The lines have been drawn. Or rather, the date has been set and the countdown has begun. If Arizona State Schools Superintendent Tom Horne has his way, after December 31, 2010, Tucson Unified School District’s (TUSD) highly successful Mexican-American studies K-12 department will cease to exist.
Despite Gov. Jan Brewer having signed HB 2281, the anti-ethnic studies measure – in May of this year – supporters have good reason to feel confident that on January 1, Raza studies will be alive and well.
The measure bans schools from teaching hate, anti-Americanism and the violent overthrow of the US government. Horne, 2281’s “intellectual author,” claims that Raza studies advocates these things, and promotes “ethnic solidarity” and results in racial segregation in schools.
The Draconian measure and Orwellian effort does not call for the outright elimination of Raza/ethnic studies. Instead, it calls for the withdrawing of 10 percent of district funds every month that a program is found to be out of compliance. For TUSD, that would amount to $3 million per month, a sum it can ill-afford to lose.
The day after 2281 was signed and after Horne threatened to show up to TUSD headquarters to do a victory lap – hundreds upon hundreds of K-16 students and community activists laid siege to both TUSD headquarters and then later the state building, resulting in 15 arrests. During this siege, TUSD’s board of governors issued a May 14 statement from the acting superintendent. In its entirety, it reads:
“TUSD proudly supports our Ethnic Studies classes. We have no plans to eliminate or reduce course offerings. We believe these courses are relevant, engaging, meet state standards and are in full compliance with the law. Additionally, they are part our unitary status plan. We stand firmly behind our Ethnic Studies Department, staff members and students.”
The statements are a clear indication that if the program is ruled out of compliance, it will be the antithesis of local control and the epitome of foreign [state] intervention. His goal – as he has repeatedly stated – is to rule Raza studies out of compliance and to eliminate it by the end of the year.
As a result, a historic lawsuit against Horne is forthcoming. The consensus among Tucson’s Mexican-American community is that, come January 3, Raza studies will be fully operational – continuing to educate and inspire minds and continuing its successful mission of preparing its students to attend colleges and universities nationwide. This program is virtually an anti-dropout program (more than a 90 percent graduation rate) and more than that, it is now virtually a college student factory (upwards of 70 percent). But Horne doesn’t care about that. Instead, his primary concern is ensuring that only Greco-Roman knowledge – the purported basis for Western civilization – is taught in Arizona schools.
Raza studies grounds students in critical thinking, and in indigenous pedagogies – on maiz-based or Maya-Nahua knowledge(s) that is thousands of years old and that originates on this very continent. Despite this, Horne and his legislative allies claim that Raza studies is un-American. In court, Horne will have his hands full in defining these terms. Can things that originate in Greece and Rome be considered American, while knowledge that originates on the American continent be considered un-American and not part of Western civilization?
The measure makes a clumsy attempt to isolate Raza studies; it allows for the teaching of the Holocaust and purportedly exempts both American Indian studies classes (required by federal law) and African-American studies classes (that are open to everyone). These are false exemptions because all ethnic studies classes are open to everyone and there are no American Indian ethnic studies classes required by federal law. Despite this, the measure appears to be a clear discriminatory effort to eliminate Raza studies.
In the realm of definitions – will maiz-based knowledge also be ruled as not indigenous or “American Indian”?
The forthcoming lawsuit will be historic in nature. Think Scopes Monkey trial or Brown v. Topeka Board of Education. What happens here in Arizona will set a legal precedent of not simply what can be taught in public schools – but also whether states have the right to restrict, censor, dictate, intimidate and overrule what districts and educators can teach in local schools.
HB 2281 is the epitome of (cultural) mind control or forced assimilation. Ultimately, the struggle – as depicted in the forthcoming “Precious Knowledge” documentary – is about the inherent right – also enshrined in treaties and international laws – of children to learn about their own histories and cultures. At TUSD, it is about the right of all children to learn about these histories and cultures and thus the forthcoming lawsuit.
- A national mobilization in support of TUSD’s Raza studies is currently underway and the primary focus of National Ethnic Studies Week. For more information, go here.
- A national conference on hate, censorship and forbidden curriculums will take place at The University of Arizona December 2-4. For info, click here or email.