Journal of Educational Controversy


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.