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Back to February Ed Reporter

Education Reporter
NUMBER 301 THE NEWSPAPER OF EDUCATION RIGHTS FEBRUARY 2011

Mexican-American Studies Conflict Heats Up
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New Law Took Effect January 1

On his last day as superintendent of public instruction in Arizona, Tom Horne announced his finding that the Tucson Unified School District (TUSD) is in violation of a new law that bans public school courses that promote resentment towards a race or class of people or encourage the overthrow of the United States government. The law also prohibits courses designed primarily for a particular ethnic group or that promote ethnic solidarity rather than treating people as individuals. Failure to eliminate the controversial Mexican-American Studies program within 60 days will cost TUSD 10% of its state aid, or about $15 million annually.

The new law took effect on the first day of 2011, and no one was surprised at Horne's move to enforce the statute he helped write and pushed hard for over his two terms as superintendent. In his ten-page statement detailing TUSD's violation of the new law, Horne approvingly noted that Arizona's curriculum requires students to learn about the contributions of different cultures, including that of Mexican-Americans. Nevertheless, he said, "Students should not be divided by race, with each race learning about only its own contribution."

Horne's replacement, John Huppenthal, has indicated he is serious about keeping pressure on the district to comply with the new law. Huppenthal said he agrees that the Mexican-American ethnic studies program violates the law if it is substantially the same as when he observed a class in 2009. "My firsthand, classroom encounter clearly revealed an unbalanced, politicized, and historically inaccurate view of American history being taught," said the former state legislator.

The law permits the district to appeal Horne's decision, but TUSD ethnic studies teachers did not wait for the law to take effect before fighting back. In October they filed a lawsuit in federal court challenging the new law on the grounds that it violates the first and 14th amendments of the Constitution, particularly the equal protection and due process clauses. The filing states that the teachers "believe that the act is the product of racial bias aimed specifically at Hispanics, is unlawful, [and] results in impermissible deprivations of rights guaranteed by the United States Constitution." The suit also contends that Horne doesn't have evidence to prove that the Mexican-American courses break the new law.

Making a Case

Horne does offer evidence in his January determination letter, however — seven pages worth of teacher testimony, student testimony and damning examples from the written materials used in the classes. A former teacher familiar with the classes, John Ward, said, "TUSD uses taxpayer-funded programs to indoctrinate students, based primarily on ethnic divisions, in the belief that there is a war against Latino culture perpetrated by a white, racist, capitalist system." Ward also charged TUSD administrators with intimidating him and calling him a "racist" for questioning the program curriculum, despite his own Hispanic heritage.

The finding letter also relates the comments of a student who appeared before the Arizona Senate Judiciary Committee to testify how much she loved Mexican-American studies. When a senator asked the girl whether she could have learned the things she spoke about in other courses she replied, "No, before I took this course, I didn't realize that I was oppressed. Now that I took this course, I realize that I am oppressed."

Horne's memorandum also lists numerous examples from course textbooks and handouts. A major theme of the course materials is the assertion that the United States is wrongfully occupying former Mexican territory. The states of Arizona, California, New Mexico and Colorado are considered part of Aztlán, the Chicano homeland. Writing samples provided to the students include the sentence, "We are slowly taking back Aztlán as our numbers multiply."

A study unit called "Conquest and Colonización" states: "We will see how Chicanos became a colonized people. In the process of being colonized, we were robbed of land and other resources." Another class resource titled "A Field Guide for Achieving Equity in School" blatantly promotes resentment based on race. "We often hear people referred to as being privileged, which usually is a comment pertaining to the individual's financial or economic status," it reads. "In Courageous Conversation, however, privilege takes on a different meaning: it refers to the amount of melanin in a person's skin, hair and eyes." Reading materials also urge students to reject "White ways" and not to buy into the myth that educational and personal gains can be attributed to individual effort and accomplishment.

Compliance Requires Elimination

Horne believes that the violations delineated in the new law are so "deeply rooted" in the long-standing Mexican-American studies courses that they cannot be rectified. His finding letter made it clear that "partial adjustments will not constitute compliance. Only the elimination of the program will constitute compliance."

Horne also noted that he had received complaints only about the Mexican-American program; therefore, the African-American and Native Indian ethnic study programs could continue. (Education Week, 1-3-11 and 1-4-11)


 
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