In the past year, Superintendant John Huppenthal has ruled twice that the Tucson Unified School District (TUSD) is in violation of Arizona Revised Statute 15-112(A). Most recently, his ruling resulted in the suspension of the TUSD’s Mexican American Studies courses and put several of the course books into storage, which include:
- Message to Aztlán, Rodolfo Gonzales
- Pedagogy of the Oppressed, Paolo Freire
- Occupied America: A History of Chicanos, Rodolfo Acuña
- Rethinking Columbus: The Next 500 Years, a collection of works by authors such as Leslie Silko, Winona LaDuke, N. Scott Momaday, and Rigoberta Menchu
While these books can still be checked out from the libraries, they are no longer being taught in classes! The alternative facing TUSD would have been the loss of over $14 million in state funding for 2012 and roughly an additional $5 million withheld retroactively for 2011. No school district should have to unfairly choose between receiving funding and providing culturally appropriate education.
John Huppenthal claims that TUSD was in violation of Arizona Revised Statute 15-112(A), which states:
a school district or charter school in this state shall not include in its program of instruction any courses or classes that include any of the following:
1. Promote the overthrow of the United States Government.
2. Promote resentment towards a race or class of people.
3. Are designed primarily for pupils of a particular ethnic group.
4. Advocate ethnic solidarity instead of the treatment of pupils as individuals. (www.azleg.gov/legtext/49leg/2r/bills/hb2281s.pdf)
However, Huppenthal’s ruling is in fact unfounded and contradicts findings from an audit that he commissioned (for $110,000) to investigate the curriculum. The audit, done by Cambium Learning, Inc. and National Academic Educational Partners, found that the TUSD Mexican American Studies curriculum was not in violation of Arizona Revised Statute 15-112(A) (http://www.scribd.com/doc/58025928/TUSD-ethnic-studies-audit). And while Huppenthal is quoted in the Los Angeles Times saying the curriculum teaches “that Hispanics are the oppressed and Caucasians are the oppressors” the audit reports “No observable evidence exists that instruction within Mexican American Studies Department promotes resentment towards a race or class of people” and that “students are taught to be accepting of multiple ethnicities of people” (p. 55). Moreover, the audit states that “the expectation for increased student achievement for all students of all ethnicities will increase over time” (pp. 68 & 69).
Huppenthal’s ruling is clearly an issue of unfounded censorship that silences voices of diversity, including the voices of Latino, Chicano, and Native American scholars. It is both a threat to and an attack on cultural diversity and inter-cultural understanding.
Superintendent Huppenthal must reverse his decision. If he does so, then the TUSD can reinstate its Mexican American Studies courses and once again use these books without any consequence of losing state funding.
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