Friday, June 17, 2011
Anatomy of a Tragicomic Educational Witch-hunt
Anatomy of a Tragicomic Educational Witch-hunt
By Roberto Dr. Cintli Rodriguez
Arizona’s vicious politics in regards to the legality of Tucson’s highly successful Mexican American Studies (MAS) program have now reached the level of tragicomedy.
Despite an independent audit giving MAS two thumbs up – finding that "no observable evidence was present to suggest that any classroom within Tucson Unified School District is in direct violation of the law” – Arizona State Superintendent, John Huppenthal, still managed to give both the program and the $110,000 audit two middle fingers.
A lot of us are starting to miss Huppenthal’s predecessor, Tom Horne. With him, you could always count on him for a good laugh – like the time (always) he claimed that he was attempting to dismantle Ethnic Studies in Arizona in the spirit of Martin Luther King Jr., or the time he claimed that labor leader, Dolores Huerta, had been Cesar Chavez’s girlfriend.
With Huppenthal, on the other hand, you don’t know whether it’s Ground Hog Day, or Theater of the Absurd. After sitting on the results of the 120-page audit by Miami-based Cambium Learning for some 6 weeks, he held a press conference on June 15 to discredit his own commissioned audit. When asked to produce the audit, it was conveniently unavailable. For good reason. The audit actually praises MAS. Despite this, he unilaterally declared MAS to be outside of the law, giving the district 60 days to comply or else lose $15 million.
If this were a play, it would be titled: “Johnny can’t read” or “Say it ain’t so, John.”
It cannot be forgotten that HB 2281 was designed by Horne with one specific purpose in mind; to declare Tucson’s MAS program illegal. Thus on its face, HB 2281 is unconstitutional.
The second thing to remember is that the purpose of the audit was “to determine whether the Mexican American Studies Department’s curriculum is in compliance with A.R.S. 15-112 (A)” – (page 4 of audit). And what the audit found is that the program is in compliance because it does not violate any of the four provisions of HB 2281 (page 53). The provisions prohibit classes that:
· advocate the overthrow of the United States government
· promote resentment toward a race or class of people
· are designed primarily for pupils of a particular ethnic race
· advocate ethnic solidarity instead of the treatment of pupils as individuals
It is Huppenthal that found MAS in violation of the last three provisions of the law.
Reminiscent of the Inquisition, MAS has been declared to be illegal not because it is illegal, but rather, because Huppenthal has unilaterally declared it so.
When Governor Jan Brewer signed HB 2281 into law on May 12, 2010, the very next day, TUSD officials proudly proclaimed that the district’s MAS program was in full compliance. Since then, there has been no study to contravene this finding, including Huppenthal’s own audit. How he arrived at his determination is obvious; he moved the goalposts. What is missing in this process is transparency (The ACLU has sued to obtain the audit records to determine what criteria he used to ignore the audit). Huppenthal is the same man who campaigned to “stop La Raza.” In his own finding, contrary to the audit, he found that MAS materials “repeatedly refer to white people as being ‘the oppressors’ and ‘oppressing’ the Latino people.” If the term “oppressors” bothers him, perhaps we can come up with another term. Yet, it is obvious that it is the historic relationship of inequality that he objects to being taught.
In Huppenthal’s and Horne’s America, topics such as genocide, land theft, slavery, lynchings, forced removals of populations and mass deportations, Jim Crow segregation and legalized discrimination are apparently out of bounds. And the human rights struggles to overcome these injustices are apparently also out of bounds.
By ignoring his own audit, Huppenthal has, in effect, issued a 1500s-era Auto de Fe – a witch-hunt and a call to censor books, curriculums and classrooms. The tragicomedy of this situation is that TUSD’s school board and its superintendent, John Pedicone, have been seemingly racing to dismantle MAS from within, (attempting to make MAS classes electives), even resorting to the massive use of force (May 3 school board meeting) to enforce their proposed changes. Incidentally, the audit recommends that the classes remain part of the core curriculum).
Beyond the hate that HB 2281 has unleashed, still to be determined in a courtroom is not whether MAS is in compliance with HB 2281, but rather, whether the law is constitutional (The Acosta lawsuit). The audit does not actually tackle that question. Compliance assumes that MAS should adhere to Horne’s Greco-Roman values. The notion that MAS should treat students as individuals is a canard; they are treated as individuals, and at the same time, all individuals possess a culture and all culture is collective. And in case Huppenthal, Horne and Pedicone have not also noticed, the right to culture, education, language, history and identity are protected by at least 9 international human rights treaties and conventions.
While the audit is actually a resounding affirmation of Mexican American Studies-TUSD, the report does have another major flaw that cannot go unanswered; it advocates that the words “Raza Studies” be removed from the program’s documentation (this was already done in 2010). It does not explain why and reads like a cave-in to right wing ideology. The adoption or rejection of such terminology – which connotes the mixture of all races and the anti-thesis of purity – should be up to peoples and communities to decide, rather than as directives to be imposed by auditors unfamiliar with the discipline.
By inference, compliance connotes that promoting unity amongst [all] peoples is bad and that critical thinking and fighting for social justice are also bad. To comply with such a law sets a bad precedent.
Despite this and despite Huppenthal, the audit sounds like victory for MAS-TUSD.
Rodriguez, a professor at the University of Arizona, can be reached at: XColumn@gmail.com
* This is the link to the full audit: