In Arizona, a culture war is pitting education activists against a political establishment bent on maintaining the ethnocentric status quo.
The conflict stems from a draconian law that effectively restricts schools from offering innovative ethnic studies programs. The perniciously worded regulations target keystone Ethnic Studies/Mexican American Studies classes in Tucson, Arizona, which have inspired many youth academically and personally. Community groups have been trying to stave off the crackdown in the courts.
Journalist and CultureStrike delegate Jeff Biggers has been tracking the ethnic studies controversy, and he reports at the Huffington Post that the big legal showdown is approaching. He writes, “Bottom line: Mexican American Studies Needs No Defense: It Needs More Defenders.” More below the fold:
Mexican American Studies in Arizona Needs No Defense: It Needs More Defenders
In a must read cover story in the most recent Tucson Weekly, acclaimed journalist and fifth-generation Tucsonan Mari Herreras expertly sorts fact from fiction in the controversial Ethnic Studies ban in Arizona.
Yet, underscoring Herreras’ debunking of 10 myths — that “stories of mythical proportions have surrounded the fight for Mexican-American studies — with some truths sprinkled in between the lines” — is one of the most tragic, if not obscene, realities in Arizona’s education showdown: As the state inches toward its centennial in 2012, Mexican Americans — including the 60 percent of the students that make up Tucson Unified School District — still have to defend and justify the teaching of Mexican American history and literature, as if Mexican Americans are not part of the greater American experience.
The final showdown over the extremist witch hunt to outlaw Ethnic Studies in Tucson is only days away; but, the supremely American struggle for democratic education, justice and local control of schools has been playing out in the state’s segregated minds for over a century.
Five years ago, long-time educator Salomon Baldenegro nailed Tucson’s and the state of Arizona’s enduring and shameful problem: “…history is cyclical, and the Mexican haters have resurfaced. We again find ourselves having to prove our legitimacy in our own country.”
Or, at least in the legislative narrative of a modern-day Arizona framed by recalled Tea Party President Russell Pearce and his friends, Canadian-immigrant and violence-invoking Attorney General Tom Horne, and Tea Party extremist John Huppenthal, the embarrassingly incompetent Superintendent of Public Instruction.
Or, in the silence and ineptitude of a school district overseen by a demoralizing figure like TUSD Superintendent John Pedicone, who reneged on his promise to join the Mexican American Studies program in their federal court battle for constitutional rights, unleashed unforgivable and excessive police brutality on the city’s youth and elderly icons last spring, placed obstacles on the program, referred to college-bound students as “pawns,” refused to participate in public forums to heal the divide in the city, and dismissively concluded the historic legacy of Mexican American Studies as a “distraction” in his overwhelmingly Mexican American district.
In a chilling reminder of his acquiescence to the hateful narrative of Horne and Huppenthal, Pedicone refused to publicly rebuke, despite numerous pleas, Huppenthal’s vicious charge in September that his district’s own Mexican American youth could be compared to Hitler’s paramilitary Jugend.
Let’s be clear: No other high school program in Arizona — perhaps even the nation — has gone through such scrutiny, investigation and media abuse and disinformation, as the Mexican American Studies program in Tucson.
And yet, no other high school program among low-income students in the state of Arizona — or perhaps the nation — has proved its undeniable success in alleviating the achievement gap, graduating college-bound students, inspiring community-engaged young citizens, and garnering unprecedented praise from national education experts and an independent audit. No other program has sponsored as many public forums to heal and bring together the city on issues concerning its youth.
For more background on the battle for ethnic studies, see this coverage at The SoundStrike of a recent Student Day of Action.
More broadly on the issue of communities of color in the public education system, CultureStrike editor Michelle Chen comments on diversity in education and what some policy wonks see as a solution to changing demographics in schools–with a nod to the ethnic studies crisis in Tucson.
Measuring Teacher ‘Diversity’ in a Segregated School System
Kids do most of their growing up in school, but our schools aren’t growing to meet the changing needs of their communities. And the disconnect between the education system’s capacities and the aspirations of the kids they serve subtly illustrates the roots of the so-called “achievement gap.”
Among the litany of “failures” that politicians have identified in public education, the debate has increasingly affixed on the issue of who is teaching your kids and how they influence student achievement. A new study says one metric that reflects the divide between students’ unmet needs and the human resources of the education system is “teacher diversity.” The centrist think tank Center for American Progress argues:
At the national level, students of color make up more than 40 percent of the public school population. In contrast, teachers of color—teachers who are not non-Hispanic white—are only 17 percent of the teaching force.
This is a problem for students, schools, and the public at large. Teachers of color serve as role models for students, giving them a clear and concrete sense of what diversity in education—and in our society—looks like. A recent review of empirical studies also shows that students of color do better on a variety of academic outcomes if they’re taught by teachers of color. …
The overarching critique seems straightforward enough: Kids benefit from an educational experience that is socially and culturally reaffirming. This should include teachers they identify with.
But is statistical “diversity” really the objective? Yes, demographics matter if you want schools to be a part of, and an asset for, the community they serve. Social divides within a school amplify the social barriers outside of it. And if teachers and school administrators are isolated from the day-to-day realities students deal with, from economic hardship to violence in the home to limited English-speaking ability, school will become a pretty unwelcoming place for youth….
In a troubled school, the social bond between students and teachers matters because it could buffer against the racism and class privilege that besiege them: the constant cycle of drilling and testing, dilapidated facilities, ethnocentric curricula that neither speak to nor inspire kids growing up in communities of color, security patrols that make them feel like trespassers in their own school. In an institution fraught with alienation, hiring a few more black, Latino or Asian teachers is “diversity” that doesn’t make a difference…
The recent culture war over ethnic studies in Arizona is a case in point: When progressive educators, in partnership with Latino communities, sought diversity in their school programming, they were threatened by a political establishment that favored curricula that imposed conformity, leaving little room for global perspectives on culture and history.
Have you witnessed or experienced a similar battle over diversity in education in your community? Weigh in at: wordstrikemedia [at] gmail [dot] com.