The Tucson Unified School District (TUSD) is in a contentious fight with the state of Arizona over its controversial Mexican-American Studies program. A state law went into effect in Arizona on January 1, 2011, banning the teaching of ethnic studies in K-12 schools. It was prompted by an investigation into TUSD’s ethnic studies curriculum by Arizona Attorney General Tom Horne when he was State Superintendent of Schools.
The program is known as “raza studies,” which means race studies, championed by organizations like the far left organization National Council of La Raza. The course does not simply teach Latino youth about their heritage, it goes well beyond that. The textbooks teach Latino youth that they are mistreated by America, training them to become radical anti-American activists. Textbooks include “The Pedagogy of the Oppressed” and “Occupied America.” Another text "gloats over the difficulties our country is having at enforcing its immigration laws." Benjamin Franklin is vilified as a racist. White people are referred to as “gringos” and “oppressors” of Latino people. “Privilege” is described as related to a person’s ethnicity.
At a TUSD school board meeting on May 10, one upset mother read excerpts from the textbook “An Epic Poem,” including,
My land is lost and stolen, My culture has been raped….we have to destroy capitalism…overthrow a government that has committed abuses….to the bloodsuckers, the parasites, the vampires who are the capitalists of the world: The schools are tools of the power structure that blind and sentence our youth to a life of confusion, and hypocrisy, one that preaches assimilation and practices institutional racism.
Under the new state law, which was drafted by Horne, schools will lose 10% of their state education funding if they are not in compliance. The law bans teaching that advocates overthrowing the U.S. government, returning portions of the U.S. to Mexico, promoting resentment towards a race, and advocating for one race.
In January, during the last days of his term as State Superintendent of Schools, Horne found Tucson’s schools in violation of all four provisions of the law. Arizona’s new Superintendent of Schools John Huppenthal ordered an audit of the program earlier this year. 11 teachers and the director of the Mexican-American Studies Department refused to work with the auditors. Instead, they sued the state alleging the law is unconstitutional.
The audit was a failure, only analyzing 9 out of a possible 180 lesson units, or 5%, not enough to make any sort of objective analysis. The auditors gave the teachers advance notice of classroom observation, and allowed them to handpick students for the focus group. Nevertheless, Huppenthal found the program in violation of state law and gave the district 60 days to comply or lose funding. The program may also violate Proposition 107, the Arizona Civil Rights Initiative, which passed last year banning preferential treatment or discrimination based on race, sex, color, ethnicity or national origin.
The TUSD school board is split over the program. However, at a hearing on Friday, TUSD Governing Board President Mark Stegeman and member Michael Hicks relayed their concerns about the program. Hicks said the program is not in compliance with state law, and Stegeman said the behavior observed in the course is almost cult like.
School board meetings discussing the program have been raucous, with students chaining themselves to board members’ chairs, which prevented one meeting from taking place, and the removal of several people from another meeting.
Former history teacher John Ward, who is Hispanic, is speaking out against the program. He taught Mexican-American studies for TUSD several years ago until it became radicalized. He objected to teaching an American History class which gave students American History credit for learning the history of the Aztecs, without teaching any American History. He was told to sit in the back of the classroom while an ethnic studies proponent without a teaching degree actually taught the class. Due to his objections, he was removed from teaching the class.
TUSD’s test scores are among the lowest in the state. Contrary to the claims of ethnic studies proponents, students who take ethnic studies classes perform worse academically than other students. A school board member asked the district’s statistician to compare those students’ academic success to others. The statistician found that students who take ethnic studies are less likely to pass the state’s AIMS (Arizona Instrument to Measure Standards) test than others. Clearly, the district would be better off transferring its efforts into improving academic scores.
The students are being used by a handful of radical adult activists with an agenda, who are employing classic Alinsky tactics to force through their extremist agenda. They cannot win through legitimate elections and democratic processes, so they resort to intimidation. District superintendent John Pedicone wrote an op-ed for the Arizona Daily Star exposing that adults were behind the students’ disruption at a board meeting, “Students have been exploited and are being used as pawns to serve a political agenda that threatens this district and our community.” In addition to filing bullying lawsuits, proponents have also sent threatening letters to various government officials.
It has been shown that students become angry and resentful after being taught this kind of propaganda. One high school student said she did not know she was oppressed until she was told so in one of these programs. The people of Arizona voted almost 60% in favor of Proposition 107 which banned ethnic preferences and discrimination. It would be an affront to the efforts of Martin Luther King, Jr., who used civil disobedience to defeat discrimination, if a handful of radical activists successfully use not-so-civil disobedience to bring discrimination back.