Journal of Educational Controversy


Saturday, March 17, 2018

An Interview with University of Pennsylvania's Dr. Jonathan Zimmerman

           On December 1st, 2017, Western Washington University hosted Dr. Jonathan Zimmerman of the University of Pennsylvania following the recent release of his co-authored book, The Case for Contention: Teaching Controversial Issues in American Schools. Zimmerman’s presentation, entitled ‘Censorship and Free Speech on College Campuses in the Age of Trump,’ unsurprisingly engendered lively debate, encouraging Western’s student population to take an introspective look at free speech on campus in light of the current political climate.

           Dr. Zimmerman’s talk addressed the limits and possibilities of free speech on college campuses in the United States during an age of much political contention. Further, his talk included his perspective on the role of the educator in affecting and encouraging free speech in students, as well as his ideas regarding a higher educational institution’s responsibility in maintaining open discussion, or “free speech zones,” on campus.

          The Journal of Educational Controversy was fortunate enough to sit down for an interview with Zimmerman prior to his talk. Zimmerman discussed with us his positions on the issues surrounding free speech and educational institutions, which are explored further in his book.

JEC: What is your talk about today?

Zimmerman: My talk today is about free speech with an accent on the question of political exchange and dialogue in our universities and outside of them.

JEC: The description of your talk includes the question of when, if ever, free speech should be limited. How would you answer this question?

Zimmerman: The last book I wrote was a book about teaching controversial issues in American schools very closely related to the discussion today. One of the reasons we have free speech is actually to promote and to engender dialogue across our differences but it's extremely hard to do so for a variety of different reasons and what I tried to do was talk about ways to do that, reasons to do that and constraints on it, because in an incredibly polarized time in our history it's difficult for our public school teachers to engage in these discussions.

JEC: How do you think K-12 educators might discuss controversial issues with their students?

Zimmerman: I think that there are a couple of ‘dos’ and ‘don’ts’ in this realm, and I think the most important thing is at the simplest level to engage our controversial public questions. For example, after the shooting in Las Vegas, I read that lots of schools were offering counseling and mental health services which is utterly appropriate, especially for kids that may have been exposed to gun violence. What we didn’t see is schools debating the questions around who should own a gun and what we should do to prevent events like this and I think that’s really characteristic of one of the huge problems right now in the country. Obviously that's a heavily contested question, but it’s so contested, we're afraid to discuss it in our schools. So, at the simplest level, I want to encourage teachers to address questions like that. It's perfectly fine and sometimes necessary to offer people counseling, but that's not the job of the teacher. The job of the teacher is to help people gain both the skills and the knowledge to come to conclusions about difficult public questions. The most important thing is to do that, and the most important thing to avoid is not the issue itself, which you should be talking about. It's to avoid imposing your own opinion on the question. Like everything, that's easier said than done. You're a subjective human being and you're a political being and your views will at some level be manifest to your students. How do you avoid imposing your views on your students? It strikes me that your primary job is to get the students to enquire and ask questions, not to impose your answers.

JEC: Does that differ in higher education?

Zimmerman: I would say that, to me, your goal and your purpose are the same at the university level. I frankly think it's easier in the sense that there's a lot more freedom. In many places you have academic freedom as a function of being a university faculty member that often high school teachers don't have. You also don’t have the kind of parental and citizen pressure that teachers often face. That's not to say it’s easy. But I would say that when I was a K-12 teacher I had a lot less freedom and a lot more constraints on my behavior than I have as a university professor.

JEC: Do you think a lot of those constraints came from greater parental influence in K-12 education?

Zimmerman: Yes. Let's remember that unlike universities, our K-12 schools are locally organized. They're governed by local school boards, and primarily by local taxes, so that creates a very different set of constituents and a very different set of constraints.

JEC: Do you feel that there is a line between which issues can be addressed in college vs. K-12?

Zimmerman: No. I do think that by virtue of what a university is there is at least an opportunity to address issues in a more complex way, but I would say frankly the more important distinction for me is not between universities and the K-12 system; at large, it’s between sixteen year olds and six year olds. I think that’s where the interesting and complicated differences are because those are developmental differences, which I don't think hold the same kind of power if you're comparing high school and college. Clearly a sixteen year old can and should be debating the question of gun control and gun violence. I'm not sure a six year old should be. A six year old just doesn’t have the same life experience and also cognitive capacity to debate those kinds of questions as a sixteen year old does.

JEC: How do universities respond to ideas rejected by scholars?

Zimmerman: If you're talking about something like climate change denial, it strikes me that people at universities have responded in appropriate ways by saying look, that's not science. You have a right to believe it in the same way that you have a right to believe anything, but you don't have a right to see that view privileged in schools or university classrooms. However, I would say in the same breath, I think there's a danger of the people you're calling experts exaggerating their expert knowledge. To go back to the climate change example, there is absolutely an expert consensus that human beings have contributed to warming the earth, but sometimes you'll hear people point to that consensus and then say that there's a consensus that we need to remain in the Paris Accord about climate change and they're not the same. There's a difference between a scientific consensus and a political consensus. I think there's a danger amongst we experts in exaggerating what we actually know with certainty. I am absolutely 100% certain that human beings have contributed to warming the earth. I'm not certain and never will be certain to the same degree about the wisdom of being in the Paris Accord. I do support it, but not with the same certainty. I can't. There are too many variables. It’s a political question, not a scientific one, and I believe those are different kinds of questions.

JEC: How do you define a controversial issue?

Zimmerman: We try to do that in our book, and what we say a controversial issue is is an issue about which the most informed people disagree. To go back to the climate change question, is there a controversy about whether human beings have warmed the earth? There isn't. Not one that I'd want to see debated in classrooms any more than there's a controversy about whether I share DNA with primates. I understand there are some people that don't think that I do, but they're wrong and I don’t think a classroom at a university or a public school is a place to debate something that is not debatable. But to go back to climate change, what to do about the fact that human beings are warming the earth is a controversy, and there are as many different opinions about that as there are people. What regulations should be put in place by which countries? Who should absorb most of the costs? How should they be enforced? Those are enormously complicated and controversial questions and the reason I'm calling them that is that informed people have very different takes on them. They do not have very different takes on whether people have warmed the earth because people have.

JEC: How do you think campuses should handle threats to free speech?

Zimmerman: I think it depends on the nature of the threat, and I think it's important to emphasize, as I'm going to [in the talk] later today, that free speech is doing quite fine on campuses. There's a danger of excessive language in describing this problem. I’ve been trying to find language where we can acknowledge the problem without exaggerating it. I want to emphasize that there are constraints and threats to free speech, but there is no crisis to free speech. To me those are different words, and I do think the words matter. But insofar as there are constraints in free speech, I think that, to me, it all starts with the faculty, the teachers of the university, modeling ways to talk across our differences. I think the reason there are threats to free speech is that many of us have lost the ability to do that. If I don't like what you’re saying, instead of saying, well, tell me more about that, or, how did you come to that view? I say that is foreboden, that is violent, that is taboo, shut up. So as far as free speech goes, I think the major cause of that has to do with our lost ability to converse across our differences, and by corollary, the most important solution, although that’s not the right word. Maybe ‘remedy’ or ‘response’ is to be much more aware and much more vigilant about trying to teach people how to converse across their differences. If they don’t know how, they will almost inevitably muzzle each other and themselves.

Dr. Zimmerman’s book, The Case for Contention: Teaching Controversial Issues in American Schools, co-authored with Emily Robertson, is now available from the University of Chicago Press.

Thursday, March 8, 2018

Journal's "Black Lives Matter and the Education Industrial Complex" Issue now Online

I am pleased to announce that our special issue on “Black Lives Matter and the Education Industrial Complex”  is now online at the Journal of Educational Controversy.  Here is a direct link:   Please consider continuing the conversation by contributing a rejoinder.

The co-editors for this issue are Bill Lyne, Professor of English, Western Washington University, and president of the United Faculty of Washington State and Teri McMurtry-Chubb, Professor of Law, Mercer University Walter F. George School of Law.  

Our annual Educational Law and Social Justice Forum in the spring will feature this issue.

Authors responded to the following controversial scenario:

Along with drawing attention to the police as occupying armies in Black American communities, the Black Lives Matter movement has highlighted the deep roots of institutionalized racism in the United States.  Starting with the fundamental question, Do Black Lives Matter in the U.S. Education Industrial Complex?, this issue of the Journal of Educational Controversy seeks to explore the various questions raised by Black Lives Matter in relation to U.S. educational institutions, policies, and practices as they impact men, women, and children of color intersectionally, with respect to gender, gender identity, and class.  These questions could include the status of schools as institutions of control and sites of reproduction of racist ideology; the possibility of schools as sites of liberationist  transformation; the institutional history of schools alongside the development of institutional racism; the institutional response of schools to incidents of racial violence; the history of black studies programs in relation to black liberation movements, and the appropriation and sanitizing of terms like diversity and multiculturalism.

Below is the table of contents from the journal:


Black Lives Matter and the Education Industrial Complex: A Special Issue of the Journal of Educational Controversy
Teri A. McMurtry-Chubb and William Lyne

Articles in Response to Controversy

A Critical Race Theory Analysis of Post-Ferguson Critical Incidents Across Ecological Levels of Academia
Aurora Chang, Sabina Neugebauer, and Daniel Birmingham

Cocaine and College: How Black Lives Matter in U.S. Public Higher Education
Bill Lyne

The Revolution Will Be Live: Examining Educational (In)Justice through the Lens of Black Lives Matter
Amy Jo Samuels, Gregory L. Samuels, and Brandon Haas

Practical Representation and the Multiracial Social Movement
Vernon D. Johnson and Kelsie Benslimane

The Intersection of White Supremacy and the Education Industrial Complex: An Analysis of #BlackLivesMatter and the Criminalization of People with Disabilities
Brittany A. Aronson and Mildred Boveda

Exclusionary Discipline In New Jersey: The Relationship Between Black Teachers And Black Students
Randy Rakeem Miller Sr.

Stories of Social Justice Educators and Raising Children in the Face of Injustice
James Wright and Amanda U. Potterton

Going to College: Why Black Lives Matter Too
Raquel Farmer-Hinton

Post-Trayvon stress disorder (PTSD): A theoretical analysis of the criminalization of African American students in U.S. schools
Marcia J. Watson-Vandiver

Schools and the No-Prison Phenomenon: Anti-Blackness and Secondary Policing in the Black Lives Matter Era
Lynette Parker

Magical Black Girls in the Education Industrial Complex: Making Visible the Wounds of Invisibility
Teri A. McMurtry-Chubb

About the Authors

About the Authors
Kathryn Merwin

Wednesday, February 21, 2018

Teach the Movement, Teach the Struggle

Editor: With our “Black Lives Matter and the Education Industrial Complex” issue about to be published, we thought we would reprint this little article from the Southern Poverty Law Center, that once again reminds us that social movements are always long collective persistent struggles.  Our issue on "Black Lives Matter" is just the latest in an enduring struggle.  We thank the SPLC for permission to reprint it.

Rosa Parks, #MeToo, and the nature of the struggle
From the Southern Poverty Law Center

Three and a half years before Rosa Parks sat down, Pfc. Sarah Keys refused to get up.

Keys was in the Army and traveling home on furlough. When a new bus driver took the wheel in Roanoke Rapids, North Carolina, he demanded that she give up her seat to a white Marine.

Keys refused. So the driver emptied the bus, directed the other passengers to another vehicle and barred Keys from boarding it. She was charged with disorderly conduct and jailed, paying a $25 fine.

She filed a complaint — and in a milestone for civil rights, she won.

The Interstate Commerce Commission's regulatory decision in Sarah Keys v. Carolina Coach Company came down just months before Rosa Parks refused to give up her own seat on a city bus in Montgomery, Alabama.

But it is Parks, not Keys, who is remembered as a "first" in a protest that "seemed to arise spontaneously," as Glenda Elizabeth Gilmore writes for The New York Times.

This narrative of Parks as a guileless seamstress merely exhausted from a long day's work does a disservice to the many other women who waged similar protests — of whom Keys was just one — as well as to Parks herself, who was in fact a trained activist.

But the biggest disservice of such a narrative is to Americans seeking to understand protest. As Gilmore writes:

Our textbooks and national mythology celebrate moments when single acts of civil disobedience, untainted by political organizations, seemed to change the course of history. But the ideal of the "good" protest — one that materialized from an individual's epiphany — is a fantasy. More often, effective protest is like Mr. Kaepernick's: it's collective and contingent and all about long and difficult struggles.

Parks knew that, and the Montgomery Bus Boycott was neither the first nor the last protest she undertook to advance civil rights.

More than a decade earlier she led a national campaign against sexual assault on black women. As DeNeen Brown recounts for The Washington Post, Parks was dispatched in 1944 by the NAACP to investigate the brutal gang rape of 24-year-old Recy Taylor.

As Parks discovered, Taylor had been kidnapped on her way home from church and raped in the woods by six different white men. She was eventually discovered staggering down the road by her father.

The lawyer representing the alleged rapists reportedly offered her husband $600 to silence her. "Nigger — ain't $600 enough for raping your wife," the lawyer said.

When a grand jury refused to indict the men, Parks was undeterred. She launched the Alabama Committee for Equal Justice for Mrs. Recy Taylor, flooding the South with fliers and lawmakers' offices with letters.

Her campaign succeeded in prompting Alabama's governor to order another investigation of Taylor's rape. The result of that investigation: another grand jury that again refused to indict the suspects.

Parks and Taylor had come up against a justice system familiar to too many women: one that, even armed with both witnesses and a confession, failed to hold any of the six perpetrators accountable. The men were never prosecuted.

More than 70 years after Recy Taylor's rape, a day of reckoning appears to have arrived for sexual predators in all fields. Parks' campaign reminds us again of the nature of the struggle.

To integrate public transportation, it took Sarah Keys as well as Rosa Parks.

To win the fight against sexual assault, it will take more than one protest, one campaign, or one person.

The Montgomery Bus Boycott was neither the beginning nor the end of Parks' activism, and today, for all of us, the march continues.

Monday, January 1, 2018

The Wisdom from the World’s Faiths and Traditions for 2018

Welcome back to our blog for the New Year.  We once again begin the new year with the wisdom from the different faith traditions.  The Tanenbaum Center for Interreligious Understanding, an organization that we have featured on our blog on different occasions, has shared with us a list of their resolutions drawn from the many traditions that make up our community.  Have your students ponder their meaning and check out the Tanenbaum resources and programs for teachers and principals at  We thank them for allowing us to share this with our readers. 


To Be Loving
Take pride not in love for yourselves but in love for your fellow-creatures. Glory not in love for your country, but in love for all mankind.  Bahá'u'lláh, Tablets of Wisdom

To Conquer Fear With Courage
Courage is not doing something in the absence of fear but knowing that something else is more important than fear. So we do it.  Tsem Tulku Rinpoche

To Put the Golden Rule into Practice
In everything do to others as you would have them do to you.  Matthew 7:12

To Pursue a World Where Nonviolence is the Norm
Nonviolence (Ahimsa) is the highest virtue, nonviolence is the highest self-control, nonviolence is the greatest gift, nonviolence is the best suffering, nonviolence is the highest sacrifice, nonviolence is the finest strength, nonviolence is the greatest friend, nonviolence is the greatest happiness, nonviolence is the highest truth, nonviolence is the greatest teaching.  Mahabharata 13.117.37-38.*

To Perform Good Deeds and Focus on Action—Not Words Alone
(And) lo! those who believe and do good works are the best of created beings.  Qur'an, 98.7 (Pickthall)

To Forgive
Subvert anger by forgiveness.  Samanasuttan 136

To Educate Ourselves and Others by Confronting Fake News Head-On
[Wisdom] is a tree of life to those who grasp her, and whoever holds on to her is happy. Proverbs 3:18

To Live Peace
Native American: Shenandoah
It is no longer good enough to cry peace, we must act peace, live peace and live in peace.  Shenandoah

To Be Honest
Follow honesty without fail.  Oracle of Amaterasu at the Kotai Shrine

To Speak With Honor by Practicing Civility
Speak only that which will bring you honor.  Guru Nanak, Sri Guru Granth Sahib

To Be Grateful
Be Content with what you have; rejoice in the way things are. When you realize there is nothing lacking, the whole world belongs to you.  Lao Tzu

* Metta Center for Nonviolence, Ahimsa. Ahimsa has multiple translations, while its best translation in English is nonviolence, it connotes love in action, not just the absence of violence.

Thursday, December 28, 2017

The Latest News on our Continuing Coverage: A “Final Blow” to the Law that Banned the Arizona Ethnic Studies Curriculum

For several years, we have been covering the ban of the Mexican American curriculum in Tucson, Arizona both on our blog and in our journal.  In addition to four articles, readers can also view our videos of interviews with authors as well as our public forums.  For our most recent analysis of this continuing court decision, see the post below by authors Leslie Locke andAnn Blankenship who provided our readers with an in-depth analysis of the decision.

Today, we have learned the U.S. District Court judge has now permanently blocked the Arizona ethnic studies ban that he had found to be racially motivated and a violation of students’ First and Fourteenth Amendment Rights.

 Read the latest on this decision:

Judge blocks Arizona ethnic studiesban he found was racist,” Washington Post, December 28, 2017

Saturday, December 16, 2017

‘Back to Sandbox: Art as Radical Pedagogy’ Project Includes WWU Art Exhibitions, Art Summits, Teaching Artists Partnerships with Bellingham Schools

Western Washington University is presenting “Back to the Sandbox: Art as Radical Pedagogy,” a project throughout the academic year focused on the junctions of art and education that will include a partnership with the Bellingham School District, Western Gallery art exhibition, a summit with international and local artists, and a Black History Month summit with national artists, performers and participatory workshops.

Many project events are free and open to the public.

The project includes:

Western Gallery Exhibition

Jan. 9 to March 2018; opening reception Jan. 24, 2018. 

Back to the Sandbox brings together an international group of artists who explore the critical state of education. The exhibition is based on collaborations of prominent artists, scientists and educators and includes works of art, scientific and educational experiments, and archival material.

Works by Luis Camnitzer (Germany/Uruguay); James Duignan (Chicago); Priscila Fernandes (Portugal); Michael Joaquin Grey (New York); Ane Hjort Guttu (Norway); Markus Kayser (Germany); Eva Koťátková (Czech Republic); James Mollison (Kenya/Italy); Palle Nielsen (Denmark); and Petr Nikl (Czech Republic) are included in the exhibition.

The curator of the exhibition, Jaroslav Anděl, Ph.D., is an independent curator and author of over 40 books on contemporary art. He was artistic director of the DOX Center for Contemporary Art in Prague from 2009 – 2014.

“By asking radical questions, art becomes a radical pedagogy which transcends institutional boundaries and inspires mind-changing narratives,” Anděl said.

Art and Radical Pedagogy International Summit

Jan. 27, 2018 – Performing Arts Center (PAC) Concert Hall.

Renowned artist Luis Camnitzer will give a keynote address on the pedagogy of art. Visual, dance and theater artists will engage the audience in creative approaches they use in their education-oriented art projects.

Panelists will include include: Jaroslav Anděl, curator; Eva Bakkeslett, artist; Doug Banner, CREATE director, WWU Wooding College of Education; Andrew Brown, professor of Performance Art, WWU Fairhaven College; Luis Camnitzer, artist; Deb Currier, WWU Theater faculty; Karen Dade, co-director, Woodring College of Education; William John, Lummi language teacher; Pam Kuntz, WWU Dance faculty and artistic director of Kuntz and Company; Vanessa Oliveira Andreotti, Canada Research chair in Race, Inequalities and Global Change, University of British Columbia, Vancouver, and Kristina Lee Podesva, artist. 

Back to the Sandbox: Art as Radical Pedagogy Black History Month Summit

Feb. 9-10, 2018, PAC, Concert Hall, and Wilson Library.

Activities on Feb. 9 will include a Black History Month cultural reception with welcoming performers, an “Africa to America” participatory performance workshop and African Diaspora Fashion Show. Activities on Feb. 10 will include African descent visual and performing arts featuring local and non-local Black artists and art collectors to exhibit, perform and participate in education panel discussions on the works of Black artists. The panel discussions will highlight topics such as: art as radical pedagogy; current challenges in the profession; learning to invest in Black art; understanding the world of Black art collectors; the social movements of Pan African artists, critical race theory (CRT) and racial identity development using art, Black renaissances, and understanding culture and traditions through art pedagogy.

Panelists will include national artists such as Knowledge Bennett; national art dealer Alitash Kebede; art collector Edward Moore, and Nyanda Miata Donaldson, co-partner/curator of Gross Art Gallery. In addition, a visual artists’ gallery walk, student talent showcase, mural painting and participatory social justice arts workshops/sessions will take place the afternoon of Feb. 10.

The Black History Month Summit is being co-hosted by members of the Black Student Union, African Caribbean Club, African Descent Faculty & Staff affinity group, Snohomish/Everett NAACP, and individuals from the Bellingham community. The event is being organized by the Black History Month planning committee, which includes representatives from each of the groups listed above.

Partnership with Bellingham School District

This component of the project included an in-service professional development training for Bellingham School District teachers at Whatcom Middle School Commons on Oct. 19, 2017, led by trainer Roger Fernandes, that looked at the role of storytelling and art in the education of children through the lens of Coast Salish tribal cultures of the western Washington region.

Also included in the partnership are five 30-hour residencies. Teaching artists will develop a critical arts education integrated curriculum with school district teachers, providing on-going professional development throughout the year. Some component of the project will be displayed or performed during Children’s Art Walk on May 4, which will include K-12 student exhibits and performances.

Participating Teaching artists include Deb Currier, WWU Theater faculty; Pam Kuntz, WWU Dance faculty; Doug Banner, WWU CREATE, Rachel Simpson, AAWC Visual Arts, and Roger Fernandes, member of the Lower Elwha Band of the S’Klallam Indians and an expert in Native American Studies.

The “Back to the Sandbox: Art as Radical Pedagogy” was initiated through a generous gift from the Dreier Family. Doug Dreier graduated from Western’s College of Fine and Performing arts in 1996 and taught in Baltimore inner city schools. In addition, various WWU programs have contributed to the yearlong project, which is continuing to seek additional funding and volunteers for all events.

Western’s campus community is particularly encouraged to attend project events and WWU faculty are invited to add these events in their winter course syllabi to encourage Western student attendance and participation.

Monday, November 20, 2017

Jonathan Zimmerman to Speak on “Censorship and Free Speech on College Campuses in the Age of Trump” at Western Washington University

Jonathan Zimmerman, Professor of History of Education at the University of Pennsylvania’s Graduate School of Education, will present a talk on “Censorship and Free Speech on College Campuses in the Age of Trump,” at Western Washington University, Communications Facility 120, on Friday, December 1st at 4pm.

At a time when campuses around the country are facing questions about free speech in classrooms and on campuses, when students silence views with which they disagree, and hate speech threatens to produce violence, the University of Pennsylvania’s Jonathan Zimmerman will help us think through how college campuses should think about free speech on campus. Drawing from his new co-authored book, The Case for Contention: Teaching Controversial Issues in American Schools, Prof. Zimmerman will provide guidance for administrators, professors, students, citizens, and activists.

·       When, if ever, should speech be limited?

·       How do universities respond to ideas that are rejected by scholars?

·       Are universities “free speech zones” or do they have an obligation to favor expert knowledge grounded in research?

·       How should universities respond to threats facing free speech on campuses today?

JONATHAN ZIMMERMAN is Professor of History of Education at the University of Pennsylvania’s Graduate School of Education. In addition to The Case for Contention, he is author of Campus Politics: What Everyone Needs to Know (2016). He writes regularly for the New York Review of Books, the New York Times, the Washington Post, and other major media outlets.

This event is sponsored by the President’s Office, the Office of the Provost, the College of Humanities and Social Sciences, the Karen W. Morse Institute for Leadership, the Ray Wolpow Institute for the Study of the Holocaust, Genocide, and Crimes against Humanity, WWU Associated Students, and the History, Political Science, Secondary Education, and Sociology departments.

WWU is an equal opportunity institution.

For disability accommodation contact Johann Neem (360) 650-2511.

Sunday, October 29, 2017

Memorial Service in Celebration of the Life of Evelyn Wright on November 4th

Evelyn Wright, the associate editor of the Journal of Educational Controversy, passed away on September 22nd.  There will be a memorial service in celebration of her life on Saturday, November 4th at 1pm followed by a reception at St. John's Lutheran Church, 2530 Cornwall Ave, Bellingham WA. 


Bellingham Herald Obituary:



Saturday, October 7, 2017

An Analysis of the Court Decision that Found the Banning of the Mexican American Curriculum Unconstitutional

Editor: We invited authors, Leslie Locke and Ann Blankenship, to provide our readers with an analysis of the recent court decision finding the banning of the Mexican American curriculum in Tucson, Arizona to be unconstitutional.   Their earlier publication in Volume 10 of our journal was titled, “Keeping the Flames at Bay:The Interplay between Federal Oversight and State Politics in Tucson’s MexicanAmerican Studies Program.”  Their article was part of a series of articles that this journal has published on this issue. Others included:The Hypocrisy of Racism: Arizona's Movement towards State-Sanctioned Apartheid” by Augustine F. Romero, “Dangerous Minds In Tucson: The Banning of Mexican American Studies and Critical Thinking In Arizona” by Curtis Acosta, and “Precious Knowledge: An Interview with Film Director, Ari Palos, on April 15, 2013” by Celina Meza.  We are pleased to provide our readers with the latest update on this vital issue, and thank Leslie and Ann for their in-depth analysis of this decade-long litigation .

Good News about Tucson Unified School District’s Mexican American Studies Program from the United States District Court District of Arizona!


By Leslie A. Locke and Ann E. Blankenship



It’s been a long road. But, the court finally, after years of political struggle and legal debate, supported what MAS students, parents, and teachers have always known--that the attempts at squashing the program was backed by racism and white fragility (DiAngelo, 2011) for political gain.  The court said as much in their August 2017 decision, where they noted the deconstruction of MAS was “motivated by a desire to advance a political agenda by capitalizing on race-based fears” (p. 42), and had little to zero basis in fact.  


The Mexican American studies program (MAS) in TUSD had been instituted as a response to a federal desegregation plan in effect in TUSD since 1978.  The MAS program, like its counterparts such as African American Studies and Asian American Studies, was an educational program that while open to any student, was centered on the Mexican American experience and history in order to forge a connection between students and the curriculum.  The MAS program was successful as evidenced by student achievement and outcomes.


However, a series of unfortunate events, based on illogical, as well as thin and one-sided evidence, started their course in 2006.  We won’t go into great detail here in retelling these events as much as been written about them (e.g., Acosta, 2013a/2013b; Cabrera et al., 2014; Cammarota, 2009/2012/2014; Palos et al., 2011; Romero, 2010).  In short, conservative politicians in Arizona (ironically the State Superintendents of Instruction--those elected to best serve all students in the state) dug their heels and set in with a laser focus on eliminating the MAS program by making fantastical connections between it and communism, ethnic chauvinism, rudeness, hate speech, and anti-Americanism, among other things.  


Here is a summary of some of the legal history that guides us to the most recent decision.


In 2010, the Arizona legislature passed HB 2281 (codified into statute as Arizona Revised Statutes (ARS) §§ 15-111 and 15-112) prohibiting a school district or charter school from including in its program of instruction any courses or classes that “(1) Promote the overthrow of the Unites States Government, (2) Promote resentment toward a race or class of people, (3) Are designed primarily for pupils of a particular ethnic group, or (4) Advocate ethnic solidarity instead of the treatment of pupils as individuals.” ARS § 15-112(a). In his last days in office as State Superintendent of Public Instruction, Tom Horne, concluded that the Tucson Unified School District (TUSD) Mexican-American Studies program (MAS) violated ARS § 15-112 and ordered TUSD to either eliminate the program or lose 10% of its state funding. Shortly thereafter, John Huppenthal replaced Horne as State Superintendent.  Huppenthal, claiming that he wanted all the facts before enforcing Horne’s decision, hired Cambium Learning, Inc. to conduct an investigation of MAS.  Despite Cambium’s conclusion that MAS did not violate ARS § 15-112, Huppenthal conducted an independent investigation, determining that MAS did in fact violate the law.  Facing a 10% reduction in state funding, which is essentially all of the district’s liquidity, TUSD eliminated MAS.


In October 2010, teachers and students of TUSD filed suit against Huppenthal as Superintendent of Public Instruction claiming that ARS § 15-112 as enacted and enforced violated their constitutional rights under the First and Fourteenth Amendments.  The case was tried and appealed to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals who ruled that ARS § 15-112 was not unconstitutional on its face but left the door open for subsequent challenges, noting “Even if § 15-112 is not facially discriminatory, however, the statute and/or its subsequent enforcement against the MAS program would still be unconstitutional if its enactment or the manner in which it was enforces were motivated by a discriminatory purpose” (Arce v. Douglas, 793 F.3d 968, 977 (9th Cir. 2015)).


That brings us to the federal court’s most recent review of the Arizona legislation and subsequent elimination of the TUSD MAS program.  On August 22, 2017, the United States District Court (District of Arizona) issued its decision in González v. Douglas.  The action, brought by students and their parents against Diane Douglas, the current Superintendent for Public Instruction for the State of Arizona, alleged that Arizona’s enactment and enforcement of Arizona Revised Statute §§ 15-111 and 15-112, eliminating the Tucson Unified School District Mexican-American Studies program (MAS), violated students’ First and Fourteenth Amendment Rights.  After an exhaustive recounting of the facts of the case, the District Court broke its conclusion of law down by counts, first focusing on the Fourteenth Amendment claim then the First Amendment Claim.


            In considering the Fourteenth Amendment claims, that the enactment and enforcement of ARS § 15-112 was motivated by discriminatory purpose, the court noted that the plaintiff’s had to prove that discrimination was one but not the only purpose of enactment and enforcement.  To determine whether an unconstitutional discriminatory purpose was a motivating factor in the enactment and enforcement of the legislation, the court looked at direct and circumstantial evidence of intent, including: (1) the impact of the official action and whether it bears more heavily on one race than another; (2) the historical background of the decision; (3) the specific sequence of events leadings to the challenged action; (4) the defendant’s departures from normal procedures or substantive conclusions; and (5) the relevant legislative or administrative history (González v. Douglas, 2017 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 141671, *39).


            Relying largely on public comments made by Horne, blog comments Huppenthal made under a pseudonym, and comments from other Arizona legislators, the court concluded that Arizona’s enactment and enforcement of ARS § 15-112 were motivated by discriminatory intent.  The court really focused on the intent of Horne and Huppenthal as key players in the efforts to get ARS § 15-112 enacted and enforced.  The court’s review of Huppenthal’s public and private statements regarding MAS left little doubt of his intent to discriminate.  The court included dozens of Huppenthal’s quotes in opinion.  Some of the most egregious include statements Huppenthal made on his blog under a pseudonym, which the court thought were most revealing of his true state of mind:


No Spanish radio stations, no Spanish billboards, no Spanish TV stations, no Spanish newspapers.  This is America, speak English.

I don’t mind them selling Mexican food as long as the menus are mostly in English.

MAS = KKK in a different color.

The rejection of American values and embracement of the values of Mexico in La Raza classrooms is the rejection of success and embracement of failure.

The Mexican-American Studies classes use the same technique that Hitler used in his rise to power.  In Hitler’s case it was the Sudetenland.  In Mexican-American Studies case, it’s Aztlán (internal citations omitted). (González, p. 26)


            In addition to the intent of Huppenthal et al., the court concluded that MAS’s enforcement bore more heavily on Latinx students who were already the subject of historic discrimination in Tucson (as evidenced by its desegregation court order still in effect today), that the sequence of events were out of the ordinary, and that there was an illogical departure from normal procedures.  Of particular interest here was Huppenthal’s conclusion that MAS violated ARS § 15-112 despite the Cambium report to the contrary, despite his having no first hand information about the actual curriculum taught in MAS classes.  Overall, the court found sufficient evidence of racial animus against Latinx student in the enactment and enforcement of ARS § 15-112 by Horne, Huppenthal, and others, noting:


The sequence of events included no attempt to conduct a good faith, objective evaluation of the MAS program’s teachings and efficacy, other than the Cambium audit, which is rejected out of hand.  Instead, in enacting the statute, the legislature, Horne, and Huppenthal relied on and presented biased accounts of the MAS program that were based on limited evidence and laced with terms fairly understood to refer negatively to perceived traits of Mexican Americans. (González, p. 28).


Given the total weight of the evidence presented, the court further concluded that Horne and Huppenthal did not testify credibly regarding their own motivations at enactment and enforcement of ARS § 15-112.


            Relying on the same body of evidence, the court ruled that the enactment and enforcement of ARS § 15-112 also constituted a violation of the students’ First Amendment right to receive information because the elimination of MAS was not reasonably related to legitimate pedagogical concerns, but instead racial animus.  The court concluded that Horne and Huppenthal’s were motivated by political gain, capitalizing on voter’s race-based fears, rather than pedagogical concern.


            The court will determine an appropriate remedy after parties have an opportunity to file briefs and replies, hopefully by the end of the calendar year.


            One of the many unsettling aspects of this strange, and sad but true story, is that it was sparked and supported by those who were elected to serve in the best interests of all students in TUSD.  Horne, Huppenthal, and their political allies have shown a complete lack of interest in the welfare of students in TUSD.  Moreover, they outrightly targeted Latinx students.  Importantly, while the original MAS program has been successfully suppressed and marginalized since 2010, thousands of students have been denied the opportunity to take advantage of a highly successful educational program tailored to the Mexican American experience and history.  They were denied all the benefits those classes were known to provide--including increased achievement and positive impacts on graduation. Horne and Huppenthal failed to make any efforts to understand the curriculum (the court confirmed that they indeed never visited a MAS class, reviewed the program curriculum, and rather cherry picked texts and presented them out of context).  These politicians’ willingness to deny students, not just those who would have been in MAS program, but all the students of TUSD, access to proven successful educational programming and opportunities to achieve, should not be disregarded or forgotten.  They openly and unabashedly misused their political power.  And they so hypocritically called MAS students “rude.”


Congratulations to the plaintiffs and to all who fought this fight and endured this long and often absurd road.  You have been heard, finally.  We look forward to reading about how the excellent MAS teachers will use this immediate experience to study and explore institutional racism, systemic bias, the political process, white supremacy, and white fragility.  While it was an unfortunate series of events, we image they will make great curriculum exhibits.


Acosta, C. (2013a). Dangerous minds in Tucson: The banning of Mexican American Studies and critical thinking in Arizona. Journal of Educational Controversy, 8(1), 1-18.  Retrieved from

Acosta, C. (2013b, October 17). Interview with Curtis Acosta. [Video File]. Bellingham, WA: Western Washington University. Retrieved from  
Blankenship, A.E. & Locke, L.A. (2015).  Culturally conscious curriculum: The fight between state and federal policies in Tucson.  Journal of Cases in Educational Leadership, 18(4), 338-349.

Cabrera, N. L., Milem, J. F., Jaquette, O., & Marx, R. W. (2014). Missing the (student achievement) forest for all the (political) trees: Empiricism and the Mexican American Studies
controversy in Tucson. American Educational Research Journal, 51, 1084-1118.

Cammarota, J. (2009). The generational battle for curriculum: Figuring race and culture on the border. Transforming Anthropology, 17, 117-130.

Cammarota, J. (2012). TUSD MAS ban: Educational sovereignty in the wake of state repression. Journal of Reading Education, 37(2), 5-6.

Cammarota, J. (2014). Challenging colorblindness in Arizona: Latina/o students’ counter-narratives of race and racism. Multicultural Perspectives, 16, 79-85.

DiAngelo, R. (2011). White fragility. The International Journal of Critical Pedagogy, 3(3), 54-70.

Locke, L. & Blankenship, A. (2016).  Keeping the flames at bay: The interplay between federal oversight and state politics in Tucson’s Mexican American Studies program.  Journal of Educational Controversy, 10(1).  Retrieved from  

Palos, A.L., McGinnis, E., Fifer, S.J., Bricca, J., & Amor, N. (Producers). (2011). Precious knowledge [DVD]. Dos Vatos Productions.

Romero, A.F. (2010). At war with the state in order to save the lives of our children: The battle to save ethnic studies in Arizona. [Special issue: Defending ethnic studies in Arizona].  The Black Scholar, 40(4), 7-15.


Tuesday, September 26, 2017

In Memoriam: Evelyn Wright

I am saddened to announce the passing of Evelyn Wright on September 22, 2017.  Evelyn was the associate editor of our journal since its inception and a member of the English Department at Western Washington University.  She also taught many of the English methods courses for teachers at the Woodring College of Education before retiring.

For Evelyn, preparing prospective teachers was more than providing teaching methods.  It involved helping teachers to work with a text on a deeper level that enabled them to construct experiences for their students’ own struggle with meaning.  She also explored the influence of policy and the courts on the teaching of reading.  In “School English and Public Policy” (College English, Volume 42, Number 4), Evelyn analyzed the Ann Arbor, Michigan court decision on the use of ebonics or black English in the teaching of reading against an historical background of the conceptions of literacy and school language policies in American schools. Her analysis raised serious social and cultural questions on the implications of these policies for rethinking notions of equal educational opportunity and social justice.  Long after she retired, she would continue to provide lectures on the case for our students with her visits to our classes.

The scope of her understanding brought a rich experience to all the students she touched over the years, a legacy that continues in the teaching of future generations of teachers. Evelyn gave me an enriched understanding of the power of literature and a friendship that spanned some forty years.


Sunday, September 17, 2017

Interview with the New Dean of the Woodring College of Education at Western Washington University

Editor: The Journal of Educational Controversy welcomes the new dean of the Woodring College of Education, the home of the journal.   Dean Horacio Walker shares some of his thoughts and background in the interview below.

1.      What was it about the Woodring College of Education that attracted you?

I am attracted to Woodring’s vision of honoring diversities and promoting social justice. I believe that inequality is the most important problem facing today’s world. Most violence and discrimination affecting people in different countries and cultures is rooted in unequal rights and opportunities.  Without a vision on inclusion of all people in education and development opportunities, these problems cannot be properly addressed. I believe that colleges of education are in a privileged position to influence a social justice agenda around the globe. 

I was also interested in the faculty and the programs they have developed for the College. A few years ago, I was impressed with a presentation done by a small delegation from Woodring at a conference on field experiences in teacher education held at the Universidad Diego Portales in Santiago, Chile, where I was dean.  It was clear from the presentation, that the College valued strong partnerships with the community and wanted the prospective teachers to have genuine experiences in diverse contexts. I thought that the vision and the mission of the College was reflected in the way they structured and organized the process through which the preservice teachers  learn how to teach and in the type of partnerships they foster with school districts and individual schools.

2.      What do you believe are the most important challenges facing education and Schools of Education in the political and social context of our time?

Education’s most important challenge today is removing barriers that prevent learning and the development of the full child in schools. There are financial barriers, such as having food on the table and appropriate housing. There are also socio-emotional barriers, such as unsupportive family and school environments for children and young people. There are cultural barriers, such as beliefs about gender, race and sexual orientation. There are educational barriers, such as unequal access to relevant and quality learning and non-inclusive school environments that induce negativity among the students and reproduce inequality in everyday practices.   There are also political barriers, such as top-down policies that inhibit partnerships between schools, the family and the community.
Colleges of Education generally address some of these barriers. However, I believe that a systemic approach to education is needed to understand how all of these barriers are connected.  In Woodring we are privileged to have academic programs preparing students in teacher education and also in health and community studies which provide different perspectives on how systems work.

3.      Could you share your basic philosophy of education with us?

My basic philosophy of education is reflected in four main principles. First, education is lifelong learning which must focus on the whole person, fostering conditions for social, emotional and cultural development.  Second, learning must be supported by a system of interrelated factors, i.e. the family, the local community, the state and the federal government. Third, educators must work to remove barriers that prevent all children and youth from accessing and succeeding in educational opportunities. Teachers and schools should have the highest expectations for all. Fourth, education needs to be a public reference of inclusion and diverse communities. Public schools are best suited to prepare new citizens to contribute for an equitable and democratic society. It is a moral imperative that governments must protect and support public education. 

4.      What would you want our students, colleagues and readers to know about you as a person?

I grew up in the capital city of Santiago, Chile. Two childhood experiences influenced my vision on education and inspired me to work in the field my entire career.

Growing up I experienced the effects of socioeconomic segregation. Families were grouped in neighborhoods according to their common background, and children were grouped in schools where everyone looked similar.    

In 10th grade, I was able to participate in a service-learning program organized by my high school. I travelled to the south of Chile to help shantytown dwellers build their own homes with government financial support. For the first time I met several  people who grew up in a different part of the country, who had barely made it through elementary school and who could not access secondary education.  I was not ready to understand why.  I remember vividly hearing them say to me over and over, “I want you to work hard, go to college - don’t go through what we have experienced.” Those words have stayed with me forever. As I went through college, I understood that they were victims of social and economic oppression that had condemned their families to poverty.

In 1973, during my first year in University, President Salvador Allende, who was democratically elected in 1970, was overthrown by a military coup that ruled the country through the early 90s. I lived my entire university years under a curfew - hearing shootings at night and listening to horror stories about people disappearing and being tortured. Yet I was prepared to teach in that environment. However, I was not able to get a job in a public school, as all were under control of the military regime. Instead, I began my career in non-formal education, supporting community-based organizations struggling to help themselves address basic needs.  Those experiences, framed by Paulo Freire’s work, shaped my basic philosophy of education all during my career, in different contexts and institutional settings.