[lg policy] Rift in Arizona as Latino Class Is Found Illegal

Harold Schiffman hfsclpp at GMAIL.COM
Sat Jan 8 16:49:02 UTC 2011

January 7, 2011
Rift in Arizona as Latino Class Is Found Illegal

TUCSON — The class began with a Mayan-inspired chant and a vigorous
round of coordinated hand clapping. The classroom walls featured
protest signs, including one that said “United Together in La Lucha!”
— the struggle. Although open to any student at Tucson High Magnet
School, nearly all of those attending Curtis Acosta’s Latino
literature class on a recent morning were Mexican-American. For all of
that and more, Mr. Acosta’s class and others in the Tucson Unified
School District’s Mexican-American program have been declared illegal
by the State of Arizona — even while similar programs for black, Asian
and American Indian students have been left untouched.

“It’s propagandizing and brainwashing that’s going on there,” Tom
Horne, Arizona’s newly elected attorney general, said this week as he
officially declared the program in violation of a state law that went
into effect on Jan. 1. Although Shakespeare’s “Tempest” was supposed
to be the topic at hand, Mr. Acosta spent most of a recent class
discussing the political storm in which he, his students and the
entire district have become enmeshed. Mr. Horne’s name came up more
than once, and not in a flattering light.

It was Mr. Horne, as the state’s superintendent of public instruction,
who wrote a law aimed at challenging Tucson’s ethnic-studies program.
The Legislature passed the measure last spring, and Gov. Jan Brewer
signed it into law in May amid the fierce protests raging over the
state’s immigration crackdown. For the state, the issue is not so much
“The Tempest” as some of the other texts used in the classes, among
them, “The Pedagogy of the Oppressed” and “Occupied America,” which
Mr. Horne said inappropriately teach Latino youths that they are being

Teaching methods in the classes are sometimes unconventional, with
instructors scrutinizing hip-hop lyrics and sprinkling their lessons
with Spanish words. The state, which includes some Mexican-American
studies in its official curriculum, sees the classes as less about
educating students than creating future activists. In Mr. Acosta’s
literature class, students were clearly concerned. They asked if their
graduation was at risk. They asked if they were considered terrorists
because Mr. Horne described them as wanting to topple the government.
They asked how they could protest the decision.

Then, one young woman asked Mr. Acosta how he was holding up. “They
wrote a state law to snuff this program out, just us little
Chicanitos,” he said, wiping away tears. “The idea of losing this is
emotional.” At a recent news conference, Mr. Horne took pains to
describe his attack on Tucson’s Mexican-American studies program as
one rooted in good faith. He said he had been studying Spanish for
several years and had learned enough to read Mexican history books in
Spanish and to give interviews on Univision and Telemundo, two
Spanish-language broadcasters.

Asked whether he felt he was being likened to Bull Connor, the Alabama
police commissioner who became a symbol of bigotry in the 1960s, Mr.
Horne described how he had participated in the March on Washington in
1963 as a young high school graduate. He said of his critics: “They
are the ‘Bull Connors.’ They are the ones resegregating.” Mr. Horne’s
battle with Tucson over ethnic studies dates to 2007, when Dolores
Huerta, co-founder of the United Farm Workers, told high school
students there in a speech that Republicans hated Latinos. Mr. Horne,
a Republican, sent a top aide, Margaret Garcia Dugan, to the school to
present a different perspective. He was infuriated when some students
turned their backs and raised their fists in the air.

The Arizona law warns school districts that they stand to lose 10
percent of their state education funds if their ethnic-studies
programs are found not to comply with new state standards. Programs
that promote the overthrow of the United States government are
explicitly banned, and that includes the suggestion that portions of
the Southwest that were once part of Mexico should be returned to that

Also prohibited is any promotion of resentment toward a race. Programs
that are primarily for one race or that advocate ethnic solidarity
instead of individuality are also outlawed. On Monday, his final day
as the state’s top education official, Mr. Horne declared that
Tucson’s Mexican-American program violated all four provisions. The
law gives the district 60 days to comply, although Mr. Horne offered
only one remedy: the dissolution of the program.

He said the district’s other ethnic-studies programs, unlike the
Mexican-American program, had not received complaints and could

John Huppenthal, a former state senator who took over as Arizona’s
schools chief, said he supported Mr. Horne’s 11th-hour ruling. Mr.
Huppenthal sat in on one of the Tucson classes taught by Mr. Acosta,
and said that Benjamin Franklin was vilified as a racist and a photo
of Che Guevara was hanging on the wall. Besides that, he said,
Tucson’s test scores are among the lowest in the state, indicating
that the district needs to focus on the fundamentals.

Officials here say those enrolled in the program do better on state
tests than those of the same ethnicity who are not enrolled.

The battle means that Tucson, a struggling urban district, stands to
lose nearly $15 million in an already difficult budget environment. So
far, the school board has stood by the program, declaring that it
considers it to be in compliance with the law.

If financing were pulled, the district would have an opportunity to
appeal, and school officials were already talking about the
possibility of the matter ending up in court. Meanwhile, 11 teachers,
including Mr. Acosta, have filed suit in federal court challenging the
constitutionality of the state restrictions.

A discrimination suit against Tucson’s schools in the 1970s prompted a
settlement in which an African-American studies program was created.
Later, other ethnic-studies programs were added.

To buttress his critique of the Tucson program, Mr. Horne read from
texts used in various classes, which in one instance referred to white
people as “gringos” and described privilege as being related to the
color of a person’s skin, hair and eyes. He also cited the testimony
of five teachers who described the program as giving a skewed view of
history and promoting racial discord.

“On the first day of school, they are no different than students in
any other classes,” said John Ward, who briefly taught a Latino
history class in Tucson. “But once they get told day after day that
they are being victimized, they become angry and resentful.”

Augustine F. Romero, director of student equity in the Tucson schools,
said the program was intended to make students proud of who they are
and not hostile toward others. “All of our forefathers have
contributed to this country, not just one set of forefathers,” he
said. “We respect and admire and appreciate the traditional
forefathers, but there are others.”

The debate over the program’s future, Mr. Romero said, proves more
than ever the need for the program. “There’s a fierce anti-Latino
sentiment in this state,” he said. “These courses are about justice
and equity, and what is happening is that the Legislature is trying to
narrow the reality of those things.

“Who are the true Americans here — those embracing our inalienable
rights or those trying to diminish them?”


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