It has been awhile since I’ve written about the ongoing legal battle between the state of Arizona and the teachers of Tucson High School. Unfortunately, things are not well. Earlier this month I received an email from Curtis Acosta, one of the ethnic studies teachers whom I interviewed in 2010. Here’s what he had to say:
Last night the Tucson Unified School District Governing Board voted 4-1 to immediately eliminate the Mexican American Studies program. All other ethnic studies programs are unaffected and I will know more today how this will impact our students and content of our classes. Many rumors are swirling around that the composition of the classes may change which would drastically affect our students through mass schedule changes.
This optimism cannot be shared in regard to the content of our classes which we believe will be completely eliminated or altered beyond recognition. Assignment changes are expected for all of our colleagues, including the Director of Mexican American Studies Sean Arce.
And, it gets worse as news has come out that school officials confiscated books during the middle of class including Paulo Freire’s A Pedagogy of the Oppressed, Rodolfo Acuña’s Occupied America, and Elizabeth Martinez’s 500 Years of Chicano History in Pictures and Rethinking Schools’ Rethinking Columbus. As you can imagine students described their books being boxed up as “heartbreaking.”
I’ve written quite a bit about this but at this moment I’m at a loss of words. Pedagogy of the Oppressed is perhaps one of the most important books written in the last fifty years, and how can one decide not to rethink Christopher Columbus in this day and age? Is it not a forgone conclusion that the man didn’t discover a part of the world that was already inhabited by people; people who are still here?
Like the students of Tuscon High School I was fortunate enough to have a history teacher that taught me a side of history that was more personal and honest. It was this type of honesty that inspired me to study harder, and to have pride in myself and others. I can speak from personal experience, as a student and educator, that this type of education is important to us all.
The true history of this country (in all of its glory and messiness) is something to be far more proud of than the cookie cutter, surface level history that we are taught the day we enter public education. As we have been forced to say again and again over the last few years…shame on Arizona.
For more information on the debate I implore you to read Jeff Biggers’ Salon.com article, “Who’s Afraid of the Tempest?”
“The only other time a book of mine was banned was in 1986, when the apartheid government in South Africa banned ‘Strangers in Their Own Country,’ a curriculum I’d written that included a speech by then-imprisoned Nelson Mandela,” said [Bill]Bigelow, who serves as curriculum editor of Rethinking Schools magazine, and co-directs the online Zinn Education Project ”We know what the South African regime was afraid of. What is the Tucson school district afraid of?”
Debbie Reese’s, “Teaching Critical Thinking in Arizona: NOT ALLOWED.”
I’m pretty sure that Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Little House of the Prairie is not on the list. Towards the end of that story, Pa learns that the federal government wants squatters (he doesn’t use that word) to get off of Indian land. They load the wagon and as they drive away, they look back and see that that “their little log house and the little stable sat lonely in the stillness.” Pa says that it is a great country, “but there will be wild Indians and wolves here for many a long day.” Books like Little House teach readers to resent a race or class of people, too, but I doubt it is being removed from classrooms in Tucson.
Biggers’ Huffington Post interview with Tucson teacher Curtis Acosta.
We have quantitative academic results and brilliant graduates who are outstanding young people dedicated to their community. That is why the lack of support from our own district has been so frustrating and tragic. We have worked tirelessly for the students and families in the district for decades and the same cannot be said by the politicians and officials that ended our program on January 10th.
And, if you want to hear the argument from the state, watch the debate between John Huppenthal, Arizona superintendent of public instruction and Richard Martinez, the attorney representing teachers and students in Tucson Unified School District’s Mexican American Studies program.