From Oppression in Tucson

December 21, 2012

By Monica Vasquez

“With school turning out more runners, jumpers, racers, tinkerers, grabbers, snatchers, fliers, and swimmers instead of examiners, critics, knowers, and imaginative creators, the word ‘intellectual,’ of course, became the swear word it deserved to be.”

-Ray Bradbury

Paulo Freire indicated in his text, Pedagogy of the Oppressed, “Education either functions as an instrument which is used to facilitate integration of the younger generation into the logic of the present system and bring about conformity, or it becomes the practice of freedom.” With these words, Freire makes clear that students should be empowered by acquiring knowledge and skills by attending a nation’s schools. Students frequently do not have the freedom to engage in programs and classes they like, or that help them achieve a better future. The dismantling of Ethnic Studies Program in the Tucson Unified School District (TUSD) is an example of both of these unfortunate realities. The TUSD’s Ethnic Studies Program, however, should be resurrected because its objective is to empower students to embrace their historical, ethnic, and cultural backgrounds, thereby opening a channel for the opportunities of growth that exist in the American system.

Over half of the Latino students in the United States drop out of high school. The TUSD is primarily made up of this group, as approximately 60% of all its students are Latino. The district director’s realized that they were in need of a program that would prevent these devastating dropout rates. The Ethnic Studies classes teach history and literature from diverse perspectives, allowing Latino students to see themselves as part of the curriculum, while integrating their experiences as a group into the American historical narrative, motivates them to make academic preparations for their futures. In support of this program, Sean Arce, the director of Ethnic Studies, said that after the creation and the success of the Ethnic Studies Program the TUSD had effectively closed the “achievement gap.” Latino students were motivated to graduate high school and achieve higher test scores, thus proving the success of the Ethnic Studies Program.

Those in favor of the dismantling of the Ethnic Studies Program, such as Tom Horne and John Huppenthal, are strong supporters of House Bill 2281 in Arizona. According to the Ethnic Studies website, Tom Horne declared the Mexican-American Studies classes (one facet of the Ethnic Studies Program) to be illegal approximately three hours before he was no longer the Arizona Superintendent of Public Instruction. One of the reasons for dismantling the Ethnic Studies Program, given by Tom Horne, was that, “The legislature finds and declares that public school pupils should be taught to treat and value each other as individuals and not be taught to resent or hate other races or social classes.” Tom Horne and many other HB 2281 supporters believe that through Arizona’s Ethnic Studies Program students are being taught to develop hatred towards America based on past oppression and domination. For instance, Stephen Lemons, a Phoenix New Times writer, mentions an interview given by John Huppenthal where he argued that, “American’ history is not being taught, in favor of Chicano history.” John Huppenthal claims that if Chicano students begin to learn about historical events such as the Mexican-American war from the perspective of people like “banned book” author Howard Zinn, who argues that America may have instigated the war to take over the northern part of Mexico (now California, Arizona, Nevada, Colorado, Texas, and New Mexico), the students would be inspired to violently rebel against the United States. Therefore, the HB2281 supporters strongly believe the Ethnic Studies Program teaches its students to resent America and hate its people.

In 2010, Arizona passed SB 1070. This bill allowed police officers to ask civilians for their immigration status within the United States if they had a reason to suspect they were undocumented. Later on that year, HB 2281 arose, banning the Ethnic Studies Program, which was important in improving the academic achievement of Latino students in the TUSD.

Tom Horne was also a strong supporter of the SB 1070 legislation that also served to oppress the Latino population in Arizona. Many people now believe that he was trying to enforce their own political and personal agenda within the state of Arizona.

After witnessing the recent national election in which the Latino vote and culture received so much attention, it may be the time for Arizona to stop systemically attacking this ethnic group. It is time to organize voters in the Latino community and begin work toward more inclusive policies in the Tucson schools and the Arizona state government. The Ethnic Studies Program has demonstrated its successes through the immense improvement of test scores and graduation rates. The United States would benefit from having programs like the Ethnic Studies in every American public school to decrease the dropout rates, increase the graduation rates, and, through education, empower a more democratic society.

Monica Vasquez is an 11th grade student at The Gary and Jerri-Ann Jacobs High Tech High School in San Diego.

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