The Return of Mexican American Studies to Tucson

Arizona state law dismantled the Mexican American Studies program offered by the Tucson Unified School District with a ban on ethnic studies courses passed three years ago. But due to a judge’s desegregation order, the program appears to be headed for a resurrection.

The course was removed due to the ban– but a judge’s order for “culturally relevant” classes appears to be enough to revive it. According to an NPR report, the Mexican American Studies courses were originally created due to a desegregation order.

Classes haven’t resumed and apparently district officials are working to ensure that they offer a program that is acceptable to the state. The program had been criticized by critics who said it fostered anger toward Anglos.

Arizona Superintendent of Public Instruction John Huppenthal has also commented on the difficulty of bringing back classes that he would deem acceptable.

“Do you cover those injustices in a way in which we say these are profound things that we should be aware of and we have to work in this country to make this country a better place? Or do you use those injustices to create racial division, and do you use those injustices to create hatred?” asked Huppenthal, according to NPR.

Related Links:

– “Tucson Revives Mexican-American Studies Program,” NPR. 

– Mexican American Studies May Return to Tucson, Arizona, Kind Of. The Huffington Post. 

– “Rift in Arizona as Latino Class is Found Illegal,” The New York Times. 

Will Tucson’s Desegregation Plan Bring Ethnic Studies Back?

Plaintiffs in a decades-long federal desegregation case against the Tucson Unified School District have filed a plan with the court calling for a culturally relevant curriculum for Latino and black students, among other requests. While it does not mention it in name, the proposal could mean a push to resurrect the district’s controversial Mexican American Studies program, which was dismantled last school year. The plaintiffs want to see courses that reflect the history and culture of Mexican Americans.

“The restoration and expansion of literature and social studies courses that focus on Mexican American experiences recognizes the important role these courses play in engaging students and improving their academic achievement and graduation rates and is a critical strategy for closing the achievement gap for Latino students,” said the plaintiffs’ attorney Nancy Ramirez, with the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, in a news release.

The school district has been overseen for more than 30 years under the desegregation case.

The “Unitary Status Plan” proposal also calls for integrating magnet programs and schools, increasing diversity among administrators, and setting goals for increasing Latino and black student enrollment in gifted programs, reports the Arizona Daily Star.

Further bolstering the plan, a new study by the University of Arizona concludes that the MAS courses positively affected student achievement.

The Daily Star reported that school board members had a mixed reaction to the proposal, but overall called it an improvement over previous plans.

Board member Adelita Grijalva expressed hopes that the plan would give “specific direction” for the return of the MAS program. Board member Michael Hicks took the opposing view and disagreed with the proposal calling for culturally relevant courses. He thought such courses could segregate students. But he didn’t entirely reject it.

“Although the board had reservations with some of the requests, it’s a good plan,” he told the newspaper. “Let’s see what the judge does.”

Related Links:

– “Latinos support latest plan for TUSD balance.” Arizona Daily Star. 

– Mexican American Studies: Tucson Courses Improved Achievement, New Report Says.” The Huffington Post. 

“MALDEF joins in filing draft plan to desegregate and improve educational achievement for Latino students in Tucson Unified School District.” MALDEF.

– “Ethnic Studies Could Return to Tucson in Desegregation Plan.” Learning the Language Blog. Education Week. 

‘The Daily Show’ Takes on Tucson’s Mexican American Studies Ban

Jon Stewart’s “The Daily Show” featured a comedic report this week about the Tucson Unified School District’s controversial dismantling of its Mexican American Studies program. Critics of the district were highly amused and eagerly shared the video on social media. But in Tucson, not everybody was laughing.

In the segment, “fake news” correspondent Al Madrigal interviews Tucson school board member Michael Hicks. Hicks ends up coming off as inarticulate and bumbling in his criticism of the MAS program. His comments include misidentifying Rosa Parks as Rosa “Clark” and suggesting that class instructors bribed students with burritos.

“My concern was a lot of the radical ideas that they were teaching in these classes, telling these kids that this is their land, the whites took it over, and the only way to get out from beneath the gringo–which is the white man–is by bloodshed,” he told Madrigal.

Hicks also is mocked for his response to being asked about whether he’d actually attended any of the classes. “I base my thoughts on hearsay from others,” he said to laughter in the background.

Former MAS teacher Curtis Acosta is also interviewed in defense of the classes, saying the students felt more engaged in school after taking the courses. “We don’t teach them to hate white people,” he said. “What we’re trying to do is provide a more complex version of what has happened in our past so that our students are engaged and can ask themselves critical questions and build their own understanding.”

In an editorial, The Arizona Republic called the segment “a cringe-inducing humiliation” of Hicks and a “hit job.” The newspaper suggests that the school board president would have been a more articulate representative of the district and also defends the decision to dismantle the program. “Honest education expands horizons and creates context,” the editorial noted. “It doesn’t restrict knowledge to narrow points of view designed to lead students to a preordained conclusion that their country is a hateful place offering no future for them.”

Meanwhile, the Arizona Daily Star editorial board weighed in to say that Hicks’ comments embarrassed himself and Tucson. “Hicks demonstrates, with cringe-worthy perfection, that he has no real clue about the MAS courses, and a wide array of other topics a reasonable person might expect a school board member to understand,” the paper notes.

As for Hicks, he released a statement saying that his comments were taken out on context.

The segments show that the Tucson showdown continues to be highly emotional. What can you take away from the comments by Hicks and Acosta? Does your school district have any ethnic studies courses and have they been controversial? If Latino history is included in instruction, how is it taught? Or is Hispanic history simply not addressed at all?

Arizona Education Chief Critical of University Mexican American Studies Programs

With the Tucson Public Schools’ Mexican American Studies program now dismantled, Arizona Superintendent of Schools John Huppenthal is considering a new battle.

Fox News Latino reports that Huppenthal blames Mexican American Studies programs at universities for educating the teachers who taught in the Tucson program. “I think that’s where this toxic thing starts from, the universities,” he said. “To me, the pervasive problem was the lack of balance going on in these classes.” He has said the Tucson classes encouraged students to resent whites, and he fought successfully for their removal from the curriculum.

Huppenthal is a member of Arizona’s Board of Regents, which oversees the state’s public universities. Professors are now concerned that he might target their courses next. For example, the University of Arizona in Tucson has a Mexican American Studies program. “It’s an affront to freedom of speech,” that program’s director, Antonio Estrada, told Fox News Latino. “We do not indoctrinate; we educate. Academic freedom will be lost if these programs are not sustained at the university level.”

The program’s website states that it is committed to public policy research on Mexican Americans. It was created in 1981, years after students first protested and demanded its creation in 1968. “As the leading public policy research center addressing issues of concerns to this minority group in Arizona, the Department works collaboratively with key community agencies in promoting leadership and empowerment of Mexican Americans within the state and nation,” the site says.

In your home communities, do school districts or universities offer similar courses, and are they being criticized as is the case in Arizona? What sort of curriculum do they use? What do students think of these courses? I’d like to learn more about what the students feel they gain from such programs. Especially for Hispanic students, how important is it to read literature written by authors who are of the same ethnic background?

In Tucson, Activists Protest the Removal of Books by Latino Authors

Depending on whom you ask, the Tucson Unified School District is either banning books or just boxing them up for storage.

But everybody agrees that numerous books written by Latino authors were removed from classrooms in January. They were banished after Arizona’s school superintendent John Huppenthal deemed the Mexican American Studies program racially divisive and illegal. As a result, books were removed when the program was dismantled.

Authors, librarians, students and teachers are among those protesting the actions. The American Library Association has adopted a resolution condemning the restriction of access to books associated with the ethnic studies program; the association cited the importance of including diverse authors in student curriculum.

CNN has reported that many students are disappointed by the decision. “I feel really disheartened,” Maria Therese Mejia, a senior at Tucson Magnet High School, told the network. “Those are our history, you know? It’s ridiculous for them to be taking away our education. They’re taking (the books) to storage where no one can use them.”

Activists calling themselves librotraficantes are planning a protest  to “smuggle”  books by Hispanic authors into Tucson and then giving them away in the city.

Author Luis Alberto Urrea, whose books were originally taught in the classes, has taken to Twitter repeatedly to oppose the actions of the school district. Urrea, the son of a Mexican father and American mother, writes often about the life at the border between Mexico and the United States. “What’s heartbreaking is I don’t think it’s about banned books,” he said in a talk last week at Southern Methodist University in Dallas. “It’s a bigger thing. It’s about banning ethnicity.”

He added that books are meant to be gateways and instead the ethnic studies course. “What divides us is not education,” he said. “What divides us is censorship.”

The school district has released an official list of seven books removed from the class room, many of them focused on race relations and civil rights. They included “Chicano! The History of the Mexican Civil Rights Movement” by Arturo Rosales and “Message to Aztlan” by Rodolfo “Corky” Gonzales. District officials also issued a statement calling accusations of a book ban “false and misleading.”

The majority of students in Tucson schools are Latino. So how important is it for students to read literature that reflects their own ethnic background? Some research suggests that students like to read about characters who share their background, which can help build self-esteem.

Does your school district have ethnic studies courses and what sorts of books do they use? Does your district have any initiatives to diversify what students read? Do students in your district have the opportunity to read about historical figures such as Cesar Chavez?