April 28, 2012

Ethnic studies "is about rehumanization"

Tucson’s Ousted Mexican-American Studies Director Speaks: The Fight’s Not Over

By Julianne HingCan you speak to these oft-quoted statistics that 48 percent of Latino students in TUSD drop out of high school, but something like 94 percent of students who go through the program graduate. What’s behind those numbers?

There was a study done at UCLA by Daniel Solorzano and Tara Yosso that talks about the Chicano educational pipeline of Mexican American youth. The dropout rate across the country is about 54 percent for Mexican American and Chicano youth and in most urban school districts you see a mirror trend. TUSD is no different. But students who take our classes, data has emerged not from our department but from the department of accountability and research, that students who take our classes graduate at 97.5 percent. There was a district audit ordered by [Arizona State Superintendent] John Huppenthal and paid for by taxpayers. Through Cambium, an independent group, they conducted a separate analysis and found the same thing. Even more insightful, [ethnic studies courses] at the very least close the achievement gap. And at some our our sites, they surpass the achievement gap.

Urban school districts across the nation are seeking aggressively ways to figure out: How do we close the achievement gap? What’s significant with this number is they demonstrated that they were capable of closing that gap.

That was also documented, researched, and published through the state commission audit. And yet our district did not assert that in the administrative hearings. Our state superintendent and state officials actually denounced their own independent audit which was paid through taxpayer dollars in the amount of [$110,000], so you have these rigorous studies, independent studies, and yet folks like our Attorney General Tom Horne say, well, the data show that your students graduate at higher rates, that they are closing the achievement gap, but it’s not about that. According to him TUSD’s Mexican-American studies are an anti-American program that need to be eliminated. So it’s horrible, our own state officials are denouncing academic achievement, denouncing higher graduation rates and instead spreading this discourse to the public that we are anti-american, anti-white. There is nothing further from the truth.

Can you go into educator mode for a second? Because people like Tom Horne have called the Mexican-American studies curriculm racist. And other people who are trying to defend have said, no, it’s that HB 2281 is a racist law. How do define racism here? It doesn’t seem like both things could be “racist.” How does your definition of racist here differ from the way that Tom Horne interprets the word?

Racism is about power. About oppressing somebody through institutions, institutions of control. What we’re dealing with is institutional racism, the legacy of institutional racism. So Tom Horne sees Mexican American knowledge, history, our literature, as threats to Eurocentric knowledge. And because it counters that very source of knowledge and what we’re doing is trying to integrate more holistic and more comprehensive knowledge forms into our school system for the benefit for all of our students, he simply disregards it and again implements his fear-mongering and says that we’re racist. In no way would we replicate a paradigm that exists in our school systems in which particular groups of students are marginalized, because there are indeed racist practices and policies within our school system.

Racism is about control and marginalization and dehumanization of a group of people. In no means are we being that. Our pedagogy, our curriculum, is about rehumanization, about race as a social construct. And it’s about not replicating this paradigm. The real question we have to ask is, what type of power do certain groups of people wield against certain groups of people?

Huppenthal has compared us to Nazis, to Hitler Youth, which is also very offensive, and there’s a real distortion, a real twisting of historical circumstances. It’s horrific and what it is is the further dehumanization and demonization of Latinos in the state of Arizona.
Comment:  For more on the subject, see What Conservatives Consider "Objective History" and Tucson Bans Native Books, Shakespeare Play.

Below:  Sean Arce, "the former director of Tucson Unified School District’s now-suspended Mexican American Studies program, was fired earlier this month in the latest crackdown on the program in what has become a years-long saga over the fate of the popular program."

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