-TUC-AWT), charges that the state’s ruling and decision to shut down the program is a violation of the First Amendment, free speech rights of the students enrolled in the program to learn about the full breadth of American history. On March 7, the National Association for Chicana and Chicano Studies (NACCS) and 26 education and civil rights organizations filed a friend of the court brief in the case (as reported by the Sacramento Bee). Stay tuned....

Okay, I think my job here is done for now. I have little more to say about this other than that it is wrong and bad and more people should be talking about it and doing something about it. Start by sharing this blog post on facebook and twitter, and take it from there.

Postscript: One of many no doubt. People are finding creative and resourceful ways to protest this injustice. Learn about the latest in cross-border lawlessness...

Postscript: Nico, one of the Mexican-American Studies students in Tucson who witnessed the confiscation of his text books, testifies before a meeting of the school board.

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