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Posts Tagged ‘mexican american studies’

by Wayne Au

wayneheadshotThis post is an excerpt from the introduction to our new and expanded 2nd edition of Rethinking Multicultural Education: Teaching for Racial and Cultural Justice published just last week.   

Rethinking Multicultural Education: Teaching for Racial and Cultural Justice, second edition, has been a long time coming. Over its almost 30 years of existence, Rethinking Schools has published more than 200 articles that dealt explicitly with issues of race and culture. Even though Rethinking Schools has always kept racial and cultural justice amongst our main focal points, until the first edition of Rethinking Multicultural Education in 2009, we had never published a book that specifically focused on race and culture in education in their own right. This book does just that: provide a Rethinking Schools vision of anti-racist, social justice education that is both practical for teachers and sharp in analysis.

It is my hope that the selections included in the second edition of Rethinking Multicultural Education: Teaching for Racial and Cultural Justice offer a more robust and powerful definition of multicultural education than we see so often used. For instance, some educators and teacher educators say they teach multicultural education, but do it under the guise of “global education.” This form of multiculturalism feels safer to some because it uses the veneer of international cultures to avoid more serious and painful realities of issues like racism. Similarly, “diversity education” and “cultural pluralism” get used with the singular intent of promoting heroes and holidays and celebrate individual differences, again circumventing issues of power and privilege.

RME2_cvrThe terms “diverse students” and “urban students,” two more stand-ins for “multicultural” students, have devolved into meaning “poor African American and Latino students” or “students who aren’t white.” This is particularly ironic given that in some school districts in the United States, schools might be approaching 100 percent African American or Latino students, as is the case in Detroit and Santa Ana, California, respectively, and are regularly referred to as “diverse” by professors, teachers, and politicians alike. The right wing has also developed its own, sometimes contradictory definitions of multicultural education. While some conservatives have vehemently attacked multicultural education as representative of the downfall of Western Civilization, others such as E. D. Hirsch (founder of the Core Knowledge curriculum) have developed a different definition of multicultural education. As Kristen Buras, professor of education at Emory University, talks about in her book, Rightist Multiculturalism, Hirsch’s Core Knowledge curriculum has recently taken up the banner of multicultural education by defining the United States as a multicultural nation of diverse immigrants—while simultaneously covering up systematic oppression based on class, race, and nation status.

Multicultural education is also being narrowly defined as a path students can take to “higher” status literature. Teachers use Tupac’s lyrics to move students to Shakespeare; students can unpack hip-hop lyrics as a way to learn literary language like stanza and rhyme, but they need to study Frost and Yeats to be considered well read. Students in regular classes can read “thug” literature, but AP classes need to read the classics. (Does anyone read Morrison as a precursor to Chaucer? She’s harder than the Canterbury Tales). This version of multicultural education focuses on access to the canon of high-status knowledge. In doing so, such a definition not only keeps the Eurocentric canon of knowledge at the heart of “real” education, it also communicates to students the idea that the diversity of their identities, lives, and communities do not really matter when it comes to learning.

The second edition of Rethinking Multicultural Education is an attempt to reclaim multicultural education as part of a larger, more serious struggle for social justice, a struggle that recognizes the need to fight against systematic racism, colonization, and cultural oppression that takes place through our schools. In the chapters included here, multicultural education:

  • is grounded in the lives of our students.
  • draws on the voices and perspectives of those “being studied.”
  • teaches through dialogue.
  • critically supports students’ identities.
  • embraces and recognizes the value of students’ home languages.
  • critiques school knowledge, knowledge that has historically been Eurocentric.
  • invites students to engage in real social and political issues.
  • creates classroom environments where students can meaningfully engage with each other.
  • is rigorous, and recognizes that academic rigor is impossible without it.
  • connects to the entire curriculum.
  • is rooted in an anti-racist struggle about which knowledge and experiences should be included in the curriculum.
  • celebrates social movements and the fight against nativism, xenophobia, and white supremacy.
  • explores how social, economic, and cultural institutions contribute to inequality.

It is critical that I take a moment here to address an issue regarding how I am defining “multicultural” in this book. Some friends and allies, for instance, critiqued the first edition of Rethinking Multicultural Education for focusing too narrowly on typical categories of race, ethnicity, and culture, to the exclusion of more expansive definitions of “multiculturalism” that might include, for instance, an attention to the identities of LGBTQ youth in our classrooms and curriculum, or to the religious diversity of our students and communities. I understand and appreciate these concerns. The identities of our students and their communities are diverse and exceedingly complex, and certainly one approach is to define “multiculturalism” in ways to match every aspect of those identities—every aspect of “difference.” My answer in conversation with these friends and allies has been along two lines. First I attend to the context of Rethinking Schools itself. Two of our earlier, widely used books, Rethinking Our Classrooms Volumes 1 & 2, take up a broad definition of teaching for social justice, and in doing so, both volumes seek to embrace an expansive definition of culture, and also span grade levels and subject areas. Granted these two volumes are not perfect, but in many ways, my choice of focusing on more typically defined notions of race, culture, and ethnicity was a conscious one within the context of Rethinking Schools. We had already worked with the more expansive notion of culture in those two volumes, but had yet to take up a book that focused on race, racism, and the ways culture intertwines with them. The second part of my decision to define “multiculturalism” in the manner that I have for Rethinking Multicultural Education is connected to my experience teaching multicultural education and diversity courses at the university level. As I discussed earlier in this introduction, I worry that multiculturalism has been equated with “diversity” and has become the “everyone else” category. Teacher education credential coursework at many universities, for instance, require some sort of “diversity” class as a part of their core sequence of courses. Although I generally believe in the importance of requiring such courses and certainly do not want them taken out of teacher credential programs, the “every aspect of difference” nature of these classes oftentimes means that students—future teachers in this case—may talk about race, privilege, and myriad issues associated with diversity but give short shrift to the painful and powerful systemic racism, the legacies of colonization, and the realities of cultural oppression.

To be clear, I’m not opposed to more expansive definitions of multiculturalism and diversity, and I’m open to hearing the critiques of my friends, colleagues, and allies regarding the definition of multiculturalism I’ve chosen within the context of Rethinking Schools as a whole and the field of multicultural education as it currently exists. But this book represents the need to defend the conscious and explicit attention to race and ethnicity, and the aspects of culture that extend from them, as I have done here in this second edition of Rethinking Multicultural Education.

Read the rest of Wayne’s introduction >>

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Earlier this month, we set up shop at the annual meeting of the National Association for Multicultural Education (NAME). It’s always a joy to see old friends and meet folks who are new but no less passionate about multicultural education.

If you follow our blog, you likely share this passion, and know that Rethinking Schools has offered insights and resources on critical, multicultural teaching since our inception in 1986.

carberry-1

Here are a few examples, free to all friends of Rethinking Schools:

Decolonizing the Classroom: Lessons in Multicultural Education,
by Wayne Au
Multicultural education has to be based on dialogue, both among students and between students and teachers.

“If There Is No Struggle…” Teaching a People’s History of the Abolition Movement, by Bill Bigelow
Students “become” members of an abolitionist organization and grapple with the strategic dilemmas faced by one of the most significant U.S. social movements.

Multiculturalism: A Fight for Justice, by the editors of Rethinking Schools
The introduction to a special report on multicultural education.

Precious Knowledge: Teaching Solidarity with Tucsonby Devin Carberry
A high school history teacher centers a study of social movements on the fight over the Mexican American Studies program in Tucson. His students spread the knowledge.

These articles are free to read for our subscribers. Subscribe today to gain access! (All subscribers enjoy access to our online archives. If you have a subscription, but are not sure how to activate your online account, please call customer service at 1-800-660-4192.)

What Do You Mean When You Say Urban?: Speaking honestly about race and students, by Dyan Watson
“Urban” has become one of a series of euphemisms for African American and Latina/o students. What preconceptions hide behind the language?

The Other Internment: Teaching the Hidden Story of Japanese Latin Americans during WWII, by Moé Yonamine
A role play engages students in exploration of a little-known piece of history-the deportation of people of Japanese origin from Latin American countries to U.S. internment camps.

Diversity vs. White Privilege: An Interview with Christine Sleeterby Bob Peterson and Barbara Miner
Christine Sleeter explains why multiculturalism, at its core, is a struggle against racism, and must go beyond an appreciation of diversity.

Putting Out the Linguistic Welcome Mat, by Linda Christensen
Honoring students’ home languages builds an inclusive classroom.

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Curtis Acosta

If you have seen the remarkable film Precious Knowledge, about the Mexican American Studies (MAS) program in Tucson, you’ll remember Curtis Acosta, the caring and charismatic high school language arts teacher. Despite its well-documented accomplishments and success in reaching historically marginalized students, Arizona politicians set out to destroy Tucson’s MAS program—through House Bill 2281, which singled out this program, and then through a decree from Arizona’s superintendent of public instruction, which ruled Tucson’s program out of compliance with state law.

Rethinking Columbus banned

Rethinking Schools was drawn into the controversy when Tucson Unified School District banned and confiscated our book, Rethinking Columbus, which was one of seven core texts used in the MAS program. We published several blog posts and articles (here and here) on the struggle in Tucson, including two by Curtis Acosta.

Here we publish an open letter from Acosta, announcing his departure from Tucson High Magnet School and describing his new plans to continue his career as a mentor to young people and defender of public education.

By the way, Curtis Acosta will be leading workshops at this summer’s Free Minds, Free People conference in Chicago, and will keynote the Northwest Teaching for Social Justice conference this Oct. 19 in Seattle, co-sponsored by Rethinking Schools.

  – Bill Bigelow
Curriculum Editor

Dear supporters, colleagues, and friends,

Last Thursday my career at Tucson High Magnet School came to an end. It was never supposed to be this way. I always believed that I would leave with a fully gray head of hair and thicker lens than those currently in my black frames. I imagined that there would be a legacy of former students who would take my place and would take our levels of success even further. Instead, I took down each poster and photo from my room with a deep sense of loss and the words of Langston Hughes’ “A Dream Deferred” in my mind. It was as if I was participating in self-ethnic cleansing. (A wonderful side note to this story is that Bob Diaz, a librarian at the University of Arizona, has decided to create an archive of our classroom so that it can live on forever. Have I mentioned lately how much I love librarians?)

However, the reality is that the room and the power of the space were lost far before the pictures came off the walls. This moment was fated as soon as Tucson Unified School District eliminated our highly successful Mexican American Studies program, banning my colleagues and me from our own curriculum and pedagogy, as well as boxing up books. Yet, I would like to thank my students, compañer@s, parents, and the local and national voices that supported us through these difficult years in building up my resiliency and resolve to stand up and never to submit to acts of educational malpractice.

Thus, I am happy to inform you all that a brighter day lies ahead. Yesterday, I held a local press conference announcing that through a partnership with Prescott College, Mexican American Studies lives on through Chican@ Literature, Art & Social Studies (CLASS) where high school youth will receive free college credit. This is a class that was born from the injustices performed upon our students in Tucson and my indignation toward political opportunists using our students, literature, and history to create a wedge issue founded in hate for their own selfish means.

CLASS had a successful first year as a collection of 10 amazing youth, who sacrificed their Sunday afternoons throughout the entire year to rigorously study, analyze, and read the world together. It was a thirst of justice and knowledge that fueled them and they will soon be sharing their voice with the world at Free Minds, Free People in Chicago—a national education conference centered upon education for liberation and youth empowerment. However, our youth need financial help to attend, and although I am using the stipend from Prescott College to pay for part of the trip, it is still not enough. We would be humbled by any and all support and you can follow us now on Facebook and donate here.

Along with CLASS expanding and continuing next fall, I am happy to announce that I have founded the Acosta Latino Learning Partnership, an educational consulting firm that will continue the work that we started in Tucson throughout the nation. It is my vision to help teachers, schools, and educational organizations empower youth to find their own voice and academic identity through culturally responsive and engaging academic experiences.

I look forward to this next chapter of my career as I continue to be an advocate for public schools. After all, we know public education works. We’ve seen it be successful time and again, and as teachers we are honored to be the guides and mentors of beautiful young people who will forge a better nation and world. By following the inspirational leadership of the powerful teachers, students, and parents in Seattle and Chicago, this devious trajectory to destroy public education will end. One day soon we will stop the obsession of measuring our children and teachers with corporate driven instruments aimed at eliminating all of the creative joy from public education. And this is why our work here in Tucson must continue, we must never comply with unjust laws and policies that dehumanize and degrade our children.

Let all the reformers be warned that we are aware of why you want to discredit our profession and the heights that we reach with our students every year. We are more than a budding marketplace or real estate to redevelop, and we will not rest until our children are treated with more love and respect than the banks and corporations of this country. Trust teachers to work with their students, parents, and communities as true partners; support us with resources that our children deserve, and then watch the magic of learning take root and grow.

I want to thank you all for your support through the years and truly believe that great victories lie ahead for communities of color, our students and public schools throughout our nation.

In Lak Ech (Tú eres mi otro yo / You are my other me),

Curtis Acosta
Chican@ Literature Teacher
Tucson, AZ

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Many of you are familiar with the work of Tucson teacher Curtis Acosta. Acosta is the warm and eloquent—and photogenic!—language arts teacher featured in the film, Precious Knowledge, about Tucson’s now-outlawed Mexican American Studies program. The program is still suppressed, but the work goes on, as Acosta describes in this letter, recently posted to the Education for Liberation email list. Rethinking Schools continues to support this fine program and we urge you to show your solidarity in whatever way you can.

And, speaking of which, if you live near Seattle or plan to attend the upcoming National Council for the Social Studies conference, please join us for the presentation of our Zinn Education Project’s Myles Horton Award for Teaching a People’s History to Sean Arce, a key architect of Tucson’s Mexican American Studies program. Arce will be speaking and showing Precious Knowledge. Details here

- Bill Bigelow

Curtis Acosta

Dear Compañer@s and Supporters,

It’s been a while since I last wrote about the situation in Tucson. However, there are a few links that I felt I should share with those interested in our continued lucha to reinstate Mexican American Studies in Tucson. First and foremost, I would like you all to know that I am still teaching my Chican@ Literature classes at a youth center on Sundays. I have a great group of youth that have joined me. The classes are free and it has been healing to have the freedom to engage in critical dialogue about literature without the threat of demonization hanging over our heads. However, we are only a handful in our Sunday class,  and those good feelings are not balanced by the injustice of thousands of students who are not able to take our courses in their regular public school experience. It is shameful, but we are dogged in our determination to see MAS back in TUSD.

The following link is to an essay that I wrote for renowned author, and personal hero of mine, Ana Castillo. It is a part of her amazing online magazine La Tolteca. I decided it was important to explain in more detail how I used The Tempest in my Chican@/Latin@ Literature classes. If that interests you, please take a look.

How I used The Tempest in my Chican@/Latin@ Literature classes.

Here is a documentary that was filmed about how our classes have been dismantled and the fall out. It’s another unique perspective that may serve as good discussion and dialogue for you and your students.

I hope that we can count on more support for my colleagues Sean Arce and José Gonzalez as they continue to defend themselves against a frivolous lawsuit.

Support the Raza Defense Fund

Since our classes were eliminated there have been many different rumors and such about the future of MAS and the Tucson Unified School District, so I was fortunate enough to be interviewed by award winning writer, Jeff Biggers of the Huffington Post. It was a great way to actually address what the future may bring for us with a  federal desegregation order and plan to be revealed on Friday.

We have two new members of the school board as of last night, and the feeling in town is one of optimism. However, the administration is very much the same and our curriculum and books are still banned. I’m not sure what type of future there will be for my colleagues and myself, but we will keep fighting for restitution of our program. I hope this interview answers any questions you may be having, but if not, feel free to reach out and contact me or my colleagues for further details.

Will Tucson School Board Reinstate or Replace Mexican American Studies? Interview with Curtis Acosta.

We hope you are all doing well all over the country toward liberating and inspiring our youth to not only dream, but to have the will to act!

In Lak Ech,

Curtis Acosta

Tucson, AZ

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by Bill Bigelow

This past January, almost exactly 20 years after its publication, Tucson schools banned the book I co-edited with Bob Peterson, Rethinking Columbus. It was one of a number of books adopted by Tucson’s celebrated Mexican American Studies program—a program long targeted by conservative Arizona politicians.

TOP: Some of the books removed from classrooms. BOTTOM: The film “Precious Knowledge” captures the impact and effectiveness of the Mexican American Studies program in Tucson.

The school district sought to crush the Mexican American Studies program; our book itself was not the target, it just got caught in the crushing. Nonetheless, Tucson’s—and Arizona’s—attack on Mexican American Studies and Rethinking Columbus shares a common root: the attempt to silence stories that unsettle today’s unequal power arrangements.

For years, I opened my 11th grade U.S. history classes by asking students, “What’s the name of that guy they say discovered America?” A few students might object to the word “discover,” but they all knew the fellow I was talking about. “Christopher Columbus!” several called out in unison.

“Right. So who did he find when he came here?” I asked. Usually, a few students would say “Indians,” but I asked them to be specific: “Which nationality? What are their names?”

Silence.

In more than 30 years of teaching U.S. history and guest teaching in others’ classes, I’ve never had a single student say “Taínos.” So I ask them to think about that fact. “How do we explain that? We all know the name of the man who came here from Europe, but none of us knows the name of the people who were here first—and there were hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of them. Why haven’t you heard of them?”

This ignorance is an artifact of historical silencing—rendering invisible the lives and stories of entire peoples. It’s what educators began addressing in earnest 20 years ago, during plans for the 500th anniversary of Columbus’s arrival in the Americas, which at the time the Chicago Tribune boasted would be “the most stupendous international celebration in the history of notable celebrations.” Native American and social justice activists, along with educators of conscience, pledged to interrupt the festivities.

In an interview with Barbara Miner, included in Rethinking Columbus, Suzan Shown Harjo of the Morning Star Institute, who is Creek and Cheyenne, said: “As Native American peoples in this red quarter of Mother Earth, we have no reason to celebrate an invasion that caused the demise of so many of our people, and is still causing destruction today.” After all, Columbus did not merely “discover,” he took over. He kidnapped Taínos, enslaved them—”Let us in the name of the Holy Trinity go on sending all the slaves that can be sold,” Columbus wrote—and “punished” them by ordering that their hands be cut off or that they be chased down by vicious attack dogs, if they failed to deliver the quota of gold that Columbus demanded. One eyewitness accompanying Columbus wrote that it “did them great damage, for a dog is the equal of 10 men against the Indians.”

Corporate textbooks and children’s biographies of Columbus included none of this and were filled with misinformation and distortion. But the deeper problem was the subtext of the Columbus story: It’s OK for big nations to bully small nations, for white people to dominate people of color, to celebrate the colonialists with no attention paid to the perspectives of the colonized, to view history solely from the standpoint of the “winners.”

Rethinking Columbus was never just about Columbus. It was part of a broader movement to surface other stories that have been silenced or distorted in the mainstream curriculum: grassroots activism against slavery and racism, struggles of workers against owners, peace movements, the long road toward women’s liberation—everything that Howard Zinn dubbed “a people’s history of the United States.”

Which brings us back to Tucson: One of the most silent of the silenced stories in the curriculum is the history of Mexican Americans. Despite the fact that the U.S. war against Mexico led to Mexico “ceding”—at bayonet point—about half its country to the United States, this momentous event merits almost no mention in our textbooks. At best, it is taught merely as prologue to the Civil War.

Mexican Americans were central to building this country, but you wouldn’t know it from our textbooks. They worked in the Arizona copper mines, albeit in an apartheid system where they were paid a “Mexican wage.” In the 1880s, the majority of workers building the Texas and Mexican Railroad were Mexicans, and by 1900, the Southern Pacific Railroad had 4,500 Mexican workers in California alone.

They worked the railroad, and they worked for their rights. In 1903, Mexican and Japanese farmworkers united in Oxnard, California, to form the Japanese-Mexican Labor Association. As Ronald Takaki notes in A Different Mirror, “For the first time in the history of California, two minority groups, feeling a solidarity based on class, had come together to form a union.” They struck for higher pay, writing in a statement that “if the machines stop, the wealth of the valley stops, and likewise if the laborers are not given a decent wage, they too, must stop work and the whole people of this country suffer with them.”

Nowhere was this rich history of exploitation and resistance being explored with more nuance, rigor, and sensitivity than in Tucson’s Mexican American Studies program. Like Rethinking Columbus, Mexican American Studies teachers aimed to break the classroom silence about things that matter—about oppression and race and class and solidarity and organizing for a better world. Watch Precious Knowledge, the excellent film that offers an intimate look at this program—and chronicles the fearful, even ludicrous, attacks against it—and you’ll get a sense of the enormous impact this “rethinking” curriculum had on students’ lives.

This coming Monday, October 8th is the day set aside as Columbus Day. Let’s commit ourselves to use this—and every so-called Columbus Day—to tell a fuller story of what Columbus’s voyage meant for the world, and especially for the lives of the people who’d been living here for generations. And let’s push beyond “Columbus” to nurture a “people’s history” curriculum—searching out those stories that help explain how this has become such a profoundly unequal world, but also how people have constantly sought greater justice. This is the work on which educators, parents, and students need to collaborate.

***

If you care about nurturing a people’s history and ending Arizona’s ban on ethnic studies, click here to find out how you can take action.

This column was first published at GOOD.

Related Resources

Rethinking ColumbusRethinking Columbus: The Next 500 Years. Teaching Guide. Edited by Bill Bigelow and Bob Peterson. 2003. 192 pages. Readings and lessons for pre-K to 12 about the impact and legacy of the arrival of Columbus in the Americas.

The Line Between Us

The Line Between Us: Teaching About the Border and Mexican Immigration.Teaching Guide. By Bill Bigelow. 2006. 160 pages. Lessons for teaching about the history of US-Mexico relations and current border and immigration issues.

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by the editors of Rethinking Schools


Rethinking Columbus banned“Banned in Tucson.”

As many Rethinking Schools readers know, in January Tucson school officials ordered our book Rethinking Columbus removed from Mexican American Studies classes, as part of their move to shut down the program. In some instances, school authorities confiscated the books during class—boxed them up and hauled them off. As one student said, “We were in shock. . . . It was very heartbreaking to see that happening in the middle of class.”

Other books banned from Mexican American Studies classes included Paulo Freire’s Pedagogy of the Oppressed, Rodolfo Acuña’s Occupied America, and Elizabeth Martínez’ 500 Years of Chicano History in Pictures.

We are in good company.

Many commentators focused on the outrageous act of banning books. But the books were merely collateral damage. The real target was Tucson’s acclaimed Mexican American Studies program, whose elimination had long been a goal of rightwing politicians in Arizona. Their efforts ultimately found legislative expression in House Bill 2281, passed shortly after Arizona’s now-infamous Senate Bill 1070, which mandated racial profiling in immigration enforcement. National outrage focused on SB 1070, with barely any attention paid to HB 2281, a law whose origins lay in the same racial prejudice.

The law’s punchline comes in Section 15-112, which prohibits any courses that “advocate ethnic solidarity instead of the treatment of pupils as individuals.” Tom Horne, the former Arizona superintendent of public instruction and the state’s current attorney general, sums up the law’s curricular dogma: “Those students should be taught that this is the land of opportunity, and that if they work hard they can achieve their goals. They should not be taught that they are oppressed.”

Of course, by “those students,” Horne means Mexican Americans. To assert that oppression is a myth, especially the oppression of Mexican Americans, one must be historically illiterate—or lying. A few examples: The state of Arizona itself was acquired by the United States through invasion, war, and occupation—an enterprise justified by notions of racial supremacy. As the Congressional Globe insisted in 1847, seizing Mexican territory for the United States “is the destiny of the white race. It is the destiny of the Anglo-Saxon race.” A 1910 government report, quoted in the now-banned Occupied America, concluded: “Thus it is evident that, in the case of the Mexican, he is less desirable as a citizen than as a laborer.” Today in Arizona, according to the National Center for Children in Poverty, more than twice the percentage of Mexican American children live in poverty as white children: 64 percent to 30 percent. And Mexican Americans are twice as likely as whites to be incarcerated.

To demand that students think purely in terms of individuals and ignore race, class, and ethnicity is to enforce stupidity as state policy. Moreover, to erase solidarity from students’ conceptual vocabulary leaves them ignorant of how people have struggled to improve their lives—and have made the world a better place. Proposing that we rise purely as individuals—“I think I can, I think I can”—may be a comforting notion for social elites, but it’s simply wrong, empirically as well as morally. Outlawing solidarity benefits only those whose interests are threatened by people organizing for greater equality.

Today’s curricular ethnic cleansing in Arizona is the product of a toxic blend of fear and racism. Here’s Superintendent of Public Instruction John Huppenthal on NPR’s Tell Me More: “These issues are going to be huge philosophical issues for the United States as we become—as our whole racial makeup changes. And we need to know that there are a lot of serious concerns about how you educate kids, the values that you pass on to them.”

Translation: Whites are becoming a minority in this country. If children of color are taught to question structures of wealth and power; to think in terms of race, class, and ethnicity; to learn the history of solidarity and organizing; and come to see themselves as activists . . . well, the United States will be a very different place. In his 2010 campaign ads, Huppenthal promised to “Stop la raza.” Destroying Tucson’s Mexican American Studies program is one way he intends to keep that promise.

For rightwing politicians like Tom Horne, John Huppenthal, and Gov. Jan Brewer, it’s not the failure of the Mexican American Studies program that they fear—it’s the program’s success. According to Tucson’s own director of accountability and research, “there are positive measurable differences between MAS students and the corresponding comparative group of students.” Mexican American Studies students score higher on standardized reading, writing, and even math tests than their peers, are more likely to graduate from high school, more likely to attend college, and—a feature that doesn’t show up in the data printouts—are more likely to see themselves as activists.

This kind of education is a threat to those who would prefer Mexican Americans as quiet and compliant workers. Mayra Feliciano, a co-founder of the Tucson student activist group UNIDOS and an alumna of the Mexican American Studies program, told Jeff Biggers in an interview, “As long as people like Superintendent John Huppenthal and TUSD board members are afraid of well-educated Latinos, they will try to take away our successful courses and studies.”

Following one of Biggers’ fine Huffington Post blog posts on the Mexican American Studies program, one respondent, “Tucson Don,” directed his comments to a student Biggers had quoted:

“Hey Chicka, nobody is stopping you from learning about your own culture. But you now live in the US, and you can do that on your own time and your own dime! We Americans want you to learn to read (English), write (also in English) and be able to add, subtract, multiply, and divide well enough to complete a business transaction without needing a computer to tell you that a $1.99 Egg McMuffin plus a $.99 hash browns and free coffee adds up to $2.98 before tax.” Tucson Don and his ilk echo the century-old words quoted above: the Mexican American is “less desirable as a citizen than as a laborer.”

This is the “gutter education,” as the youth of South Africa used to call it, that the Mexican American Studies program was designed to supplant. Those who have read the letters and articles online by MAS teachers Curtis Acosta and Maria Federico Brummer, or who have seen the excellent film Precious Knowledge, know that this is not a program that teaches hate or “resentment.” It sparks curiosity, honors students’ lives, demands academic excellence, prompts critical thinking, invites activism, and imagines a better world.

Its ethos of love, mutual respect, and solidarity is expressed in the poem that has come to symbolize the program, borrowed from Luis Valdez’ 1971 Mayan-inspired “Pensamiento Serpentino”:

In Lak’ech (I Am You or You Are Me)

Tú eres mi otro yo.

You are my other me.

Si te hago daño a ti.

If I do harm to you.

Me hago daño a mí mismo.

I do harm to myself.

Si te amo y respeto,

If I love and respect you,

Me amo y respeto yo.

I love and respect myself.

We encourage Rethinking Schools readers to join the national solidarity campaign, “No History Is Illegal,” launched by the Teacher Activist Groups (TAG) network, to teach about this important struggle. In fact, Tucson’s program should not only be defended, it should be extended: We should demand that local, state, and federal policies support more multicultural, anti-racist education initiatives. As the U.S. school curriculum becomes increasingly shaped by giant multinational publishing corporations, it’s essential to stand up for—and spread—community-supported, social justice curriculum, as exemplified by Tucson’s Mexican American Studies program.

In Lak’ech. An injury to one is an injury to all.

Related Resources:

The Line Between UsThe Line Between Us explores the history of U.S-Mexican relations and the roots of Mexican immigration, all in the context of the global economy. And it shows how teachers can help students understand the immigrant experience and the drama of border life.

A People’s History for the Classroom helps teachers introduce students to a more accurate, complex, and engaging understanding of U.S. history than is found in traditional textbooks and curricula.

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Dear Rethinking Schools friends,

As we wrote earlier, on Jan. 13, we learned that our book Rethinking Columbus had been banned in Tucson schools as part of Arizona’s broader suppression of the successful Mexican American Studies (MAS) program. We asked for ideas about how we could oppose the attacks on this program and act in solidarity with teachers and students there.

Rethinking Schools readers flooded us with comments and ideas. Thanks to all of you who wrote, called, posted on our Facebook page, and commented here on our blog posts. What a great community of conscience you are.

Rethinking Schools invites you to join the effort launched today, February 1, by the national Teacher Activist Groups (TAG) network: “No History Is Illegal: A Campaign to Save Our Stories“–by teaching lessons from and about the banned Mexican American Studies program. Visit the “No History Is Illegal” website, where you’ll find curriculum materials from the Mexican American Studies program as well as teaching ideas and resources developed by TAG teachers around the country.

Here’s the TAG “pledge,” which Rethinking Schools supports:

“In solidarity with the students and teachers in the Mexican American Studies program in Tucson, AZ, I pledge my support to teach and raise awareness about their struggle and to ensure that the perspectives and stories of historically marginalized populations are kept alive in our classrooms and communities.”

Sign on here.

And check out this Saturday’s “Teach-In on Tucson,” at Georgia State University, sponsored by Georgians for fREADom. They’ll be live streaming for those of us not in Georgia.

Rethinking Columbus bannedFinally, many of you have generously offered to buy copies of Rethinking Columbus and other banned books to send to students and teachers in Tucson. As you know, the book-ban is really just “collateral damage.” It’s the entire Mexican American Studies program that Arizona right-wingers have set out to crush.

Nonetheless, there are a number of efforts underway to get books into the hands of students and teachers there — including one we just learned about initiated by The People’s Library at Occupy Wall Street, which is collecting donations to send the seven banned Mexican American Studies program books to Tucson. We’ll keep you posted about these and other efforts.

Thanks for your important work, and for your support of Rethinking Schools.

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