A controversial ethnic studies program being taught in a Tucson school district has been ruled illegal by an administrative law judge. What made this class so controversial?
The class under attack, taught at Tucson High Magnet School by Curtis Acosta, is primarily attended by Mexican-Americans. New York Times reporter, Marc Lacey, reported almost a year ago that the classroom walls are covered with protest signs, including one that read “United Together in La Lucha!” – the struggle. And students do study literature, including The Tempest, but some of the other texts being employed include The Pedagogy of the Oppressed and Occupied America, which Tom Horne, Arizona’s superintendent of public instruction at the time, said were being used to teach Latino youths that they were being mistreated.
Due to his concern that students in this class were being taught to become activists, Horne wrote a law directly aimed at challenging the school’s ethnic studies program, a law which was passed by the Legislature in the spring and signed into law in May, 2010, by Governor Jan Brewer, in the midst of protests throughout the state over its crackdown on immigration.
This law which went into effect on January 1, 2011, warned Arizona school districts that they could lose 10 percent of their state educational funding if their ethnic-studies programs were not found to be in compliance with new state standards. It banned programs which promote the overthrow of the United States government, including programs that suggest that parts of the Southwest that were once part of Mexico should be returned to that country. Finally, it prohibited any promotion of resentment toward a race, and it outlawed any programs that are primarily for one race or that advocate ethnic solidarity instead of individuality.
On his last day as Arizona’s top education official, Horne declared that Tucson’s Mexican-American program violated all four provisions of the new law. Although the law gave the district 60 days to comply, Horne called for the dissolution of the program, saying that the district’s other ethnic-studies programs could continue since they had not received complaints.
“It’s propagandizing and brainwashing that’s going on there,” Horne said. “In the end, I made a decision based on the totality of the information and facts gathered during my investigation—a decision that I felt was best for all students in the Tucson Unified School District,” he stated. Horne left office at the end of 2010.
The Tucson Unified School District fought back, filing an appeal against Tom Horne’s decision to shut down the program, but John Huppenthal, Horne’s successor supported Horne’s ruling.
During the appeal process, district officials stated that an audit commissioned by Huppenthal had praised the program, finding that there was “no observable evidence” that the classes were in violation of state law. A witness for the school system further maintained that teaching students “historical facts of oppression and racism” was less likely to promote “racial resentment” than ignoring that history.
This past Tuesday, Judge Lewis Kowal ruled that the program’s curriculum was teaching Latino culture and history “in a biased, political, and emotionally charged manner,” thus supporting Horne’s findings that it was in violation of the 2010 law. Huppentahal said that the judge’s ruling shows “that it was the right decision.”
Kowal’s ruling said that the program violated state law by having one or more classes designed primarily for one ethnic group, thus promoting racial resentment and advocating ethnic solidarity instead of treating students as individuals. He further explained that the law allows for the objective instruction regarding the oppression of people that may result in racial resentment or ethnic solidarity.
“However, teaching oppression objectively is quite different than actively presenting material in a biased, political and emotionally charged manner, which is what occurred in (Mexican-American Studies) classes,” Kowal wrote. He explained that this kind of instruction promotes activism against white people.
Under the law, Arizona can withhold 10 percent of its educational funding from the Tucson Unified School District, which amounts to roughly $15 million a year, until the district changes the course’s curriculum. Tucson Superintendent John Pedicone’s written statement in response to the judge’s ruling stated that the school board’s lawyers were reviewing the ruling which would be discussed at their January 3 school board meeting.
In the absence of personal knowledge regarding what is being taught in this classroom, it is impossible to know whether this was a case of a teacher using his teaching position as a sounding board for his own ethnic beliefs or whether this is paranoia or worse; censorship. It sounds odd to me that this law would be written specifically to outlaw this class. A little suspicious, don’t you think?
Either way, the story doesn’t sit well, and I’d love personal feedback from anyone with firsthand knowledge of what is being taught in Curtis Acosta’s classroom. If you have more information on this heated topic, we would love to hear from you.