Journal of Educational Controversy


Sunday, December 22, 2013

Curtis Acosta Videos Now Online on Journal of Educational Controversy Website

When Curtis Acosta, the teacher whose Mexican American curriculum was banned in Arizona, came to visit us at Western Washington University on October 17th, we videotaped both an interview in our studio and a very dynamic presentation at a special forum. Readers can now view both videos.

The Interview is on our journal's link, "Authors Talk." To go directly to the interview on YouTube:

The Presentation is on our journal's link, "Public Forums." To go directly to the presentation on YouTube:

Curtis' article, "Dangerous Minds in Tucson: The Banning of Mexican American Studies and Critical Thinking in Arizona," will appear in our upcoming issue of the Journal of Educational Controversy on the theme, "Who Defines the Public in Public Education."

Friday, November 15, 2013

10th Year Anniversary Issue of the Journal of Educational Controversy will Feature an Open Issue

Since our inaugural issue of the Journal of Educational Controversy, we have been publishing scenarios around controversial issues in education. With the 10th anniversary of the journal coming up in 2015, we thought we would have an open issue. We invite authors to submit their own controversial issue and their response to it. Just remember that we are interested in controversies that are deeply embedded in our conceptual frameworks. The journal tries to distinguish between surface controversies and latent or depth controversies.

Schools engage students in controversies all the time and are embedded themselves in controversies. Most of these controversies engage us in disagreements on a surface level. That is not to say that these discussions are unimportant – only that they take place with assumptions that remain unstated and beliefs that remain largely hidden or submerged. And so we talk about learning outcomes, required competencies, and the kind of rubrics we should be using to assess student outcomes. The journal tries to go deeper by examining the very frameworks in which all these surface controversies arose – to get at our underlying assumptions and beliefs.

Here is our statement from the journal's introductory page:

The purpose of this peer reviewed journal is to provide a national and international forum for examining the dilemmas and controversies that arise in teaching and learning in a pluralistic, democratic society. Because many of the tensions in public school and university policies and practices are deeply rooted in the tensions inherent in the philosophy of a liberal democratic state, many of the value conflicts in public schools and universities can only be understood within the context of this larger public philosophy. In effect, the conflicting assumptions underlying our public philosophy frame our questions, define our problems and construct the solutions that shape our practices, policies, and research agendas. This journal will try to help clarify that public debate and deepen an understanding of its moral significance.

We are announcing this issue early to give time for authors to think about a controversy they would like to write about. We will send out official notices later.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Curtis Acosta interviews with Nathaniel Barr, JEC Editorial Assistant

I recently had the opportunity to speak with Curtis Acosta, the Mexican-American studies teacher whose curriculum was banned by the State of Arizona in 2010 amidst wide public controversy. Curtis had just given a presentation on the criminalization of Latin@ youth to a packed auditorium of students, professors and other community members and activists after a full day on the campus of Western Washington University. This presentation, which emphasized steadfastness and hope for social justice in the face of adversity, was sponsored by the Woodring College of Education, the Center for Education, Equity and Diversity, and the Journal of Educational Controversy. Curtis' forthcoming article for the JEC's upcoming issue on the theme, "Who Defines the Public in Public Education?," responds to the rhetoric used by those who outlawed the Mexican-American studies program in Tucson.--Nat Barr, Editorial Assistant, Journal of Educational Controversy

Nathaniel Barr interviews Curtis Acosta

Nat: Has becoming an important public figure impacted your work?

Curtis Acosta: [Laughing] I don't know if I agree with that--being an "important public figure."

Nat: Well, you are.

Curtis Acosta: Has it impacted my work? The struggle, right? The actual civil rights struggle that we went through at home. Yeah, it has totally impacted my work. Losing the classes obviously impacted my work because I had to figure out what I was going to do next. Some of my colleagues are still in TUSD, even though they're banned from doing what we were able to do in the curriculum, but for me, I knew I wasn't the same value to the students in TUSD that I was for years and I knew that that meant it was time for Xipe Totec, or transformation, for me--so where can I be of the most value?

I'm also finishing my PhD, so that was the original kind of thing, and I couldn't stop the activist part or the wanting to spread this part. So I got really busy trying to visit different spots and seeing if they have some like-mindedness trying to do that work and maybe they find some value in what were doing. I'm on planes a lot and that's different than most teachers, because you're usually in the classroom, you don't have that... well, I don't know if I would call that a privilege, because traveling ain't that sexy.

Nat: Well, you have tremendous energy. I mean, seeing you speak tonight...

Curtis Acosta: Good, because you never know how its going to come off, you know? Especially when you're by yourself doing it, rehearsing in your little cocina, your little kitchen.

But, you know, I was born to teach--I just have a new student, a new student body. And then I'm going to be back home next semester teaching the stories and the stuff that I love again. So, it will balance out, as we build the new institution, it's going to balance out. We just have to find a new path and a new way.

Nat: Do you have any hope that a Mexican-American studies program will be reestablished in the school district?

Curtis Acosta: They have to actually. We asked them two years ago in January 2011, we're like listen, 'you must use the desegregation case'--because our district has been under a thirty-year desegregation order--so, we're like, 'listen, you have to have our classes, and we already have data, we have all this stuff, don't let the rhetoric of these hatemongers,' really. And, you know, it's hard to tell if they're hatemongers or opportunists, because they could've just been tapping into these anti-Latin@, anti-Mexican, anti-immigrant sentiments that engulfed our state for their own political gain.
But, we say, 'you have to have courage, you have a federal court order that trumps state,' because a federal court order trumps state law. And, first we asked, then we begged,  and then we threatened them, to join our effort and, well, they didn't like the last one, but they should've just done it on their own--the school board. Unfortunately, at the time, it was 3-2 against that, and our superintendent--his name was John Pedicone--he was awful when it came to... he had no sense of justice, no sense of courage, no sense. Just political expediency. He was a very arrogant man who thought he could solve it with his charm, because that was what had always worked in the past, and, boy, he learned a lot. He learned about his limitations. And, unfortunately, we were disappeared, but six months later they were forced to bring something back. They were very clear--it was the same superintendent--that it won't be that. And, by 'that,' I mean, us. We were out. Behind closed doors, they were wooing us though. In public, they would say, 'no, it's not going to be Mexican-American studies," but, behind, in private emails, in TUSD, they'd be like, 'hey, can you help us out, we gotta develop a curriculum?' We're like, 'are you kidding me? After what you've done to us, now you're gonna ask?'

So that was troublesome, but since then they have started, they created, they have classes again that are called 'Culturally-Relevant Curriculum', 'CRC' classes that are Latin@ literature and Mexican-American studies that are brand new. And you saw in the talk today, that the actual history classes didn't have any actual Latin@ authors in the curriculum until the media blew it up, and said, 'what are you doing, are you kidding me?' So, we'll see how it grows from there.

Nat: Ok. I'm kinda wavering now between these questions, but I'm gonna go with the one that seems obvious to me.

Curtis Acosta: Yeah.

Nat: Well, I just wanted to say that I'm big fan of Foucault, actually, or, at least, I'm really interested in him, and I'm curious that you're citing him in your forthcoming piece for the journal...

Curtis Acosta:
And I have some great knowledge to drop in this PowerPoint, but it's on my notes. And, as you saw, I had a bunch of technical difficulties. So, no, I was going to bring... because, you know, Foucault talks a lot about confinement, punishment. In fact, I was re-reading it on the plane as I came here to find the quotes I really wanted to use to tie it together, because I wanted to use something different than the stuff I was using in the journal. The talk today was a little bit different than what I wrote about in the piece, but Foucault remains a steadfast voice that I like to go to once and awhile.

Nat: Are there former students that you keep in contact with?

Curtis Acosta: Absolutely, yeah, quite a bit.

Nat: How are they doing now?

Curtis Acosta: It's harder to see them now, because now I'm no longer where all the magic happened. So, I've had to find out kind of a new way to get in touch with them and to stay connected. But, yeah, you know, they've got my phone number and I have theirs. It's just a text message or a e-mail away. The problem is I'm just constantly bouncing between, you know, a plane and then when I come home, it's like Patricia and the boys are like 'what do you need?', you know, and I gotta know that. So once, I get into a groove I need to reconnect with them, but through the struggle, yeah, absolutely. And they're out doing all sorts of different things, you know: some are activists in the community, highly civically engaged; some are just making it work, they're just hanging in there.

A lot of them are parents now and they're horrified at what's going on, because a lot of them matriculated before [the program was shut down]. We survived for six years against all odds, because of the will of our students, the will of our community. Then when the hammer finally fell, they were horrified, because now they're parents and they're like, 'what happened? This was a space that transformed my life!' Because no matter what they're doing, whether they're getting degrees to hang up on the wall, they all have one thing in common: they can read the world. They are critically engaged in the way the world works. You can have like, socio-political discourse and conversation with my former students that you can just jump right into it, doesn't matter what walk of life they're in right now. I mean, not often do we go there, because the first thing I want to know is how they're doing, who they're loving, how their babies are doing if that's the case, and then how their parents are and all that kind of stuff, because we had a real relationship, and always will.

Nat: Last question, if you could give one piece of advice to activists, what would it be?

Curtis Acosta: Listen. You know, I'm asked to talk a lot, but today, here at Western... man, I was asked some tough questions and I got to listen to the context behind those questions and we engaged in some conversations. People were real brave in asking those questions, because it came from a real personal space sometimes, or a real passionate space sometimes. And I want to honor that--I don't want to just dismiss it.

So, that's what I've learned. I've learned that as a teacher that the most powerful thing I can do is listen, because  if I can really listen, then I can craft a real educational experience for that student that is dynamic and engaging and something that's very real to them. That may just change the way they look at the future, so that they can find their own path, whether through scholarship or through activism, or through both together, or through just practicing In Lak Esh. I shouldn't just say In Lak Esh, I mean, that's the most important thing, that there's good human beings that were cultivated and that they made me a better human being, they cultivated that in me. It was reflexive, symbiotic... that's the number one thing, to remember why you're doing the work. That you're not doing the work because your issue matters more than other issues. There's so many issues out there and so many experts out there and I honor them all, and you can honor them best by listening to what they know, where they're from and then start a real conversation that's based in love.

Lorraine Kasprisin and Curtis Acosta

Saturday, October 5, 2013

Curtis Acosta to Speak at Western Washington University October 17th

Woodring College of Education, The Journal of Educational Controversy, and the Center for Education, Equality and Diversity are pleased to announce:

Pedagogies of Resiliency and Hope:
Innovation and Empowerment in Response to the Criminalization of Latin@ Youth

Presentation by Curtis Acosta
Tucson MAS Teacher featured in Precious Knowledge
Thursday, October 17th
AW 204
7:00 PM - 8:30 PM

Since the turn of the century, national and state legislation have increased the criminalization of Latin@ youth. Whether it be in the guise of immigration policy, English Only initiatives, or the case of banning Mexican American Studies in Arizona, Latin@s are facing unprecedented scrutiny and surveillance that violate basic human and civil rights. This talk will focus upon the bleak context for Latin@s and other marginalized communities in the United States in the realms of education and the prison industrial complex, while also focusing upon programs and pedagogies that inspire hope, empathy, and love.

About Curtis Acosta:

Curtis Acosta has been a high school teacher for nearly 20 years in Tucson, where he developed and taught Chican@/Latin@ Literature classes for the renowned Mexican American Studies program in the Tucson Unified School District . The program was outlawed by the state of Arizona sparking a nationwide debate over what population is represented and whose voice is heard in the nation’s public schools.  Curtis is an award-winning educator that has been featured in the documentary Precious Knowledge, and in profiles by CNN, PBS, The New York Times, The Los Angeles Times and The Daily Show with Jon Stewart. He was recently named one of the top 10 Latinos to Watch in the United States by The Huffington Post. Curtis has published articles in The English Journal, Voices in Urban Education, and the book Educational Courage: Resisting the Ambush of Public Education.

Curtis is the founder of the Acosta Latino Learning Partnership; an educational consultation firm committed to help educators create dynamic learning environments, pedagogies and curricula that will inspire every student to thrive. He is also a founding member of the newly established Xican@ Institute for Teaching and Organizing (XITO), which is a sponsored program through Prescott College. XITO strives to support the Xican@/Latin@ community through teacher preparation, social justice pedagogy, and community organizing.  XITO's practices are steeped in Xican@ indigenous epistemology which drives the intentions, structures, and practices of the institute.

Monday, September 23, 2013

Try this Quiz

Our current issue of the Journal of Educational Controversy examines the “school to prison pipeline,” with a special section on Washington State. The ACLU of Washington has just published this quiz under the title, “Why are Washington Schools Pushing so many Students Out.” Test your knowledge and then go to the ACLU website for answers and discussion at You might be surprised at some of the answers. Also, view our video of ACLU attorney, Rose Spidell, who discusses these issues in the journal.
1.Girls in Washington are at risk of being kicked out of school because they are pregnant or parenting.
A. True
B. False

2.Pregnant and parenting students have the right to excused absences:

A. for health care or conditions related to pregnancy and childbirth, and to care for a sick child.
B. only for health care or conditions related to pregnancy and childbirth.
C. if their child care falls through.

3. Approximately how many Washington students are long-term suspended (more than 10 days) or expelled from school each year?

1. 35,000
2. More than 50,000
3. More than 100,000

4. Students who are suspended or expelled are entitled to a minimal degree of educational support while they are out so that they can keep up with their missed school work.


5. The term "Restorative Discipline" in schools refers to:

A. discipline practice focused on having misbehaving students repair the harm caused by their misconduct.

B. An alternative approach to discipline which seeks to determine the root of a student’s misbehavior so as to prevent similar conduct in the future.

C. A program that dramatically reduces the number of students suspended or expelled each school year.

D. An approach to discipline that reduces absenteeism, drop-out rates, and improves test scores and overall school climate.

E. All of the above.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Personal Reflections on the Influence of Martin Luther King Jr.’s Commencement Address Two Months Before the 1963 March on Washington

I first learned about the March on Washington from Martin Luther King, Jr. who was the commencement speaker at my June 1963 graduation from the College of the City of New York. With the 50th anniversary of the historic march on Washington coming up on August 28th, I have been thinking about that commencement event that occurred just two months before the march and the effect that it was to have on my life. In fact, the events of those years had a profound influence on who I was to become as a person. They shaped my social conscience. They shaped the kind of moral questions that I continue to raise in my life even today. And they shaped the type of choices that I made in my life--- my decision to be a teacher, my decision to study philosophy - seriously and deeply, my decision to try to raise the old Socratic questions about the good life and the just society that Socrates raised 2500 years ago and which Dr. King was to raise later under a different set of circumstances, at a different moment in history, to my generation. Ultimately, it led to the creation of the Journal of Educational Controversy and this blog.

In 1991, I was asked to deliver my own commencement address at Western Washington University as that year’s recipient of the university’s teaching award. The address gave me an opportunity to think about the nature of such speeches and their purpose. I decided to take a different approach from the traditional ones that are delivered at most commencements. Rather than viewing my own commencement address as an event in time and space - a talk given on the morning of December 14, 1991 in a small university town, I chose to treat it as a conversation that occurs through time - from Dr. King's words to me at my graduation - filtered through my life's experiences over the years – then to the young audience of new graduates as they embarked on their own journey and continued the conversation with their own generation. It was in a sense a conversation from one generation to the next about the questions that are central to why we educate - questions about the kind of persons we become - and ultimately, questions about the kind of community we create. It is a conversation, I might add, that is sadly lacking in the public debate of our time. One has only to listen to the media each night to see how far we are from a true conversation on these questions.

I remember first talking about the nature of an authentic conversation and ways that it differs from the many false versions of it, for example, political conversations that have been increasingly reduced to a manipulation of the voter through effective 90 second sound-bites over the airwaves where issues become mere vehicles for projecting images rather than the source of concerned social debate. I remember talking about the way conversations about public education in this country have become increasingly articulated in a language in which impersonal, technical thinking dominates -- generating an educational ethos in which ethics as a category of discussion is largely suppressed. The liberal language of social action and social critique has been more and more reduced to a language of social control. But even those conversations which seem to affirm human agency and assert liberal values become emptied of their content when they are used inauthentically. The same words that can be used in a genuine, meaningful public debate can also be used to silence. Earlier in the last century, the American philosopher and educator, John Dewey expressed this concern when he wrote:

Even when the words remain the same they mean something very different when they are uttered by a minority struggling against repressive measures and when expressed by a group that, having attained power, then uses ideas that were once weapons of emancipation as instruments for keeping the power and wealth it has obtained. Ideas that at one time are means of producing social change assume another guise when they are used as a means of preventing further social change.1

I pondered with my young audience about the nature of a more authentic conversation. For one thing, a conversation is not something that can be received or transmitted from one person to another; it has to be entered into; it has to be engaged in. Furthermore, it establishes a certain kind of relationship between us and the other - a relationship in which both remain as subjects and neither are objectified and dehumanized by being made into an object for the other. Essentially, there are two features I distinguished:

First, to enter into a true conversation requires us to really hear the other. We often listen but we seldom really hear. To understand the world of the other, whether the other is in the present or in the past, is to understand the ways the other has come to give meaning to our common experience, to understand the categories and concepts that shape its sense of social reality. It means to see the other, as much as is possible, from the inside - from a different reference point from our own. As the philosopher, Cora Diamond describes it, "Coming to understand a conceptual life other than our own involves exercise of concepts belonging to that life. When I understand what you say, I am using concepts internal to your thought."2 It is to appreciate what it means for persons or cultures to have such concepts as live notions governing their being in the world.

For example, only now are many of us beginning to comprehend our fragile relationship with our planet as the ozone slowly depletes and our rivers and lakes pollute. Our 19th century optimism about progress, science and technology, our dominion over the earth left us with a language and a conceptual framework that blocked us from seeing another way of relating to the earth. But ironically, it is a way that Jamake Highwater, of the Blackfeet Nation, talks about in his book, The Primal Mind: Vision and Reality in Indian America.3 When one enters into his world, words like "wilderness" take on a whole different meaning. Indeed, Highwater talks about the alienation he felt in seeing the way certain ideas he had grown up with found their way into English words. When thinking about what is implied by our word, "wilderness," he writes, "After all, the forest is not 'wild' in the sense that it is something needing to be tamed or controlled and harnessed. For Blackfeet Indians, the forest is the natural state of the world. It is the cities that are wild and seem to need 'taming.' For most primal peoples the earth is so marvelous that the connotation of it requires it to be spelled in English with a capital 'E.' How perplexing it is to discover two English synonyms for Earth - 'soil' and 'dirt' - used to describe uncleanliness, soiled and dirty. And how upsetting it is to discover that the word 'dirty' in English is also used to depict obscenities!"4 What does it mean to see the world with the conceptual framework governing Jamake Highwater's vision of the world? By entering Highwater's world, I see a different way of relating to the earth - a relationship characterized by awe and respect rather than ownership and exploitation. In a film featuring Jamake Highwater, he talked about taking his mother to New York City for her first visit and he showed her all the usual landmarks including the famous Central Park. Central Park is like a little oasis in the center of Manhattan with all the huge skyscrapers and the hustle and bustle of the city surrounding it. When he asked his mother what her impressions were, she thought for a moment and then said, "I see they even put their trees on a reservation." In all the years that I lived in New York, I had never really thought of it that way.

But an authentic conversation requires more than entering into the world of the other for I could simply use that new understanding to exploit the other, or perhaps, more benignly, to simply bring the other within my own framework of understanding rather than expanding my understanding to include the other. I'd like to suggest that to enter into a true conversation, I must be willing to allow the understanding that I gain from that encounter to question my own conventional and habitual ways of seeing - to expand the horizon of my understanding by rendering aspects of my own world problematic as a result of that encounter.

In a very real sense a true conversation allows us to see ourselves for the first time. We are all born into a world that acculturates and socializes us into certain ways of seeing. Indeed, even the language we learn contains within it the structures and categories that give meaning to our experience. Our culture provides us with the lens - or the pair of glasses - that we use to make the world intelligible to us. But that same pair of glasses can also trap us from seeing the world in other ways. It becomes our frame of reference and begins to be taken for granted to the point that its control over our perceptions of the world is no longer seen. It becomes what we see with but cannot see through. In fact, it begins to be experienced as natural, as part of the natural scheme of things, rather than as a human and social construct. In an authentic conversation with the other, the hidden assumptions and cultural categories that have been largely taken for granted can suddenly be brought to the surface and revealed to our consciousness as only one of many possibilities. It can reveal ourselves to ourselves, but unfortunately, this self-revelation is not always comfortable as any proponent in a Socratic dialogue was soon to find out.

In fact, history has shown different responses that we make to conversations that begin to strip the fabric of the selves that we have created, that begin to question the certainties that we have lived by, that begin to make our conventional ways of seeing no longer tenable for us. One response is to go into denial - to deny the truths that are slowly coming to the surface of our consciousness - to deny that which makes us feel uncomfortable. Another response is to withdraw -- to retreat from the conversation completely. A third response, and one that unfortunately happens with too great a frequency, is to become defensive and to attack the other. But a fourth response is possible also, if we have the courage, if we have the concern, if we have the wisdom. There is the possibility for us and the other to reconstruct and reconstitute a new social reality which encompasses our new understanding and provides the conditions for a more ethical and humane existence. Indeed, the philosopher, John Dewey equated education itself with a continuous reconstruction and reorganization of our social experience - a reconstruction of the conditions of our lives.5

In many ways, the notion of a conversation can be a very powerful metaphor for the process of education itself. For education is an invitation into the conversation of life. It is something that cannot be merely received; it must be entered into; it must be engaged in; often it must be reclaimed, especially, those voices that have been neglected and silenced in the past. It is a conversation not merely about making a living, but a conversation about the kinds of lives that are worth living and the kinds of society that can make those lives possible.

Unfortunately, education can only invite us into the conversation; it cannot guarantee that we accept the invitation. Too often we can go through the motions of life without really engaging in it. We can easily begin to see our education, for example, as an accumulation of university credits without ever asking ourselves what we are becoming as result of our education - what we are allowing ourselves to be influenced by. Even in the darkest moments of our own history, too many people and too many institutions remained silent when they should not have. Even universities offered little moral resistance to the barbarism that engulfed much of our world in the last century. I remember a haunting passage in George Steiner's book. Language and Silence.6 Unlike writers like Matthew Arnold who could assert confidently that our education, especially our education in the literary and philosophical traditions, could humanize us, Steiner was less convinced as he recalled how easily people educated in what he called the "culture of traditional humanism" could read the poetry of Goethe and Rilke the night before they sent others to their deaths in gas chambers.

That was the conversation that Dr. King had with my generation as he struggled with the injustices and the inhumanity of his time and called upon us to face the moral blindness of our age and to fulfill this nation's dream of social justice. It left me with the questions that I shared with this new generation on that commencement day. I asked them to think about what our education demands of us? Is it enough to have some knowledge of society but not feel its injustices? To know some science but not care about the uses to which it is put? To become technically proficient and yet be blinded to the moral context in which our technical expertise will affect the lives of people? To understand something about economics but not care that huge numbers of our children are now living in poverty in this country? What is our responsibility in continuing the conversation? What is our responsibility in awakening others to these questions? What is our responsibility in making the institutions we enter more responsive to human needs? What is our responsibility in elevating the public debate in this country by raising the quality of its arguments and deepening an understanding of its moral significance?

I told my young audience that morning that it was their conversation now --- if they chose to enter into it -- if they chose to engage in it. I wished them well on their journey and on the choices they would make in their lives.

One of the unknown consequences of our words as teachers is to never really know whom we reach. I do know how I was reached that day in 1963 when I heard the words of Martin Luther King, Jr. at my own commencement. This journal and its blog are a testimony to that witness.

1. John Dewey, "The Future of Liberalism," in The Collected Works. Later Works. 1934, pp. 255-277.

2. Cora Diamond, "Losing Your Concepts," Ethics 98 (January 1988): 276.

3. Jamake Highwater, The Primal Mind: Vision and Reality in Indian America (New York: Harper and Row, 1981).

4. Ibid., p. 5.

5. John Dewey, Democracy and Education (New York: The Free Press, 1966).

6. George Steiner. Language and Silence: Essavs on Language. Literature and the Inhuman (New York: Atheneum, 1972).

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Thank you readers for your ideas with request for further ideas

In an earlier post, I asked our readers to e-mail ideas for future issues.  I wanted to thank all those who responded. 

I'd like to get your ideas on variations of a topic that we are considering.  The idea came from a seminar sponsored by the Philosophy of Education Society of Great Britain.  The paper is entitled: "Cosmopolitanism Discarded: Martha Nussbaum’s Patriotic Education and the Inward/Outward Distinction," by Marianna Papastephanou (University of Cyprus) presented at the Institute of Education in London on June 19th.

Here is an abstract of the paper:

In her famous text ‘Patriotism and Cosmopolitanism’ (1994), Martha Nussbaum deployed her arguments for a cosmopolitan education in ways that evoked a tension between cosmopolitanism and patriotism. Among others, Charles Taylor considered her treatment of patriotism vague and lopsided, and pointed out that patriotism is not as secondary or as dispensable as Nussbaum seemed to imply. Some years after the initial airing of her views, Nussbaum gradually reconsidered the notion of patriotism in texts that remained largely unknown and rarely discussed. In this seminar, I begin with a brief account: of her shift from cosmopolitanism to what she terms ‘a globally sensitive patriotism’; and of the task assigned to education within this framework. Then I discuss Nussbaum’s relevant articles and especially the examples she employs to illustrate the principles she proposes for teaching patriotism. I argue that the conception of patriotism that emerges in her later texts reflects broader preoccupations concerning patriotism in liberal and communitarian political philosophy/education. Such conceptualizations and preoccupations overlook what can be termed ‘an outward aspect of patriotism’. In light of this critique, I attempt to formulate an account of patriotism that may be in line (rather than in tension) with cosmopolitanism and quite different from current liberal or communitarian patriotic accounts.

There are many possible issues to be explored here and we would appreciate ideas from our readers on the different controversies that would make a good discussion for a future issue of the journal.

You can e-mail your ideas to

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Call for Papers for the Journal of Educational Controversy

We invite authors to contribute to our Volume 9 Number 1 issue of the Journal of Educational Controversy on the theme: "Challenging the Deficit Model and the Pathologizing of Children: Envisioning Alternative Models."  This issue will once again be co-edited with Susan Donnelly, who was guest editor for our issue on "The Education and Schools our Children Deserve."


THEME: Challenging the Deficit Model and the Pathologizing of Children: Envisioning Alternative Models


Martin Seligman, founder of the field of positive psychology, has said that, “Modern psychology has been co-opted by the disease model. We've become too preoccupied with repairing damage when our focus should be on building strength and resilience, especially in children.” Is this also true of modern education? Political and pedagogical responses, from the “War on Poverty” through “No Child Left Behind” to address the educational gaps in academic achievement of historically marginalized and neglected groups (the poor, minorities and children with disabilities), were often deeply rooted in a language of cultural deprivation and special needs. Has this deficit model begun to surreptitiously creep into our educational discourse for all children? Have we become too focused on needs and deficiencies and forgotten that children also have capacities and strengths? Does the current emphasis on accountability and standardized testing contribute to the pathologizing of children? We invite authors to respond critically to this argument, envision alternative models, examine historical causes and precedents, analyze political and social ramifications, and share real life stories on the influence these ways of thinking have on the classroom and on the learning as experienced by students.



Thursday, June 13, 2013

Where is Curtis Acosta Now?

Editor:  We have been following the events on the banning of the Mexican-American Studies Program in Tucson, Arizona both in this blog as well as in our journal.  One of the key players is Curtis Acosta, a teacher of the curriculum when it flourished in the school district and a participant in the federal court case that may determine its future.   Curtis will be a keynote speaker at the Northwest Teaching for Social Justice Conference on October 19, 2013 in Seattle.  He will be visiting Western Washington University at that time to give a talk and to appear on our new, upcoming television program (more about that later).  We will have a special section on the events in the Tucson Unified School District in our next issue of the Journal of Educational Controversy on the topic: "Who Defines the Public in Public Education?"  We will include an article by Curtis along with an interview with the director of Precious Knowledge, a film in which Curtis' teaching is featured.  The director, Ari Palos, has also given us permission to insert a section of the film in the journal.  Below are the latest happenings in Curtis' life that he shared on the Education Liberation Listserv.

From Curtis Acosto to his Friends and Supporters 

As many of you may have heard, I have decided to take a leave of absence from Tucson Unified School District. It was with a heavy heart that I made this decision but in order to maintain the integrity of my work with youth it could no longer be in a district that banned my curriculum, pedagogy, and boxed our books. For more details, I invite you to read my open letter on the Rethinking Schools blog.

For the foreseeable future, I will continue teaching Chican@ Literature to high school students for college credit, as well as completing my dissertation at the University of Arizona.

I have also started my own education consultation firm, the Acosta Latino Learning Partnership, where I hope my years in the classroom can be of service to teachers, schools, districts, and educational organizations throughout the country.

In the meantime, I cannot wait to see everyone in Chicago at Free Minds, Free People July 11-14. I am excited for Radical PD this year since we have an amazing collection of teachers and youth lined up, as well as our first Ethnic Studies National Assembly on Sunday the 14th.

The fire for educational justice burns as bright as ever in Tucson thanks to the amazing national support we received from you all, and the unbreakable resolve of this community. Mil gracias!

In Lak Ech,

Curtis Acosta
Watch a press conference with Curtis Acosta on You Tube.

Thursday, June 6, 2013

An Open Question to our Readers: What Controversies Should We Examine in Future Issues

As we prepare for our next issue of the Journal of Educational Controversy, I thought it might be important to get some feedback from our readers on the controversies that they would like to see examined in the journal.  This is an open request for your ideas.  You can comment on the blog, or send an e-mail to

We are also looking for new reviewers for our manuscripts.  If you are interested, e-mail a vita with your areas of expertise and interests to

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Now Up on YouTube: Our 15th Annual Educational Law and Social Justice Forum

For those who could not attend our 15th Annual Educational Law and Social Justice Forum on the “School-to-Prison Pipeline and School-to-Deportation Pipeline,” we have now put the forum up on YouTube.

Here is a direct link:

Saturday, May 11, 2013

15th Annual Educational Law and Social Justice Forum will Feature the Journal of Educational Controversy’s Issue on the School-to-Prison Pipeline on May 17th

The 15th Annual Educational Law and Social Justice Forum will be held on Friday, May 17 at 4 p.m. in Miller Hall, Room 005 on the Western Washington University campus.

The forum is free and open to the public and is sponsored by the Journal of Educational Controversy and the Center for Education, Equity and Diversity.

The theme of the forum will be “The School-to-Prison Pipeline and the School-to-Deportation Pipeline.”

The school-to-prison pipeline refers to a national trend in which thousands of students each year are funneled through the public schools and into the juvenile justice system as a result of school policies and practices that increasingly criminalize students rather than educate them. It is a problem that has disproportionally affected students of color, students with disabilities, and students from impoverished and disenfranchised communities.

The School-to-Deportation Pipeline refers to obstacles and fears, specifically of personal or family detention and deportation that undocumented students face in a time of enhanced immigration enforcement, new laws criminalizing immigrants, and stigmatization by public rhetoric around ethnicity and nationality. The journal looks at what teachers need to know and understand to work with undocumented students and their families.

Panelists on the forum include authors whose articles were published in the current issue of the Journal of Educational Controversy. They will address these pipelines with special attention to the problems, cases, laws and statistics in Washington State followed by a Q&A session with the audience.


• Dr. Maria Timmons Flores, Professor of TESOL, Western Washington University, has been teaching culturally and linguistically diverse students in schools, communities, and wilderness for over 25 years. It was her students in these settings that inspired her commitment to social justice and motivated Maria to earn a PhD in Bilingual/Multicultural Education. Maria’s teaching and research focus primarily on supporting teachers to understand the influence of language and culture on learning. She teaches courses in bilingual and multicultural education, learning and development, and teaching strategies to support ALL learners. Maria’s current research brings critical cultural lenses to understanding and addressing educational equity for bilingual and immigrant students.

• Dr. John G. Richardson, Professor Emeritus of Sociology, Western Washington University, received his PhD from the University of California, Davis, and then went on to teach at the University of Alaska before coming to Western Washington University. His primary area of research has been the institutional history of American education, and of special education in particular. His most recent publication is Comparing Special Education (Stanford, 2011, with Justin Powell). His current research is a cross-national study of special and vocational education as contemporary means to control the expansion of mass schooling.

• Dr. Thelma Jackson, Race & Pedagogy Chism Series Lead Educator/Scholar-in-Residence, University of Puget Sound, brings a broad range of experience and expertise in the education field from community mobilization to educational transformation. She has a long history of serving and providing leadership to various education related boards, commissions and associations in Washington State including serving the Board of Trustees for Evergreen State College. Dr. Jackson has been a keynote speaker and has provided leadership and facilitation to numerous workshops, seminars and education-related events throughout her career. She has received a number of recognitions and awards for her outstanding community service. Dr. Jackson received her doctorate in Educational Leadership and Change from Fielding Graduate University in Santa Barbara, CA. She and her husband live in Western Washington.

• Maggie Wilkens is state field coordinator at the League of Education Voters. A sociology major and ethnic studies minor, Maggie works to untangle the roots of structural inequality through reforming one of our biggest and most important social institutions: the education system.

• Tracy Sherman is a Policy Analyst at the League of Education Voters and handles a variety of issues including early learning and school discipline. Before returning home to the Pacific Northwest, she was the Associate Director of Government Relations at the American Association of University Women in Washington DC. There she advocated on numerous education civil rights issues including stopping bullying and harassment in schools, ensuring equitable access to school athletics, and increasing the number of women and minorities in science and engineering careers. In her spare time she helps find dogs permanent homes as a foster and volunteer with Saving Great Animals.

• Anne Lee is the Executive Director of TeamChild, a nonprofit civil legal advocacy project for youth in Washington State. Anne’s legal practice has focused on children’s rights, education law, and public benefits. She was one of the authors of the education advocacy manual, Make a Difference in a Child’s Life, and has provided training for hundreds of CASA volunteers, foster parents, youth, social workers, attorneys, and judges on a variety of topics, including advocacy, education law and benefits. Anne received her law degree from New York University School of Law and graduated magna cum laude from Princeton University.

The journal’s special issue on the "School-to-Prison Pipeline" and "The School-to-Deportation Pipeline" is now online. The issue is co-edited with Dan Larner from the Fairhaven College of Interdisciplinary Studies at Western Washington University.

The forum will be held during Western’s annual Back2Bellingham alumni weekend.

Location: Western Washington University, Miller Hall 005, Center for Education, Equity and Diversity (CEED)

Date: May 17, 2013

Time: 4-6pm

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Latest books on Eco-Justice by Author C. A. Bowers

Editor: Readers will remember the article by Chet Bowers that was published in our winter 2009 issue of the Journal of Educational Controversy. Titled, “Rethinking Social Justice Issues within an Eco-Justice Conceptual and Moral Framework,” the article provoked one of our most interesting exchanges in our Rejoinder section. Chet has provided a description of his latest two books below.

The Way Forward: Educational Reforms that Focus on the Cultural Commons and the Linguistic Roots of the Ecological/Cultural Crises

In the Grip of the Past: Educational Reforms that Address What should Be Changed and What Should be Conserved

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Federal Court Decision on Tucson, Arizona’s Ban of Mexican-American Studies to be Appealed to the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals

Here is the latest word on the recent court decision on the banning of the Tucson, Arizona Mexican-American program. The fight will continue. Supporters of the program have announced that they will appeal the decision to the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals.

While the case continues on in the courts, interest in multicultural literature is reported to be soaring. Censorship appears to have drawn students across the nation to ethnic studies. Even the young students who watched the books being packed in boxes and taken away in their Tucson, Arizona high school classrooms have been given the opportunity to be taught outside the confines of the school district. Their teacher, Curtis Acosta, teaches a Chicano literature class at John Valenzuela Youth Center in South Tucson on Sundays. Moreover, Prescott College is now offering the students college credit for their study, ironically, the same study that was deemed too dangerous by the State of Arizona.

This raises an interesting and disturbing question. It seems that in a class-based society, only those privileged to continue on to college will have an opportunity to critically explore these deeper questions and assumptions underlying the power relations in our society. But all citizens in a democracy need this type of inquiry if they are to engage in the body politic. Given that many students will end their studies at the high school door, what are the implications for the kind of society we are forming?

We will be exploring the politics of education in the journal’s next issue on “Who Defines the Public in Public Education?”

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

How Can We Align Educational Reform with the Purpose of a Democratic Education?

In the article, Is This What Democracy Looks Like,” published in our Fall 2011/Winter2012 issue of the Journal of Educational Controversy author Deborah Meier (2012) considers how current educational reforms may actually resist democracy. In this discussion, Meier identifies the purpose of a democratic education as “to prepare all of our students without exception to become members of a smart ruling class, while also living productive, socially useful and fully human lives” and asserts that current reform efforts are ineffective in achieving this purpose. “Democracy Left Behind,” a report from the University of Colorado Boulder by Kenneth R. Howe and David E. Meens (2012), also reveals the ways in which current reform efforts fail to meet the needs of a successful democratic society.

Aligning Educational Reform with a Deliberative Democracy

By, Celina Meza
Editorial Staff, Journal of Educational Controversy

In the report, “Democracy Left Behind” Howe & Meens discuss the consequences of No Child Left Behind (No Child Left Behind [NCLB], 2001) through the framework of Amy Gutmann’s (2004) concept of deliberative democracy. A deliberative democracy is a society in which citizens play an active role in deliberation, critical discussion and decision-making, of the policies that govern them. 

In terms of educational policy, there are three main principles that constrain a deliberative democracy:
  1. Non-repression—freedom from interference and freedom to engage in deliberation. This takes the form of local control in decision-making, in which communities collectively determine the policies that govern them.
  2. Non-discrimination—the prevention of exclusion or denial of entire groups of children, especially in passive repression.
  3. The democratic threshold—a standard of equality in which all children are permitted to an education that prepares them with the knowledge, skills, and dispositions necessary to engage in democratic discussions and decision-making. 

In 1983 a report from the U. S. Department of Education titled “A Nation at Risk” warned that the current public education system was contributing to “a rising tide of mediocrity” (A Nation at Risk, p.1) that threatened the global economic competitiveness of the U. S. Prompted by rhetoric around the perceived achievement crises, in the 1990’s NCLB was presented as a solution to hold local school districts accountable to nation-wide education standards. 

NCLB enacted two policies to hold schools accountable: Standardized testing and public school choice. With standardized testing, all students are tested on the basics in reading, writing and mathematics. Based on student test results, Title 1 funds sanctions and rewards. Districts that do not meet standard are required to provide Supplemental Educational Services (SES). The first step of SES goes to funding third party tutoring (for example, Sylvan Learning Center). Next, districts are encouraged to take corrective action in firing staff and administrators and adopting new curricula. If test scores still don’t rise to standard, districts must offer an alternative school choice. School choice originally grew out of conservative advocacy for local control in the 1960s in the effort of fighting racial desegregation. Now, under NCLB, school choice gives parents the option to exit schools they are unhappy with to attend others and makes schools subject to market competition. In addition, failing schools may be reconstituted as charters under private management.

NCLB did not arise out of concern for closing the equity gap, but rather out of concern for the achievement gap, thereby shifting the focus from helping areas in high need for the sake of equity to raising the nation-wide achievement for the sake of national competitiveness. So it is no surprise that Howe & Meens find that the policies of NCLB fall outside of the principles of a deliberative democracy in a number of ways. 

First, the implementation of standardized testing threatens the principle of non-repression immediately by removing the power of deciding upon standards out of local control. Next, democratic power is taken away from local communities through corrective action under SES when communities cannot determine their own needs. Local control is also threatened by school choice when third party private businesses and philanthropists come in to manage charter schools.

Second, the principle of non-discrimination is threatened by the method of sanctions and rewards based on standardized testing and by exclusion caused by school choice. Unsurprisingly, schools in wealthier areas test higher than schools in low-income areas. It is also true that schools in low-income areas tend to have large populations of historically marginalized groups such as Black and Latino Americans. “Democracy Left Behind” reveals that though urban schools are in disproportionate need of help, they comprised only 27% of the schools that received funds and 90% of the schools that received sanctions. In addition, Howe & Meens suggest “test-based accountability creates a perverse incentive for schools to allow and even encourage low-performing students to leave” (p. 8). The pressure of accountability and inequity of funding has contributed to increased dropouts, suspensions, and expulsions in historically marginalized ethnic groups. Thus, in an effort to close the achievement gap, standardized testing has resulted in passive repression that furthers the equity gap between the historically marginalized and the dominant.  

Though school choice has the potential to foster democracy, the way that school choice is implemented is not democratic: Howe & Meens find that school choice actually exacerbates segregation. When school choice in not uniformly offered in all communities, it does not give parents equal opportunity to exit one school to attend a better one. In addition, the current implementation fails to ensure the protection of marginalized and historically disadvantaged groups. As a consequence, parents with power can figuratively hijack school choice to advance their own children—thus furthering segregation between the historically advantaged and the marginalized.

Third, the democratic threshold is threatened by restriction of curriculum in order to teach to the test and by segregation caused by school choice. With the threat of corrective action under SES, teachers are pressured to design their curricula around what have been called the basics, those topics that will be tested. However, the basics do not cover the knowledge and skills necessary to be an active citizen. For example, a study by the Southern Poverty Law Center concludes, “across the country, state educational standards virtually ignore our civil rights history” (as referenced in Howe & Meens, 2012, p.12), though this part of our history is essential knowledge for all American citizens in a deliberative democracy. In addition, we must have diverse and integrated schools to dialogue across differences and develop the skills and dispositions necessary for democratic deliberation. School choice that leads to segregation limits the democratic potential of the context in which children learn. 

In conclusion, Howe & Meens offer four recommendations to better align educational reform with the purpose of a democratic education:
  1. Provide additional support for staff, parents, and community to get involved in schools in need rather than implementing sanctions.
  2. Focus the curriculum to content and skills necessary for democratic citizenship rather than curriculum that teaches to the test.
  3. Hold accountability through democratic procedures (such as elected school boards), rather than through privatization of public resources in SES and school choice.
  4. Ensure access to equal educational opportunities and diverse context for learning by including enrollment constraints as part of school choice policy. 


Gutmann, A. (1999). Democratic education. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

Howe, K. R., & Meens, D. E. (2012). Democracy left behind. Boulder, CO: National Education Policy  Center.

Meier, D. (2012). Is this what democracy looks like? A personal retrospective . Journal of Educational Controversy 6(1), Retrieved from 

National Commission on Excellence in Education (1983). A nation at risk. Washington, DC: U. S. Government Printing Office.

No Child Left Bbehind Act of 2001. 107 P. L. 110. 115 Stat. 1425. 2002 Enacted H.R. 1

Southern Poverty Law Center (2011). Teaching the movement: The state of civil rights education in the United States 2011. Montgomery, AL: Southern Poverty Law Center.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

The Latest on the Federal Court Decision on the Banning of the Mexican-American Studies Program in Tucson, Arizona

Editor:  Readers will remember our article titled, "The Hypocrisy of Racism: Arizona's Movement towards State-Sanctioned Apartheid," by Augustine F. Romero, from our Fall 2011/Winter 2012 issue of the journal. Since its publication, we have tried to keep readers updated on the events in Arizona that resulted in the banning of the Mexican-American Studies Program in the schools of Tucson, Arizona.  A decision from the federal courts has just come down on March 8th.  Here is a link to the decision, Acosta v. Huppenthal .  Essentially, the law, HB 2281, was upheld except for one provision that barred courses "designed primarily for pupils of a particular ethnic group."    The court upheld other provisions of the law that bar courses promoting the overthrow of the U.S. government, promote racial or class resentment, and those that advocate ethnic solidarity instead of the treatment of pupils as individuals. 

 We provide both a press release from the Save Ethnic Studies website about a possible appeal to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals and a statement from the Office of the Attorney General.

Statement from Save Ethnic Studies Website:

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: Monday, March 11, 2013


Law Offices of Richard M. Martinez

(520) 327-47-97

SES Statement on Tashima Ruling: The Path Forward

Late in the afternoon of March 8, 2013 Judge Tashima issued the long anticipated ruling concerning the pending motions for summary judgment. The motions were initially submitted in 2011 and argued in March of 2012.

The plaintiffs' motion sought to invalidate HB 2281 (A.R.S. § 15-111 and 112) as unconstitutional because it is impermissibly vague and overbroad, precluding speech and infringing students' "right to receive" under the First Amendment. Although Judge Tashima recognized that the students' First Amendment rights in the classroom were at stake, and found one provision of the statute unconstitutional, A.R.S. § 15-112(a)(3) - "classes designed primarily for pupils of a particular group ethnic group", the decision left intact the remainder of the law that was used to prohibit the teaching of Mexican American Studies in the Tucson Unified School District.

The Acosta/Arce case is not over. The immediate task is to decide what is the next step: seek reconsideration of the decision or file an appeal to the United States Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals. That decision will be made within the next few days. It was always understood that this case would end up before the Ninth Circuit, and we have been preparing for this inevitable step for the past year. We have assembled a legal team that includes professors from the Seattle University Law School and the Bingham McCutchen law firm. Their contributions to the appellate process will be invaluable.

Once an appeal is filed, briefing will be submitted by both sides and a hearing will occur. This step will likely take about 18 to 24 months. The legal process is never as quick as we all hope for. This is especially true when important constitutional rights are at stake.

The effort to invalidate HB 2281 will continue. Too much is at stake. The right of every student to learn and teacher to teach the history, literature and culture of Latinos in Arizona is currently prohibited. Mexican American Studies proved to be a valuable educational program that instilled students with a positive academic identity. Much better academic skills, grades, graduation rates along with increased matriculation to college consistently occurred in every year the program was offered.

The mandate to successfully educate every student irrespective color, gender, culture or economic status is in crisis. As a nation we have failed miserably to reach this goal. We can and must do better. Ethnic studies provide a critical curricular option that must be available to every school district to consider, implement and maintain.

HB 2281 is the product of fear and a profound misunderstanding of the role of culture, language and history. These are areas of learning that do not divide us as a nation but provide a vehicle to promote understanding, respect and success. We cannot allow this fear to spread to other jurisdictions and eliminate important programs that already exist or the development of new programs.

The American dream has always included the universal hope that our children do better than we did. Irrespective of color, gender, culture or language every student must have the right to know who she is and how she fits into our complex and challenging society.

The path to obtain and maintain our civil liberties is continuous. In this lucha we all move forward. Your support is vital. Stand with us united in our common effort to be make our nation "a more perfect union".

The educators, students and community of Save Ethnic Studies.

Statement from the Office of the Attorney General:

Attorney General Tom Horne Wins Federal District Court Case Against Tucson Ethnic Studies Program

Phoenix (Monday, March 11) – Arizona’s law prohibiting courses that teach ethnic solidarity, rather than treating other students as individuals, was upheld as constitutional in a Federal District Court ruling issued Friday. The law was held to be constitutional, with one minor exception, Section (A)(3). The case was personally argued by Arizona Attorney General Tom Horne in Federal District Court in Tucson.

In a statement Horne said, “This is a victory for ensuring that public education is not held captive to radical, political elements and that students treat each other as individuals - not on the basis of the race they were born into.”

Enforcement of the law resulted in cancellation of Tucson Unified School District’s Mexican-American Studies Program after an independent Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) found that the program presented material in a “biased, political, and emotionally charged manner.” The ALJ also stated: “Teaching in such a manner promotes social or political activism against the white people, promotes racial resentment, and advocates ethnic solidarity instead of treating peoples as individuals.”

The State law prohibits courses if they violate any one of four prohibitions, including “promote resentment toward a race or a class of people”, “are designed primarily for peoples of a particular ethnic group”, or “advocate ethnic solidarity instead of the treatment of peoples as individuals.” The Court found only “designed primarily for peoples of a particular ethnic group” to be unconstitutionally vague, and upheld the other standards under which Tucson’s Mexican-American Studies Program was eliminated.

The Statute was challenged on numerous grounds, including violation of free speech, and unconstitutional vagueness – they were denied. The Court held that the State’s legitimate concern here was to reduce racism, as set forth in the declaration of policy in the statute that states: “The legislature finds and declares that public school pupils should be taught to treat and value each other as individuals and not to be taught to resent or hate other races or classes of people.” The Court found that the prohibitions in the statute are reasonably related to the goal of reducing racism at the schools.

In a related action, another Federal Law Judge had issued a ruling in the Tucson desegregation case calling for the development of culturally relevant courses, an Order that has been appealed by Attorney General Horne. However, that Order also stated: “The State is free to enforce its laws as it did in 2011 when it took action against TUSD for Mexican-American Studies courses, if it believes any culturally relevant courses developed and implemented in TUSD violate state law.”

Office of the Arizona Attorney General