In Rhode Island, charter schools are growing at an alarming rate. While the media continues comparing the population of “traditional public” schools to charters, anyone in education knows that this is a far cry from the truth! The BD, ESL, Special Needs students are extremely different. They also exit students back into public schools who do not meet their criteria. Also, charters have 100% parental involvement. Not to mention the mandates placed on public school teachers, where focus is taken from the students and placed on a lot of paper work. Because charters receive federal and state funding, they should also be included in these mandates. The lotteries should be open to “ALL” those in public schools, not just “those” whose parents have taken the time to enroll them. If chosen, then the parents should be able to have the choice of charter or traditional public.
The student leaders of South Puget Sound Community College, The Evergreen State College chapter of MEChA, and Evergreen State College students interested in labor issues hosted a Teach-in on the Ethnic Studies ban today in Olympia, WA. The college students planned the event for several months. We had 35 students from 2 different high schools attend. The teach-in featured a showing of “Precious Knowledge” and a follow-up discussion; afterwards, the college students taught lessons from the “No History is Illegal” campaign and offered our high school students the opportunity to host teach-ins of their own with our assistance. One of the high schools plans to start a chapter of MEChA and reinvigorate its Cultural Awareness club with special attention paid to family involvement. The other high school created an action plan to address racially insensitive comments in the hallways. We will continue to spread the word–No History is Illegal!
I’m actually a student in N.Y.C. and my Global History teacher has been teaching us about whats going on in Tucson, Arizona. From the very beginning she had my attention. I feel that the ban on ethnic studies is absolutely ludicrous. I don’t understand why government officials are threatened by Mexican American studies to the point that they feel that it should be banned. Next they will want to ban African American studies, then while there at it how about banning all materials that talk about the Holocaust. Students have a right to know where they come from, what we learn in history isn’t always pretty, but we do have a right to know our history. In order to know where you are going, you must first understand where you come from. I’m not even Mexican and I’m outraged by the idea that one group of people can be told what they can and cannot learn, based on ethnicity. Speaking as an African American and an undocumented student, Arizona is an extremely racist state and they fail to realize the United states on the whole, was founded by; and built on the backs of immigrants.
I am a retired teacher. I went through hell with the way I was treated while teaching in the Public School in Indiana. I was placed on probation observed and in meetings constantly from 1985 to 2002. I retired to get away from that horror. Educated public officials got away with that now to make your history illigal because it shows how cruel they are, that is just as bad as always showing a “white” Christ when the Bible says differently. Rev. 1:12-15. They might say the Bible is illegal. Dr. King was right. This is White Supremacy, this snake isn’t dead yet!
A thought from a student in my 7th grade history class in Washington, DC. He presented this statement at a community event to honor Cesar Chavez and his work to help all Hispanics to have better working conditions and a better life!
Cesar Chavez Public Charter Schools
NO HISTORY IS ILLEGAL
No history is illegal and the people who think otherwise are either being egotistical, like the superintendent of the Tucson school board or Hypocrites. All people have the right to learn their customs and their history. People who think us, Latinos learning OUR culture will make us “Anti – American “are being hypocrites’ and they are wrong. On the contrary we will become Anti American if we don’t learn crucial facts about our cultures. We will feel left out and unimportant then we will drop out and make the world a worse place and our future generations will definitely not have an exemplary role model and we would not want them to follow those footsteps. The superintendent is a major hypocrite how can he say he believes and attended the Civil Rights march and he is dramatically making up excuses for wanting to deprive the Hispanic race of their knowledge of their rich history. We need to not only help the Tucson students but all of the kids need to be aware of THEIR history. Thus making the dropout rate lower and helping them become unified not only the Mexicans but all Hispanics. We need to avoid the obstacles in life and learn how to use the hate against the haters and become a better person to make a better and just world.
Last Wednesday I had the opportunity to discuss HB 2281 in my son’s class. When I presented the idea to his teacher, Kathy, she was immediately on board. Using a “hook” from one of my colleagues, I brought in a bunch of the so-called banned books in a black bag; students couldn’t tell what I brought in. I began by telling them I brought something in the classroom that would be considered illegal and dangerous in some schools in the US. After guessing weapons, bombs and a tank, the 2nd and 3rd graders were shown what was in my bag. “How is a book dangerous?” one of the students inquired. Just by asking them questions about the issue, Kathy and I engaged in a critical conversation about the issue. How would it feel if you couldn’t study about your family or your family’s ancestors? Why are the books feared by the people who banned them? How would it feel if you were a student in Arizona and knew other students from other states supported your right to have these books in your schools? We just scratched the surface, but we got them thinking about what would happen if we, as students, teachers, parents, did nothing to stand in solidarity with the students in Arizona. My hope is that we educate this class and bring more classes on board. Never underestimate the power of eight and nine year-olds!
One of the classes I teach at my school is designated as an ELD or English Language Development block. It is a class for students who have been labeled “English Language Learners” in need of additional language supports. I have a hard time implementing the district approved curriculum because it patronizes students with the sounding out and repeating of consonant and vowel sounds and fails to engage them in authentic learning. This means we usually develop our own curriculum. As the events in Arizona have unfolded, we have started to talk more and more about the issues. We have, and are continuing to use the No History is Illegal curriculum as a part of our study. My students have become passionately motivated in class as a result. I have seen students, who have been reluctant to engage or produce much work this entire year, blossom and turn in some of their best work to date. Students seemed excited about writing letters to the editor at the Arizona Republic. They were energized by the fact that even as an out of state teenager their voice mattered and should be heard. I told one of my students how impressed I was with her writing. She smiled and responded, “Yea, it’s because I really got into, Mister.” Once they finished their letters, I knew that they had to share their voices with others, but when I mentioned the idea of presenting something to the entire school at our upcoming assembly, they initially expressed some worry and nervousness. It wasn’t long though before they became engrossed in the preparation of what they wanted to say. With almost no direction or input from me, they developed a PowerPoint, wrote speeches, organized a collective “poem” made from their letters to the editor, and planned an almost 10 minute presentation that they shared with the over 200 students, teachers, and staff that we have at our school. Watching them share their passionate display of learning and activism was one of my proudest moments as a teacher. I was and am so proud of their courage to speak up and stand in solidarity with all those engaged in the struggle for social justice. I was humbled seeing some of my most timid students reclaim a piece of their voice and recognize their agency to act. This experience has further solidified for me just how empowering and liberating education can be when it is rooted in not only a critical pedagogy for social justice, but also love…a love of ourselves, of who we are and where we come from, and a love of the collective humanity that we all share…In Lak’ech.
The link below is a video of their presentation. They start by showing the trailer for Precious Knowledge, then they break down the logistics of HB 2281. After pointing out the consequences of the law, they discuss the opposing perspectives on the issue. They end by declaring their support for ethnic studies and MAS and recite their collective “poem/letter to Tom Horne, John Huppenthal, and TUSD.”
Yesterday, February 28th, I facilitated 11th grade English classes at Classical High School in Providence, RI using the role play lesson from the “No History Is Illegal” guide. The day before, the regular classroom teacher worked with students to read the NYT article from January 2011 about what’s going down in Tucson, but it really wasn’t until the role play and our subsequent discussion when I think the sense of injustice started to sink in for many of the students. With two of the classes I recited the poem “In Lak ‘Ech” and finished by stating that in Tucson, AZ, the recitation of that poem by MAS teachers and students has been declared illegal. Judging from many of the students’ incredulous responses, it was clear that the absurdity of what Attorney General Horne and others have done in AZ had been exposed.
On Sunday, Feb. 26, students, staff, and community members at Washington State University and from the surrounding area joined together to march (in the snow!) to protest Arizona HB 2281. The full story, with photos and a video, can be found online at http://dailyevergreen.wsu.edu/read/Students-fight-HB-2281.
Global Kids works with public high school students across New York City. During our February retreat, our GK leaders watched Precious Knowledge and discussed why the struggle of students and teachers in Arizona is so important. GK leaders were deeply moved and enraged by what they saw in the film and the actions of policymakers in Tucson. After the film and workshop, students took action by writing letters, creating videos with messages to TUSD’s students and teachers, and taking solidarity pictures with signs and messages. One student wrote in her letter: “I understand why ethnic studies classes are so essential for students across the nation. America is a country made up of many different backgrounds and ethnicities and students should be able to learn about the country’s diversity. In doing so, students can be able to appreciate and celebrate this aspect of America. That is why I find the ban on ethnic studies programs completely outrageous and it hurts to see people oppose ethnic studies and call it “anti-American.” These people say that they don’t want students in Tucson to learn about their oppression and yet they are oppressing you by taking away this program. I hope that you don’t give up on fighting against the ban on ethnic studies. Your passion to learn about ethnic studies and protest against what you believe is wrong has completely inspired me and my fellow classmates.”
Our young folks were very sophisticated in their analysis of the reasons behind this ban and the roots of racism and xenophobia in Arizona. They were able to draw connections with their own educational experiences and talked about the effects of high stakes testing on their abilities to learn about their histories and histories of people of color.
Global Kids youth leaders and staff stand in solidarity with students and educators in Tucson, Arizona and are honored to be a part of this month of solidarity! We will continue to teach about this important struggle in our schools and with our Global Kids young leaders.
I teach a Curriculum Studies class for future elementary teachers at the University of Oregon in Eugene, Oregon. Our students have been learning about the context and implications of curricular choices–Who gets to decide? Who benefits? Who is left out? We have been reading a variety of texts to explore this issue, then watched Precious Knowledge to see how ideological battles play out in classrooms and schools, and the devastating consequences for students and communities. Some of us even had the privilege of meeting Jose Gonzalez and several of the students at a local screening!
Our students also read some excerpts from some of the banned books (“Rethinking Columbus”) and wrote letters in support of the students and staff in Arizona. They reflected on how what’s happening in Arizona affects all of us and how they can be more involved in local issues.
Hopefully we raised some awareness here about your struggles in Arizona, the general struggle over what counts as knowledge and who gets to decide, and how teachers themselves can be powerful agents for justice.
At Roosevelt High School in Los Angeles’ Eastside Boyle Heights Community, students painted a mural with Artist Wenceslao Quiroz that depicted UNIDOS students fighting for Ethnic Studies. Student club Taking Action had a community screening of Precious Knowledge and in the classroom, I screened clips in Youtube that documents the struggle for Ethnic Studies in Tucson. In my Holocaust unit I made connections to policies implemented by Hitler’s Nazi party to Arizona, such as the banning of books, discrimination, and scapegoating of a people.
I am a secretary in the staff Media Center in our district office and work with 57 school librarians and media administrators. I also work with a committee (now in it’s 20th year) of teacher/librarians that review intercultural literature to ensure that students of all backgrounds have books in which they can find themselves. I have shared the story of the incredible audacity of Tucson’s Board of Education with as many of the employees (150) here as possible as well as with my librarians. Also, I’ve spoken with friends and family about this issue, including my son in Phoenix who feels differently than I do but at least he is listening to me. Since I don’t teach a class I can only try to teach the adults around me about the racist injustice in Tucson and the resulting heartbreak for MAS students and teachers. Most are worried and appalled but a few of them say, “But that’s in Arizona – they have more problems than we do.” – I remind them that if we are silent about an injustice anywhere – we allow it to spread everywhere. Thanks for informing us all and giving us an opportunity to spread the word.
I am teaching the Early Childhood Policy and Leadership Course to an amazing group of Teach for America students who teach in Washington DC and Prince Georges County MD. Tuesday nights, the group responsible for a presentation on multicultural education chose to report on 2281. In addition to sharing information about the legislation and potential impacts, they had the class break into four groups: a student who can no longer go to the MAS class, a parent who thinks that things are better without MAS to cause divisions, a leader who claims that the same content is taught in other class curricula, and a social studies teacher who is now will be required to teach the “same content” as the banned class. Two points stood out for me. The first is one teacher who said that she teaches “illegal” content every day. The other was a discussion about the benefit of MAS for Latino and nonLatino students.
Thanks Julienne, Bobby, Leah, Chelsey and CJ!
I homeschool my 10-year-old, and we have been reading Zinn’s ‘A Young People’s History of the United States’. History should not be censored!
On Monday, February 12, students in the Historian’s Workshop class I lead – a course about methods of historical scholarship, historiography, and the ethics of research – invited friends and visitors to class to discuss what’s happening in Arizona. There were 11 students in the class, five student visitors, two prospective Knox students, another history professor, and myself and my TA.
Together we examined primary sources related to the banning of books and the dismantling of the Mexican Studies Program in Tuscon. We analyzed the bills passed by the state legislature, articles in national and local newspapers, and statements from the school board. Students got online to research what else was going on in Arizona and contextualized the documents they read. Together we built a timeline of events since Obama’s election in 2009, and with each item that went on the board we discussed why it was so important to developing our understanding of the present situation in Tuscon.
Class ended with us trying to make sense of the situation – discussing race and power and politics. The students from Historian’s Workshop were able to connect events in Tuscon to larger patterns we’ve seen at work in studying whose history is told, by whom, and when, and we all discussed who has an interest in trying to create silence where there should be vibrant, complex, limitless stories.
For homework, the students wrote letters back to the teachers and students in Tuscon. We’re hoping to do another event after spring break with a larger group of people from our campus, but we were honored to be part of this February push to talk about these issues and to put social justice at the forefront of what we do.
During the week, I teach second and third graders. On Saturdays, I’m part-time faculty in a small teacher education program. In both settings, the struggles in Tucson and their connection to struggles here and throughout the world have been discussed.
In Spark Teacher Education Institute, we’ve been reading about and discussing the situation for months. Several students have found ways to bring the issues to the classrooms (from primary grades to high school) in which they intern.
On February 1st, my second and third graders recited Luis Valdez’s In Lak’ech poem as part of our morning meeting. They were appalled to hear that anyone could possibly think that this could incite hatred.
During literacy block that day, we read That’s Not Fair! Emma Tenayuca’s struggle for justice/¡No Es Justo!: La lucha de Emma Tenayuca por la justicia, and discussed the meaning of banning history such as this. As one child said, “We all need to know the stories of how things weren’t fair for some of us and how people have worked together to make it fair.” Connecting to our studies of food and hunger, another child reminded us that we still need to work to make things fair, here in Vermont, in Arizona, and everywhere.
Since that day, In Lak-ech has become part of our daily morning meeting routine. The children don’t let me forget. Our knowledge of the struggles of teachers and students in Tucson connects to and illuminates our understanding of other struggles.
We’re on vacation now, but last week was I Love to Read and Write Week, culminating in Bedtime Stories/Pajama Day. We read poems by Pat Mora and then Juan Filipe Hererra’s Calling the Doves, in honor of our brothers and sisters in Tucson.
This past Friday, Feb. 18th, South High School in Minneapolis started a week of events around this issue. Students went into classrooms during class (teachers knew) and put stickers on ethnic studies related posters/displays. The stickers read, “Must be Removed. In violation of Statute 15-112.” They also boxed up any books on the Tucson ‘banned’ list. Any displays in the hallway were also tagged with the stickers. The students in the classroom all wanted to know what was happening, which is the reaction we wanted. Tuesday, Feb. 21, the students who did this will go back and change the stickers to ones that say ‘No History is Illegal!’ We will also hand out fliers that explain what is happening in Arizona, and let them know about other ways to become engaged. After school on Wednesday, Feb. 22, the students leading this will show the documentary titled “Precious Knowledge,” and on Thursday, Feb. 23, we will do an all day read-in of the Tucson banned books in our library.
Yes! In the past 3 weeks I have taken the time to teach Mexican American Studies (MAS) and la lucha in Arizona to my middle school and high school students. They have been highly engaged in our MAS sessions and are eager to find ways to support our brothers and sisters in Arizona. In solidarity!
The English Department at St. Paul Central High School, along with other staff, and Central’s Hispanic Culture Club, staged an all day READ-IN where we read in the front lobby of the school. We read books from the restricted list, put out petitions where we collected hundreds of signatures, and educated concerned students all day about the issue. Some teachers brought classes down to see the READ-In after showing the trailer from “Precious Knowledge. ”
In solidarity, we have placed a headline link to this teacher activist campaign on our “War on Public Education” website section; and encourage submissions of creative wrting for our “Race in Education” issue that is currently being posted online. Indeed, the whole world is watching and wondering if shameless America is finally dead.
In my haste to post, I neglected to include the link to the lesson plan I did in class. Here is a description and photos of the lesson based on the poem by Martín Espada. Check it out and feel free to share yours with me. After reading the Letters to the Editor my students have written, observing their increased level of engagement and the fact that these young people are now politicized to take action on other issues that link systems of oppression, I’m all about doing this again! ecooperATccpcs.org. See the link:
Exactly a week from today I had the opportunity to watch clips from the film Precious Knowledge with a group of social justice teachers. We discussed how we might bring this into our classrooms. After mulling it over for a day and getting helpful advice from colleagues, I wrote the lesson plan based on a poem by Martín Espada and our current theme of bullying, race and power. The outcome: Students are writing letters to the editor of a national newspaper imploring the paper to cover the story.
I showed the film “Precious Knowledge” in my high school US History classroom and discussed it with my students. The students felt strongly that learning about one’s own culture does not make a person un-American. They pointed out that Martin Luther King Jr. forced Americans to examine systems of oppression, but that did not mean that MLK was “un-American”.
I actually taught about the issue to my 9th grade remedial math students. All but one student is minority, and many of them are of Mexican descent. After showing them some videos of the media coverage the day before, my students read (in Spanish and English alternating) Lak’ech and discussed it. They LOVED the idea of starting class with this poem. Then we watched some of the videos about the students and the Tuscan walk-out. They watched with rapt attention. The only thing is . . . I’m a math teacher!! Any math lessons? I’d love to incorporate more!
I am a teacher at Tucson High Magnet School. this places me in the same buildings if not the same classroom as my fellow teachers accused of such spurious claims. What I have consistently seen of the students who have been in Mexican American Studies classes is that they now know why they are in school. So these students enter my Geometry and American Government classes with a clear understanding of why they need to do well in my ‘regular’ class as well as their MAS classes. How can this possible be bad education?
This week, some of us who are supportive of our MAS teachers will have a teach in at lunch. We will read from the banned books and hold free discussions with what students choose to participate. We will not let the spirit of this wonderful program die.
On February 1, we held a read-in at La Casa Cultural Latina, a cultural center on the campus of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. We videoed students reading from books that had been used in the Mexican American Studies program and explained why we thought the teaching of these books was important. Videos from our teach-in can be found at http://www.youtube.com/user/tandracki.
I am on the faculty of a community mental health program in San Francisco. I brought in the poem “Tu Eres Mi Otro Yo” to my Community Mental Health class (and will do the same to the other class I teach next weekend). We read the poem, discussed what was happening in Tucson and how it sets a dangerous precedent, and looked at how cultural competency in education parallels and impacts cultural competency issues in mental health. We discussed the issues of mental health (and educational) disparities and how these have been successfully addressed (as in MAS) and what is still needed.
I have been teaching subjects examining oppression, imperialism and globalization for over 25 years in courses such as Race and Ethnic Relations, Justice and Inequality and Five Hundred Years of Resistance. The AZ ban on any subject creating “ethnic resentment” really means anything that teaches the truth about the history of white supremacy and European imperialism. We would do well by challenging this ban using centuries of ethnic resentments fomented by legally implanting historical lies and using mass media to spread Zionist and imperialist ideologies that cause extreme resentment of Palestinians and Arabs and Muslims.
just wanted you to know I plugged you in my blog…you folks rock. So do those kids.
PRISON ABOLITIONIST: My People’s history of Genocide – Save Ethnic Studies. http://www.prisonabolitionist.org/2012/02/my-peoples-history-of-genocide-save.html
Hey I have a working curriculum of Tuscon Ethnic studies that I created in collaboration with research on the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, specifically looking at rights to education and Tuscon ethnic studies. I did this curriculum with my old organization in Philadelphia and besides for running out of time it went amazing. I would be happy to do this curriculum or share it. I am also happy to share the paper.
I created comparing HB 2281 and the Scopes Monkey Trial. If anyone would like to see it, please email me.
My grandfather came to the US in the early 1900’s and worked in the coal mines of Texas. He contracted black lung disease, ultimately losing one lung. His son, my dad, fought in the Korean War as a Marine. Their stories are told in Latinos of Wisconsin. Our stories need to be told. Shared. First to pay our respect to our forefathers, then we tell them to understand what part we played in our countries history.
I pulled out our classroom copy of “Rethinking Columbus” and my 5th graders were excited, wondering if we were doing a new activity, or re-enacting the trial because, according to one kid, “That was the best!” I then brought up the image from Bill Bigelow’s blog, with the word ‘BANNED” across the cover. Instant engagement & confusion, question asking, and hypotheses-making. We researched a little more, and, inspired by The Children’s March in Birmingham, the students decided to act by sending letters. Some students are currently on their 4th drafts, persisting in crafting powerful, persuasive pleas to the Tucson school board. Some students have committed to boycott Arizona until this law is changed. That may not be very threatening to Arizona’s economy coming from a handful of Milwaukee kids, but hopefully the Tucson students know that we support them.
Simultaneously, we’ve been using Teaching Tolerance’s “Viva La Causa” to learn more about the farm workers’ 1960s fight for rights in California. The leadership of Cesar Chavez and Dolores Huerta, along with the dedication of all of the unnamed activists, has been inspiring.
“It hits me in the heart that they can’t learn of these great books.” – Jacqueline
“The children’s march is about kids fighting for rights….If you see what I am saying, agree with me and unban the book.” – Ally
“Please don’t hide what happened in the past.” – Mauricio
“Mexican people are better than you think.” – Lizandro
“La gente unida jamas sera vencida” – Miguel
This morning, I Skyped in to a children’s literature class at the United Tribes Technical College in Bismark, North Dakota. I talked with students about the importance of literature in which students can see reflections of their experiences. Most children in the US get that reflection (if they get it at all) in a classroom. Students in the now-banned MAS program had entire courses that reflect who they are! I hope the program is reinstated, and that the District invites MAS teachers to help them revise the core curriculum. Given the success rate of the MAS program, it is absolutely vital for MAS administrators to find out what the MAS teachers did to create passion for success in their students. All students in all courses deserve teachers who inspire them to succeed.
The SouthWest Organization publishes one of the banned books: 500 Years of Chicano History. Here is how we are taking action regarding this racist, ignorant ban:
“500 Years of Chicano History in Pictures”, edited by Elizabeth Martinez and published by the SouthWest Organizing Project (SWOP), is included in a set of primarily Chicano and Native American books that have been banned by the Tucson Independent School District. The school district says it’s not a ban, but the books were removed from classrooms after the Mexican-American Studies program was eliminated, and teachers in that program have been instructed to not teach these books through the lens of ethnic studies. To us, this is a ban.
The SouthWest Organizing Project, in response to the current ban and the overall climate of fear and scapegoating of people of color in Arizona, is offering the book at a 50% discount to Arizona residents, and will give it for FREE to any Arizona Student who requests the book by sending a letter describing why they think the teaching of Chicano and Native American history accurately to young people is essential. Many Arizona students have already shown their disapproval of the ban, as hundreds walked out of class and marched on the Tuscon Unified School District’s headquarters earlier this week.
“500 Years of Chicano History in Pictures” was produced by the Chicano Communications Center in the mid-1970s with the intent of educating young Chicanos about their true history, an education they weren’t receiving in the schools. One of the staff people at the Chicano Communications Center who worked on the book, Joaquín Luján, says the book was an important step towards preserving a culture that was under attack. He had experienced, like many in his generation, the erasing of identity—expressed through language and culture—the minute he walked into the schoolhouse.
“I walked in as Joaquín, and walked out as Jackie,” he says, “which was a very sad day for mi abuelito.”
“There was a need being expressed throughout our communities for a book that accurately represented our history as people of color in the southwest, so that our children had the tools they needed to understand themselves and the world they lived in,” Luján says.
“500 Years of Chicano History in Pictures” and the other books on Tuscon’s banned list collectively demonstrate, through their content and their inclusion together, the interrelated nature of the Mexican, Chicano, and Native American communities. The ban is oppressive to all students of color, because it negates their histories, their shared experiences today, and their contributions to their communities. A ban on history and ethnic studies is, in effect, a ban on culture.
More information about “500 Years of Chicano History” is available at chicanohistory.org.
Arizona students who would like a free copy of the book should send their letters to:
SouthWest Organizing Project
211 10th Street SW
Albuquerque, NM 87102
Send an Email to email@example.com
*The offer of a free book extends to the first 1000 requests from Arizona students. SWOP may print your letter on the Chicanohistory.org website. If you do not wish to have the letter printed, please indicate that in your letter.
For more information about receiving the book, call SWOP at: 505-247-8832
For Media inquiries:
Contact: George Luján, Communications Organizer, SouthWest Organizing Project
Cell: 505-400-6403 Office: 505-247-8832
On February 1, in both my first-year and upper-level classes, I brought several books to class and read excerpts. I also explained how writers like bell hooks, Paulo Freire, Lesile SIlko, Gloria Anzaldúa and others have shaped my teaching. I told students about the banning going on in AZ, and we had rich discussions about what it means for us. Many of my students are planning to be teachers, so they need to hear about issues like these.
My 8th graders (urban, minority students, many of whom are latino) had just finished learning about Jim Crow laws and their similarities to the current Juan Crow laws when this story broke. Next week we’ll be examining the MAS issue. It ought to be an intense discussion, since most of my students are former students of Bob Peterson, editor of Rethinking Columbus.
I am not a formal educator but I believe that education should not be exclusive to the classroom. In this sense it would be easy to state that ethnically focused curriculum has no business in public schools-that it should be left to private ethnic and cultural centers. But in this case that argument is absurd and begs the question in a state named Arizona. In fact, given the true history of this nation, it would be absurd in any state of the union.
Just what is it that the Tuscon School Board and the Attorney General fear so much? The textbooks were “boxed” not banned. Really?
Hatred, especially managed hatred and bigotry, are very powerful motivators among morally and ethically challenged people. They can destroy nations. We lost over one million soldiers killed or wounded during WWII fighting against such despotism. Allowing this kind of despotic behavior now in our own country is an insult to every American who has ever sacrificed to fight against it.
“The tighter you squeeze the faster it slips through your fingers.”
We showed some clips today and chatted about the issue in my middle school class. My students really feel the anti-immigrant heat just now and this stoked that fire. Here is a quote, One Student: “It’s like the Holocaust.” Another: “They are not killing us!” One Student: “Not yet.” This is such a hope killer – or a challenge provoker. Thanks for the resources.
In my philosophy class on the work of the phenomenologist Maurice Merleau-Ponty we have been reading about lived experience and the lived-body: the body as pivot, hinge and cross-road between nature, culture, geography, biology, self and other. He speaks of a body as ‘being in and toward the world’, as being of the world, as open to the world. In that context, today I let my students read short excerpts of Anzaldua’s Borderlands/La Frontera and we discussed the recent developments at TUSD. We ran over time, they had so much to say and to share. Anzaldua’s writing is simply beautiful. In it we read passion, strength, love, rage, pain, confusion, ambiguity, power, hope, openness, but nowhere in this text did we find hate.
I got my doctorate in geography (with a minor in Latin American Area Studies) at Arizona, and loved living in Tucson. The Latino heritage is, of course, a rich part of the fabric of the entire region.
I now teach future geography teachers in Massachusetts. I used much of today’s class to introduce them to Tish Hinojosa, The House on Mango Street, and this important issue. Teachers everywhere must be prepared to defend our right — our obligation — to teach realities.
1 February 2012
I have started assigning my students—college students at the University of Rhode Island, where I am Assistant Professor of Writing and Rhetoric—an “occasional paper,” worth a small percentage of their overall grade. It’s a paper students read aloud to the class, choosing to rely on their own exigence (reason for writing) rather than an assigned topic, and their own kairos (sense of timing; opportune or “right time”) within a window of several weeks, rather than a single deadline I set.
Early in the semester, I write and share my own occasional paper with each class—one written for that particular audience, in and for a particular moment.
This semester’s occasion, for me, is all the hooplah in Tucson surrounding the outlawing of ethnic studies, or Mexican American studies, at the high school level, and specifically surrounding the banning (or “boxing”) of books that came in the wake of that law.
Educación en una caja/ Education in a box
I don’t know if any of you have heard about what’s been happening in Tucson. I’m not even sure how many of you will know where Tucson is, so I’ll start there. It’s my hometown, in Arizona—2,659.5 miles from where we are in Kingston, to be precise. And it’s far not only in distance, but in climate, in culture, in language, in politics.
Lately Tucson has been in the news, and hot in the blogosphere. Again. (You may remember that last year there was a tragic shooting at a political rally at a a grocery store there. US Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, the main target, was shot in the head, but survived. Many other victims died.)
Happily the news from Tucson this time does not involve shootings, or even death. But the news is not happy.
Tucson Unified School District, Tucson’s largest, messiest district, has banned a bunch of books. The district, and those inclined to believe its words over its actions, has been quick to point out that the books were merely boxed, not banned. [I leave for another day the rhetorical distinction between these two terms.] These books were boxed, in some cases in front of students while classes were in session, and they were removed to a storage facility, a.k.a. the place where books go to die.
At this point many of you are probably wondering why on earth a school district—those charged with overseeing education—would be banning, or even boxing, books. It sounds like a historical story from our distant past, or a scary dystopian novel. But it’s not fiction, and it’s not history.
For several years now, there has been a series of courses taught in TUSD called Mexican American Studies. There are literature classes that focus on Mexican American authors and US History courses that provide a Mexican American perspective. (Quick statistic: 61% of students at Tucson High, one of the schools involved and, incidentally, the school where I student-taught, are Latino/a.) From what I can tell, the program also provided an indigenous perspective, something certainly lacking from many high school curricula. In December, a judge ruled that the Mexican American Studies curriculum was, in a word, illegal, that it was dangerous to our government to have it taught. The judge made this ruling despite an independent audit that found the curriculum not to be violating any laws or crossing any lines it shouldn’t, and despite the fact that students love the courses. Let me say that again. Students—high school students in a poor socioeconomic area—love the courses. High school students are notoriously difficult to fully engage in learning, and students at Tucson High, I know from experience, can be especially challenging to reach.
My first day student teaching at Tucson High it took me 20 minutes to get one of my students to even pick up a pencil–he simply refused to write. It took me months to get him to trust me enough to even write a sentence, and before that year was over, he had dropped out of school. He was at the extreme end of the spectrum of underprepared students, but he wasn’t the only one, by far. As a college teacher now I’m pretty far removed from my experiences with resistant, underprepared students like those I often encountered in the classrooms at Tucson High, but I will never forget those students. I will never forget the ways we teachers strove to inspire them, and often failed. I loved my students, and I wanted to teach them, and certainly some learned, but many didn’t come to class, and many read at levels so far below high school proficiency that it took us nearly an entire semester to read The Odyssey out loud. (There weren’t enough books to send home, and I was assured the students wouldn’t do reading homework if it were assigned anyway). I was at Tucson High for less than a year, but it was enough for me to say that I know something of the obstacles teachers face there, and the mountains they must have moved to get students to care, to truly and deeply care, about learning.
These are the students showing up in YouTube videos, demonstrating what they’ve learned through Mexican American studies. Students who wrote and protested and attempted to save their curriculum–they thought of it as theirs!–from the chopping block. That they found an investment in literature, in history, in ideas and the written word, is wonderful. It’s impressive, and laudable. That their investment and excitement were met with derision, with legal challenge, and with a set of banned books, is so absurd and backward and traumatizing it’s almost laughable. But it is not funny.
The ruling leaves teachers and students without a curriculum. It removes a curriculum that teachers gave over years of their lives to develop, to which students flocked, and through which students succeeded. It makes a joke of academic freedom. It makes a joke of education.
Education should be something that enlightens and enlivens us, that connects our histories and homes and senses of self with our learning. If high school students like those at Tucson High, many of whom are marginalized and academically disadvantaged for a variety of reasons, found success with a curriculum, and were showing interest in learning in part because of that curriculum, then why was that curriculum banned? Why, once it was literally outlawed, were books also banned? And why are Mexican American students on Tucson’s south side, the poor side, limited in what they have access to, while students on Tucson’s east side, at the elite University High School of which I am an alumna, are not? How can a school district, or a state, or anyone who actually knows anything about kids and how they learn, think that banning a set of books or removing an engaging curriculum is a good idea?
Before they were outlawed, banned, boxed, or whatever you want to call it, when I was a middle and high school teacher in Arizona, I taught some of the “offending” texts: novels like Rudolfo Anaya’s Bless Me, Ultima and Sandra Cisneros’s House on Mango Street, for example, and poems by several of the banned authors. I can assure you the texts were not inciting students to overthrow the government then, nor could they possibly be now. They are just good works with beautiful writing. Some of the banned books are more political in nature, offering a perspective that challenges dominant culture a bit—but a challenge is not a revolution; it is an opportunity to learn. Texts can be controversial without being ruled illegal. Students need access to readings that offer new perspectives—and, crucially, to courses that let them explore readings and ideas together, with guidance. They need the opportunity to see things in more than one way. That’s what education is.
High school teachers who challenge students to do more than repeat back facts or follow simple patterns produce the kinds of students colleges want. In other words, what Mexican American Studies was doing is more like what we do in college, which to anyone paying attention should realize is a good, not a bad thing. I hadn’t heard of the Rethinking Columbus textbook, now banned, but it’s on my desk right now, and I find it thought-provoking and certainly logical as a high school text. The perspectives offered are perhaps surprising to those used to learning about history in a memorize-the-dates sort of way, but powerful and interesting to anyone interested in learning about history as something that happened to real people, people with memories and experiences that differ from one another’s, and from what any single historical narrative might offer. Curtis Acosta, a teacher at Tucson High, has made the point that if the district was not planning to ban classes like, say, AP European History, it makes no sense to ban Mexican American studies. They both focus on particular cultures. It’s a point well worth considering.
In a country with a rapidly expanding Latino/a population, educators will need to reach more and more students who are, by birth and by culture, Latina/o, not white, not necessarily a part of “dominant culture.” Shouldn’t we be finding ways to educate these students better, to engage them and make them self-aware, critical thinkers? Shouldn’t we be educating all students to understand multiple perspectives? And wasn’t that precisely what Mexican American Studies was doing?
Across the country on February 1st, high school and college teachers worked some of TUSD’s banned texts into their curriculum as a way of protesting the ban. Georgia State University has an entire workshop devoted to the issue this Saturday. I’m participating by sharing this occasional paper with you. I’ll also read an excerpt to you from one of the banned texts, one which connects to this class’s themes and goals. By doing these things, I’ve offered you what might be a different perspective than what you had heard of or thought about before. And it may or may not be a perspective you agree with, or care to learn more about—and that’s okay. What’s important to me is that it was offered, and that it wasn’t illegal for me to offer it.
I received my Master’s degree in English Literature from Queens College, CUNY last year and I wrote my thesis on this atrocity. I was aware that Mexican-American literature, as well as Latina/o and Chicana/o literature, was not being taught in most US classrooms, so I presented a reasoning, or argument, for its academic, cultural, historical importance and “legal” place in education.
“There are nearly three whites with doctoral degrees for every one behind bars, but nearly six Latinos, behind bars for every one with a doctoral degree. This is the world I live in and in this world, I find offensive the injunction to not teach “politically” and to leave questions of identity and power outside of the classroom, especially when my subject of teaching is the United States.”
“The university remains a site of struggle and controversy in part because it remains reflective of the struggles and controversies surrounding identity, power, oppression, and resistance characteristic of the nation and its history. Those struggles and controversies have concerned the teaching of literature, the definition of ‘American,’ and the foundations of US literary history.”
Hames-García, Michael Roy. “Which America is Ours?: Martí’s ‘Truth’ and the Foundations of ‘American Literature.’” (2003)
I showed my seniors (who are beginning a unit on children in poverty including Huck Finn and House on Mango St) an Anderson Cooper 360 clip interviewing the Arizona Superintendent and a Georgetown Professor opposed to the MAS ban. I also showed them Teddy Roosevelt’s speech on “Hyphenated Americanism” and we had a follow-up discussion. The students really got into the debate and ended up just as torn. There is obviously something wrong with an education that is one-sided, whether that is on the white OR the Mexican American perspective. Choice seemed to be the selling point though, that students have options, and that white students may choose MAS and Mexican-Americans may choose “white” (traditional) studies. Literature was another thing though. Again, if it’s about choice, students should be able to choose to focus on one style of literature.
I asked my colleagues to participate in a take-it-to-the-classroom teach-in. Here are just some of their responses:
“On the night of Feb 1st, the Latin American and Caribbean Studies capstone course meets at 6:30. I would be happy if anyone wished to join us in the seminar that evening to participate in the discussion. Our assigned reading for the class by chance is the Victoria Lena Manyarrows “Confronting and Surpassing the Legacy of Columbus”—an example of (contra)banned literature. If anybody would like to join us that evening, especially since these are Latin American and Caribbean Studies seniors, please contact me. “
“I plan to use the situation in Arizona when I teach global warming and the assault on science associated with global warming (and environment change in general). I will use the situation in Arizona to help place the “denial” of global climate change in a context of a society that prefers to remain ignorant The book banning is in some ways analogous to the State Attorney General of Virginia trying to prosecute climate scientists who worked at UVa.”
“I will bring it up in my class on Wednesday but I’ll extend this to my classes on Thursday. Later this term we’ll be reading both hooks and Anzaldua, so this topic is especially pertinent for them to hear about.”
“I’ll plan to cover this topic in some way in my Social Inequality class, in which our Feb. 1 topic is – it turns out – the value/disvalue of “colorblindness” in social policy, and the asymmetrical nature of race hierarchy. “
“If you don’t know what’s happening right now in Tuscon, AZ, you need to. There’s a racist book banning plot underway, and the supervillains will win unless you help to stop them. Avengers Assemble! And use your powers to spread the news. “http://thepatronsaintofsuperheroes.wordpress.com/2012/02/01/the-avengers-vs-the-tucson-unified-school-district/
“I can also talk about the current issues in Arizona in my class. Tomorrow in my seminar we are going to examine how ‘selective’ is Sarmiento (1811-1888) when he constructs a discourse of his past by only mentioning his ‘criollo’ ancestors in ‘Recuerdos de provincia.’”
“I did bring the subject up to the other classes today, because it is so appalling, and it dovetailed with the issues of censorship, in the one class, and issues related to the ‘discovery’ of the ‘New World’ in the other.”
“I don’t teach tomorrow, but on Thursday I will be mentioning this in my two classes. Also, in my 240 Latin American Literature class, I am teaching Andrés Bello’s “El castellano en América” (“Spanish Language in America”), a text written in 1847 that refers to the use of Spanish language by the new republics in Latin America. If you want to join me in the class to “re-read” this text from the perspective of the current U.S. legislation towards hispanic immigrants, you are more than welcome!”
“My current course on “Ralph Ellison and the Civil Rights Movement” meets Tu/Th, so we entered into this issue today and had a great discussion. About ¼ of the students knew about it, though two of them are in Deborah’s creative writing course so they have clearly been grappling with this. Some were stunned that such things are happening today. It led to a fine discussion of the complexity of American cultural experience, and the dangers of flattening that complexity. —it’s had a real purchase on what we’re teaching and talking about.”
“I just checked my gender and politics syllabus, and we are actually going to be discussing an article about Latina participation in American politics tomorrow. It would be perfect time for some “teaching in.” But I need help. is there, for example, a poem or poems by a Mexican-American woman – or a piece of an essay or something – we could read together in class in conjunction with the material from political science?”
“I will participate in the teach-in tomorrow, making this issue central to my “insider/outsider” WRIT 100. And I’ll see if I can’t fold it in to my “monsters” class on Thursday too — I could make several connections to our reading of _Frankenstein_…”
“I plan to incorporate it into my class for Wed in Poverty 101.”
“I will talk about the banned books in my Wed. novel class. My ENGL 232 students are reading an ethnic British writer this week, Chinese-English filmmaker and novelist Xiaolu Guo. Thanks for these resources.”
“I’ve been discussing this whole situation with my Cowboys and Indians class as it has been developing.”
“This is a great call-to-arms… I’m still on sabbatical and so don’t have classes this term, but I think I’ll attend Jeff’s on Wednesday evening in a show of solidarity. I absolutely love the term “librotraficante”–great to see trafficking going the right way for once! If it helps, and if you’re game, I’m happy to post the info (national and local) from your e-mail on my Fb page. Just say the word.”
“As Miranda says in The Tempest – “O brave new world That has such creatures in’t!” I don’t have class tomorrow, but maybe I’ll blog on the appropriateness of Miranda’s sarcastic remark….”
I worked with my students on drafting letters to the editor of the Arizona Republic in response to an article the newspaper published on January 10th. It was an amazing process because not only were the students 100% engaged in their work, but they were also so passionate about another student’s right to take an ethnic studies class and freely express themselves in and out of school.
Through our viewing of the film “Precious Knowledge” and our subsequent discussions, my students realized that they too want to learn more about their culture and would like to have ethnic studies classes available to them in middle school. This made their writing even more real and personal. It was some of the best writing they have done all year.
I am partnering with a 6th grade teacher in Boston on an action research project, and I saw firsthand students in Boston standing in solidarity with their sisters and brothers in Tucson. The students watched clips of “Precious Knowledge”, discussed the issues involved from a variety of perspectives, and ultimately decided as a class to write letters to the “Arizona Republic” protesting the ban on the MAS program. It was amazing and inspiring to see the passion that these 6th graders showed for students and teachers whom they had never met on the other side of the country. These 6th graders in Boston were able to recognize that MAS students’ and teachers’ fight was their fight, too.