Tucson says banished books may return to classrooms
Teachers charge censorship as Mexican-American studies ban goes into effect
By Jeff Biggers
Salon reported last week that TUSD had “banned” seven textbooks and forbidden the teaching of Shakespeare’s play “The Tempest” in Mexican-American literature classes, a story that was picked up by two Arizona newspapers as well as Democracy Now radio program.
“Seven books that were used as supporting materials for curriculum in Mexican American Studies classes have been moved to the district storage facility,” the statement read, “because the classes have been suspended as per the ruling by Arizona Superintendent for Public Instruction John Huppenthal.” District spokesperson Cara Rene added that “the books may be considered for future use as new curriculums are created going forward. We are seeking assistance from the Arizona Department of Education to help us create new classes for the 2012/13 school year.”
“In regards to this double-speak about these books being banned,” said Cholla High School teacher Lorenzo Lopez, “it is irrelevant if these books are banned from the entire district or just from our classes. If our kids can’t have access to that knowledge, and it was urgent that these books be removed immediately from our classes, they are, in effect, banned.”
According to one teacher, the mandated roundup of texts included their own personal libraries in the classroom.
“We were told by our principal that we need to comply with the law and that meant that with the suspension of Mexican-American studies classes we had to remove the listed books from our classrooms immediately,” said Pueblo High School teacher Sally Rusk. “Our own personal copies were not to be on our book shelves either. It seems obvious to us that being made to take certain books out of the classroom—even when used as reference books and not class sets—is censorship. How can not allowing teachers to use these books, even as reference material in a traditional U.S. history course, not be interpreted as banning those books?”
In a district of more than 60,000 students, 61 percent of whom come from Mexican-American families, library copies of the targeted seven books appear to be sparse. There are two district-wide copies available of “Pedagogy of the Oppressed” by Brazilian educator Paolo Freire, which had been singled out by state superintendent Huppenthal. The district’s online catalog showed only one copy of the Critical Race Theory textbook. Tucson High School does not have one of the 16 copies available in the district of the textbook “Rethinking Columbus: The Next Five Years,” according to the catalog.
1. Neither A.R.S. §15-112 nor the TUSD Board resolution requires the removal of books in order to set the District into compliance with the law.
2. The act of removing books from a classroom during a class session clearly has a chilling effect on students and the entire educational community. Further, removal of materials from classrooms impinges on teacher freedom of speech.
3. TUSD can quibble over whether or not it banned any books, but it certainly cannot state that it did not ban all the courses being taught through the MAS program. Compliance with the order to suspend the program is in itself an act of censorship and a violation of academic freedom.
Regarding the political aspects of this situation, A.R.S. §15-112 was signed into law in the spring of 2010 on the heels of the state’s anti-immigration law, considered by many to be racist and neocolonial. The law is currently being reviewed by the U.S. Supreme Court. PLG considers A.R.S. §15-112 to have arisen from a climate of racist sentiment among lawmakers in the State of Arizona. This sentiment has been promoted by Judge Kowal in his siding with Department of Education expert witnesses against TUSD and MAS, which placed TUSD “between a rock and a hard place”–either suspend MAS or lose state funding for the entire school district. Given the budgetary problems facing school districts across the nation, TUSD’s decision to sacrifice MAS over funding is understandable, but unacceptable.
TUSD is aware its MAS program did not teach “racial resentment” but historical literacy. It is also is aware there is absolutely nothing in the MAS curriculum that affronts civic values or clashes with classes that teach “ethnic solidarity.” In the face of absurd, draconian laws, the only ethical position to take is one of complete opposition. Today’s capitulation to A.R.S. §15-112 will be tomorrow’s capitulation to the next absurd, racist law enacted by the Arizona legislature. The law should be abolished.
Comment: To sum it up, the district removed the books from classrooms where they were readily available, and sent them to remote storage facility. But students can get the books via interlibrary loan if they're lucky enough to snag the one or two remaining copies.
And if they buy their own copies or find them in the trash, the school won't penalize them. Gee, thanks for not banning the books, Tucson!
If only one of 100 students can obtain a book, it's effectively banned for the 99% who can't obtain it. And as the critics noted, these books are forbidden to be taught in Tucson's classrooms. Students can read them only on their own, outside the classroom, without a teacher's guidance. I'd say that's close enough to a ban to call it a ban.
Alternative to caving in
If I were the school district, I'd be tempted to call Huppenthal's bluff. Keep teaching Mexican American Studies and dare him to cut off the state's funding. If he does, shut down the school district as if teachers and students alike are on strike.
Bus the students to Phoenix and have them carry signs outside the state capitol saying, "Ban bigotry, not books." Alert the media to cover the photogenic kids whose schools Huppenthal refuses to fund. See who caves in first: Huppenthal or the school district.
Of course, it wouldn't be my kids who were missing their schooling. But one could argue that the protests would be more educational than a month of classes. It would be a disaster only if Huppenthal refused to give in--but few if any politicians could resist this kind of pressure.
For more on the subject, see What Conservatives Consider "Objective History" and Ethnic Studies Ban Is Political.
Below: The face of Arizona's bigotry: John Huppenthal. (AP/Ross D. Franklin)