Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Where Do We Go From Here?

Watch Banned in Arizona on PBS. See more from Need To Know.

United States Circuit Judge Wallace Tashima recently upheld portions of HB 2281, an Arizona state law that prohibits Mexican-American Studies (MAS) from being taught in the Tucson Unified School District (TUSD). This is the same law that allowed school officials to remove books, such as Sandra Cisneros' THE HOUSE ON MANGO STREET and Sherman Alexie's TEN LITTLE INDIANS from being used in classrooms (See Librotraficante for an essay and complete list of books by Elaine Romero).

Every time I've asked myself how the government and our courts could specifically prohibit the teaching of Mexican-American Studies (MAS) I've been reminded that fear stemming from ignorance, intolerance itself, and book burning are older than the bubonic plague. Anybody remember the great Library of Alexandria (A.D. 391), where mountains of knowledge were destroyed in religious fervor? There, original manuscripts of literature and history were lost forever. Luckily, HB 2281 has accomplished the opposite.

Banning books and killing ethnic studies is only going to further flame suspicions that those in positions of authority in Arizona seek to disempower minorities for political gain. Rather than be so afraid of our country's history that erasing it is the only plausible solution, why not accept it with all its blemishes, discuss it honestly and openly, and learn from it? It's revisionist history that engenders anger and resentment. 

Here are my responses to what Arizona believes it's outlawing:

I need to see tangible evidence of this. If discussing historical events makes certain people uncomfortable, then so be it. What's important is that students be allowed to talk about how we can avert making the same kinds of mistakes in the future, and MOVE ON.

Courses such as the Mexican-American Studies (MAS) program and others like it are needed to fill in gaping holes in a curriculum that is not culturally relevant to the majority of the students in many of these Tucson classrooms, particularly when these same classes have been shown to narrow the achievement gap for Latino students. And, please, let's not promote the reading of only one kind of literature. Our students should be reading literature as diverse as our country's/world's population. 

Tucson Unified School District (TUCSD) officials say they want a curriculum that treats students as individuals and that does not "promote ethnic solidarity." Great, let's see a proposal for a revised curriculum that is factual and inclusive. I'd like to see a curriculum that shows through examples that we can be individuals and still be part of a whole -- our country's history of immigration.


Two final thoughts:

1) Scholars should be the ones writing our students' curriculum, not politicians.
2) Moving forward, I'd like to hear civil dialogue and see respectful behavior.