Journal of Educational Controversy


Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Will Arizona Go After Ethnic Studies Programs at Universities Next?

“Arizona Official Considers Targeting Mexican American Studies in University”

This is the latest news headline coming out of Arizona. See

The article reports that:

Arizona’s superintendent of schools, John Huppenthal, says Tucson’s suspended Mexican American studies curricula teaches students to resent Anglos, and that the university program that educated the public school teachers is to blame. “I think that’s where this toxic thing starts from, the universities,” Arizona Superintendent of Schools John Huppenthal said in an interview with Fox News Latino.”
We will continue to follow events as they unfold.

Monday, March 19, 2012

Should we be Emulating the Tucson Mexican American Studies Program rather than Eliminating It?

Editor: rather than eliminating the Mexican American Studies Program in the Tucson Unified School District in Arizona, author Keith Catone argues in the post below that we should be emulating it.  We thank the author and the Annenberg Institute for School Reform at Brown University for permitting us to reprint the article.

Emulate, Don't Eliminate, Tucson's Mexican American Studies Program

by Keith Catone

Published on March 16, 2012

An ethnic studies program that was banned by a controversial Arizona state law should be reinstated and championed as a national model of best practice.

The documentary film Precious Knowledge compellingly captures the ways in which Tucson Unified School District’s (TUSD) Mexican American Studies (MAS) program has transformed the educational experiences of many of its students. The program, a series of core academic classes taken by Tucson high school students, concentrates on Mexican American history and perspectives. The students featured in the film discuss the ways in which they were newly energized by what they experienced in MAS classrooms. They described how learning about their own history and in ways relevant to their own culture led them to be more engaged in school as a whole.

At the Annenberg Institute for School Reform, we currently support efforts to increase and deepen student-centered learning in classrooms across New England. Ensuring that learning is relevant and responsive to students’ identities and their communities is at the heart of student-centered learning. This is exactly what Tucson’s MAS program strives to do.

The data tell us that this approach appears to be working. Students in the MAS program far outperformed their peers on Arizona’s state standardized tests in reading (by 45 percentage points), writing (by 59 percentage points), and math (by 33 percentage points), and they enroll in post-secondary institutions at a rate of 67 percent, well above the national average (Ginwright & Cammarota 2011). Also, pedagogies used in Tucson’s MAS classes encourage and support students to be actively involved in their communities, a strategy that has been shown to correlate with increased classroom engagement (Cammarota & Romero 2009).

Despite these successes, in January 2011 State Attorney General Tom Horne declared that the MAS program was in violation of Arizona state law HB2281. As outlined by Shawn Ginwright and Julio Cammarota (2011) in AISR’s journal Voices in Urban Education, HB2281 – promoted by Mr. Horne and passed into law when he was state superintendent of schools in 2010 – was specifically crafted to target TUSD’s MAS program. The law makes illegal any courses that “(1) promote the overthrow of the U.S. government, (2) promote resentment toward a race or class of people, (3) are designed primarily for pupils of a particular ethnic group, and (4) advocate ethnic solidarity instead of treating pupils as individuals.” Teachers and students from the program have spent the past year challenging in federal court the constitutionality of HB2281 and the state’s ruling. But prior to any final court decision, on January 10, 2012, the TUSD school board voted to immediately cease MAS classes for fear of losing state education aid.

Critics of the MAS program have pointed to the use of texts like Paulo Freire’s Pedagogy of the Oppressed and Rodolfo Acuña’s Occupied America: A History of Chicanos as evidence that TUSD’s MAS program promoted radical ideas prohibited by HB2281. But these decontextualized critiques miss the fact that the classes aimed to fully embrace the historical realities and everyday experiences behind being Mexican American and utilized these qualities to develop a rich, rigorous, and engaging course of study that taught students to think critically about issues of politics, race, and identity. Rather than banning what appears to be a highly effective program, education officials and policymakers should instead concentrate their efforts on learning more about whether and how MAS might have contributed to such impressive student outcomes.

Ironically, though, the banning of Tucson’s MAS program has actually led to its widespread recognition and celebration. The controversy has generated interest from bloggers, organizations, and news outlets across the country. The American Educational Research Association passed resolutions condemning both HB2281 and the suspension of MAS classes, calling for the law’s repeal and the program’s reinstatement. Community and education activists have organized screenings of Precious Knowledge in cities across the country that have also served as fundraisers for the legal battle. Other activists have organized a four-day awareness-raising caravan carrying books that were part of the Tucson MAS curriculum and have since been banned. This week, they have traveled from Houston to Tucson, making stops along the way in San Antonio, Texas, and Albuquerque, New Mexico.

This effort, coined “Librotraficante” (or book-trafficker), has gained endorsements from iconic authors whose books have been removed from MAS classrooms in Tucson like Sandra Cisneros (House On Mango Street) and Rudolfo Anaya (Bless Me, Ultima), who will both speak at caravan stops. Finally, in an effort to ensure that the curriculum and pedagogy practiced by the program does not disappear, the national Network of Teacher Activist Groups (TAG) has developed a curriculum guide, No History is Illegal, for teaching about what’s happening in Arizona. Nearly 1,500 educators from across the globe have pledged to teach from the curriculum guide, which includes sample lessons and materials borrowed directly from some of Tucson’s MAS teachers, plus more teaching ideas and resources developed by teachers from across the country.

What these responses make clear is that the teaching and learning practiced through Tucson’s MAS not only has the support of many, but also has the power to engage learners from all walks of life. The curriculum offers the kind of student-centered approach that we need more of in classrooms throughout the United States. If the injustices in Arizona are not rectified, then hopefully the current attention being given to Tucson’s MAS program will, at the very least, help others consider how similar programs might benefit students in their own schools and communities.



Keith Catone
Senior Research Associate, Community Organizing and Engagement
Annenberg Institute for School Reform


Cammarota, J., and A. F. Romero. 2009. “The Social Justice Education Project: A Critically Compassionate Intellectualism for Chicana/o Students.” In Handbook of Social Justice in Education, edited by W. Ayers, T. Quinn, and D. Stovall, pp. 465–476. New York: Routledge.

Ginwright, S., and J. Cammarota. 2011. “Youth Organizing in the Wild West: Mobilizing for Educational Justice in Arizona!” Voices in Urban Education 30, pp. 13–21.

Sleeter, Christine. 2012. "Ethnic Studies and the Struggle in Tuscon" Education Week.

This post originally appeared in "AISR Speaks Out: Commentary on Urban Education" on March 16, 2012, and is reprinted with permission from the Annenberg Institute for School Reform at Brown University.  Go to:

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

What Lessons did the Arizona Legislature Teach the Students when They Banned Mexican American Studies: Teacher Curtis Acosta Shares a Student’s Letter

Editor: In an earlier post, I reflected on the lessons that might have been learned by the students whose books were banned from the classroom by the Arizona State Legislature.  “For young people whose encounter with these books led to self discovery, positive images of Latino identity, and transformative knowledge and action, the State’s actions must surely have been traumatizing and a lesson in the very oppression and hegemony that often defined the social conditions of their communities.”  In the post below, teacher Curtis Acosta shares a letter from one of his students that reveals something even deeper that was experienced by his students as a result of the collective support that has been generated across the nation in response to the legislature’s actions.  I want to thank Mr. Acosta for permitting us to share his letter with our readers.
Letter from Teacher Curtis Acosta
Tucson Unified School District, Arizona

March 8, 2012

To the nation and network of love and support,
From all of the students and teachers of Mexican American Studies and Save Ethnic Studies in Tucson, Arizona, we are humbled and moved by the Teacher Activist Groups, the Education for Liberation Network, and each one of you that participated in "No History Is Illegal." It is difficult to fully express how important your words, actions, and hard work have meant to us. As I sit in my classroom each day I am faced with an overwhelming feeling of loss. Regardless of the resiliency of our students and my own resolve not to let the dismantling of our curriculum, classes and pedagogy alter my own commitment to serving the youth of my community, it is impossible not to be affected. That is why all your testimonies and actions have been so important. Each time we have a fleeting moment of defeat, we are able to be embraced by your words and stories from the "No History Is Illegal" campaign. Stories from Rhode Island, Colorado, Minnesota, California, and Oregon amongst many others have brought smiles, pride, and even tears of joy to my students and fellow colleagues.

When I asked my students to contribute to this email, one of our student leaders, Nico Dominguez, wanted to express his appreciation and his words follow:

After all that has happened in regards to the loss of Mexican American Studies, there are many moments in time that are able to lift my spirits back up. I will definitely say that seeing/experiencing out of Tucson, support for our movement (classes) is a great way of lifting up my spirit. I remember the first time I experienced out of Tucson support for our classes. Seeing different people speak and perform passionately about our classes was a great experience the day of the teach-in at the Casino Ballroom on January 24th. I had not experienced any of that previous to the teach-in. It was definitely an experience that I will carry with myself from here on.

Since that day, there has been a massive amount of support which is overwhelming. Students from all over the country have done something for M.A.S., including Oakland, Chicago, Northridge, New York, and on. All of these experiences I take to my heart. The feelings that I get when I remember all of these people who have in some way involved us into their lives is overwhelming and just a true sign of the humanity that exists. As these experiences continue, I am reminded of the vastness of the world that I live in and that I must learn to live in harmony with it.

--Nicolas Dominguez
Nico's words help me stay strong and remind me why we continue to fight for our students' rights to study their own history, literature and culture and we will never give up!

In that spirit, I would ask you all to send more love our way as our lawsuit moves forward to repeal this hateful law. There are big court dates ahead and you can stay apprised of the latest news through Save Ethnic Studies where you can also donate to our legal effort.

Next week the Librotraficante Caravan will depart from Houston for Tucson with "Banned Books" to be distributed in San Antonio, Albuquerque and Tucson. Chicano writers and supporters will be hosting workshops, performances, and readings. Please checkout their website for more details.

In the next few weeks I will have a major announcement about a television appearance about our issue, but I'm still sworn to secrecy. Stay tuned for that one.

Lastly, a 50 minute version of Precious Knowledge will be shown on the national PBS show Independent Lens on May 17th. We are hoping to coordinate a national event for that night so I will write more as those details become clearer.

Again, thank you to everyone and we are hopeful of better news and better days ahead. You all have helped our optimism and belief that justice will prevail.

In Lak Ech,

Curtis Acosta

Editor: The film, ”Precious Knowledge,” that Mr. Acosta refers to above will be shown at Western Washington University sometime in April.   We will announce the date and time later.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Diane Ravitch's Report Card Flunks Secretary of Education Arne Duncan

In an article in the March 7th issue of The New York Review of Books, Diane Ravitch critiques Arne Duncan’s performance as our Secretary of Education. See “Flunking Arne Duncan.” Her grades on his report card in six categories are:

Report Card: Arne Duncan

Fidelity to the Constitution                 F

Doing what’s right for children             F

Doing what’s right for public education F

Respecting the limits of federalism      F

Doing what’s right for teachers            F

Doing what’s right for education          F
But the greatest tragedy of our times, writes Ravitch, is that "it is hard to find any leader of either party who stands forthrightly today as a champion of students, teachers, public schools, and good education."

Reflecting on our times, she writes:
We will someday view this era as one in which the nation turned its back on its public schools, its children, and its educators. We will wonder why so many journalists and policymakers rejected the nation’s obligation to support public education as a social responsibility and accepted the unrealistic, unsustainable promises of entrepreneurs and billionaires. And we will, with sorrow and regret, think of this as an era when an obsession with testing and data obliterated any concept or definition of good education. Some perhaps may recall this as a time when the nation forgot that education has a greater purpose than preparing our children to compete in the global economy.
For a review of Diane Ravitch's recent book, The Death and Life of the Great American School System: How Testing and Choice are Undermining Education, read Chris Ohana's review in our current issue of the Journal of Educational Controversy.

Saturday, March 3, 2012


Our friends over at Publicola have recently been hosting a rousing debate between big bucks Democrat Nick Hanauer and WEA President Mary Lindquist on teachers’ unions and K-12 schools. Here at the blog, we have a hard time resisting sticking our nose into issues we don’t know much about, so we decided to join the fun with our own open letter to Mr. Hanauer:
Dear Mr. Hanauer,
I’ve been reading your recent Publicola colloquy with WEA President Mary Lindquist with interest. I appreciate the way that you have genuinely engaged the question of what you call school reform and that you took the time to respond to Mary’s letter to you. That’s unusual—most rich people who appoint themselves experts in something don’t usually engage with the people they criticize. You seem like a guy who might be willing to listen, so I’d like to take the presumptuous step of joining the discussion.
In the full disclosure department, I am a professor at Western Washington University and the president of the United Faculty of Washington State, which represents the faculty at Washington’s four regional comprehensive universities. We are affiliated with WEA and I sit on the WEA Board of Directors. But, while I have learned a lot about K-12 education from the teachers and staff at the WEA, my union work deals almost exclusively with higher education, so I’m probably as much out of my depth as you are when it comes to K-12 education. This letter is from one uninformed outsider to another and is not in any way an official response from the WEA.
In your letter to Mary you say that it’s not the hard-working, dedicated teachers who are ruining education but rather their nasty, child-hating union. I grew up as an upper middle class white boy in the American South, where all of the white grownups had their favorite Black people—the cook, the person who looked after the kids, the guy who took care of the cattle for a share of the corn crop. But God forbid that one of those favorites be seen gathering on a street corner with Black people from out of town, or at an NAACP meeting, or having coffee with a union representative. At the first hint of any organized activity, our grownups would turn on their favorite Black people faster than a summer squall could dump an inch of rain on the pasture. Suddenly the individuals who had been so tender, wise, and trustworthy were scary, too stupid to know better, and not to be let into the house. Everybody loved the solitary black person, nobody liked it when they started to bunch up and talk crazy.
That’s kind of the way it is with teachers. Everybody loves a teacher, nobody likes the big, bad teachers’ union. As long as they’re staying after school to give the extra help to the kids who need it or reaching into their own pockets to pay for the supplies that the state doesn’t anymore, teachers are saints. But when they collectively advocate for decent wages, adequate health care, and working conditions that don’t erode by the minute they’re a threat to the moral fabric of the state.
Perhaps it is this construction of a teachers’ union that isn’t composed of teachers (the same way my southern relatives always believed that organized black people were put up to it by uppity Northern Blacks or communists) that leads to some of the difficult constructions in your letter to Mary. You say that “the vast majority of Washington’s teachers care deeply about student outcomes, work incredibly hard, and are constantly working to improve their instructional practices.” But in the very next paragraph you talk about the “elements that are largely missing from our State’s public education system: relentlessly high standards, a culture of excellence, and a systemic commitment to innovation.” For both of these things to be true, you have to imagine the deeply caring, hard working, forward looking teachers you describe coming together in their democratically elected union and suddenly losing all interest in excellence and innovation.
The truth is that teachers in this state and across the country are concerned about the “reforms” so relentlessly pursued by well-funded corporate interests (from Arne Duncan to the Gates Foundation to the League of Education Voters) because many of them will do to public education what the same kind of privatizing “reform” did to health care. Education is what Wall Street has called “the big enchilada,” the last big public sphere (after health care) available for private exploitation and profit. And if we privatize education while trotting out euphemisms like reform, efficiency, and excellence, we’ll get exactly what we have now with health care. Rich people will have access to the best education in the world and everybody else will get education that is extremely profitable but below the standards of many developing countries.
There is something deeply disingenuous about the arguments that you and other business elite school reformers make when you say things like “I am not a teacher and would not presume to tell you how to teach . . . but in my experience as a business leader and entrepreneur . . . .” The education foundations and leagues and task forces that people like you fund are full of non-teachers who are constantly telling teachers how to teach, but even if that weren’t true, the evidence of your steel-eyed business sense is hard to see in the education “reforms” you’re pushing. I’m not a business leader and entrepreneur, but it isn’t a stretch to imagine that if education were a company you were trying to turn around, you wouldn’t be focusing on the stuff that’s always a part of education “reform.”
  • If you had a company that was as desperately underfunded as public education, you probably would make that funding your first priority.
  • If you had a company that needed more workers as desperately as public education needs more teachers, you wouldn’t spend all your time worrying about the order in which you were going to lay off the workers you have.
  • If you had a company that desperately needed the most trained and qualified workers the way that our schools need the most trained and qualified teachers, you wouldn’t turn to a temp agency like Teach For America (whose freshly scrubbed and earnest young charges make up for their lack of qualification with lots of well-meaning white liberal racism).
  • And you certainly wouldn’t spend your time writing complicated and lugubrious evaluation policies that only the most committed HR bureaucrat could love.
If a smart business person like you were running public education and looking to genuinely succeed, you would hire the very best people you could find, you would hire enough of them, you would pay them very well, you would get out of their way and let them do their jobs, and you would fire them if they didn’t get that job done. The only thing that the education “reform” movement seems to be genuinely interested in is the firing part.
In your letter to Mary, you tell the world that “my record as a proponent of more funding for our public schools is unassailable.” Bully for you. The fact that you and everybody else has failed in the quest for adequate funding (as even the State Supreme Court has acknowledged) should not lead you to abandon your progressive values.
You shouldn’t fall into the trap of scapegoating teachers for American racism and class inequality. A UW Philosophy grad like yourself should know that a teacher evaluation bill isn’t going to make a dent in the alloy of democracy for white men, capitalism, and racialized slavery that coalesced in the 18th century and created the backbone of American inequality that persists to this day
You should get out of the weeds of charter school statistics and Bellevue anecdotes and recognize that the assault on teachers’ unions has nothing to do with education and everything to do with the further erosion of public infrastructure and what few collective bargaining rights remain. Most school reform policies come from a very unprogressive playbook and most of the bills you support get their templates from ALEC.
You should recognize that public school in the United States has never been pure. The two big forces behind creating and mandating public schooling have been anti-Catholicism and child labor laws. Nineteenth-century Protestant elites, fearing that Catholic schools were creating a populace more loyal to the Pope than the President, were the driving force behind the public school system. And in the twentieth century, mandatory public schooling to the age of 16 went hand in hand with the outlawing of child labor and the need to create a warehouse for the suddenly unemployed and unruly mob of children of the laboring classes. School is as much about learning to pledge allegiance, line up, and respond to Pavlovian bells as it is about education. Teachers work in a context that is usually completely antithetical to the creativity and innovation you talk so much about. Insofar as you’re interested in public schools as something more than a factory that produces semi-skilled workers for businesses, you should focus on reforms more fundamental than busting teachers’ unions.
Maybe you should have tried to have a cup of coffee with Mary Lindquist before you made a big public show of chatting up Rob McKenna—another guy who, like you and me, doesn’t really know anything about K-12 teaching.
The WEA has its problems—it’s almost as white as you and me and it has all the usual inefficiencies that come with a big democratic organization. But the WEA is not education’s problem.
I hope you’ll consider that.
Bill Lyne
Who tried teaching high school for one year before moving on to the much less difficult job of college professor.

Friday, March 2, 2012

JEC Associate Editor, John Richardson, Receives Award for “Comparing Special Education: Origins to Contemporary Paradoxes”

John Richardson, Associate Editor of the Journal of Educational Controversy and Professor Emeritus of Sociology at Western Washington University, has received the “Outstanding Book Award” for contemporary issues in curriculum by Division B of the American Educational Research Association (AERA) for his recent book, Comparing Special Education: Origins to Contemporary Paradoxes. The book is coauthored with Justin J.W. Powell . We reviewed Professor Richardson’s book in our current issue. Read Ellen Brantlinger’s review here.

Congratulations John!