Showing posts with label Arizona's Ban on Ethnic Studies. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Arizona's Ban on Ethnic Studies. Show all posts

Saturday, March 29, 2014

New Issue of the Journal of Educational Controversy Now Online and Upcoming Seminar

The new issue of the Journal of Educational Controversy, on the theme "Who Defines the Public in Public Education?," can be found here. The idea for this issue's theme was sparked by the ruthless and seemingly politically motivated ban on Mexican American Studies in the Tucson, Arizona school district, after years of the MAS curriculum being taught in Tucson without controversy. All of the authors included in this issue speak to the questions, both pedagogical and philosophical, arising in the wake of the Mexican American Studies ban in Tucson. The article in the new issue by former Tucson MAS teacher Curtis Acosta addresses the root of this controversy and Mr. Acosta will be joining the Western Washington University community in a discussion of his article, via webcam, on May 14th, 4-6pm. The upcoming seminar is sponsored by Western's Center for Education, Equity and Diversity, as well as the Journal of Educational Controversy and the Woodring College of Education. (Watch an interview with Curtis Acosta conducted last fall by JEC editor Lorraine Kasprisin and associate editor John Richardson here.)

The article titles, authors, and affiliations of the authors for this volume of the Journal of Educational Controversy are:

"Ask Not Only Who Defines the Curriculum: Rather Ask Too What the Curriculum Aim Should Be"
Walter Feinberg
Charles Hardie Professor, Emeritus
The University of Illinois, Champaign/Urbana

"Religious Citizens in a Secular Public: Separate, Equal?"
John F. Covaleskie
University of Oklahoma

"Reading NCLB as a Form of Structural Violence"
Kerry Burch
Northern Illinois University

"Critical Study of the Concept of 'Public Identity' as Manifested in Postmodernist Versions of Critical Pedagogy"
Boaz Tsabar
Hebrew University, Israel

"The Public and Its Problem: Dewey, Habermas, and Levinas"
Guoping Zhao
Oklahoma State University

"Attack of the Cyborgs: 'Economic Imperialism' and the Human Deficit in Educational Policy-Making and Research"
Scott Ellison
University of Tennessee

"Middle School Students, Slam Poetry and the Notion of Citizenship"
Anthony M. Pellegrino, George Mason University
Kristien Zenkov, George Mason Univeristy
Gerardo Aponte-Martinez, Michigan State University

"Dangerous Minds in Tucson: The Banning of Mexican American Studies and Critical Thinking in Arizona"
Curtis Acosta
Former Teacher of Mexican American Studies in the Tucson Unified School District

Editorial: "Who Defines the Public in Pubic Education"
Lorraine Kasprisin
Editor of the Journal of Educational Controversy
Western Washington University

"Interview with Ari Palos, Film Director of Precious Knowledge" 
Celina Meza
JEC Editorial Staff
Western Washington University

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."

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.

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, 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?”

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

Thursday, April 19, 2012


Editor: More news coming out of Tucson, Arizona.




Brianda Bustamante
(520) 260-2048 cell
Curtis Acosta
(520) 891-7327

Tucson, Ariz. - Renowned Chicana poet, essayist, novelist and author of So Far From God, Ana Castillo will be giving a reading from books banned by TUSD to Mexican American Studies students and the general public on Friday May 4th at 6:30pm at the John Valenzuela Youth Center in South Tucson. A question and answer segment will follow the reading.

Ms. Castillo offered to visit the actual classrooms in TUSD and meet the students of the dismantled MAS classes. Unfortunately, TUSD administration continued their discriminatory behavior toward MAS students by banning the media from recording Ms. Castillo's visit, although media had been allowed access for similar author visits earlier in the year.

Ms. Castillo who was saddened by TUSD's response said today that, "they can keep me out of the schools but as a U.S. law abiding citizen they cannot keep me out of Tucson." In reaction, a community venue became the obvious choice for the Tucson community for all to attend. Before the actual reading Ms. Castillo will meet separately with students who were enrolled in MAS classes at 5:30pm, and discuss her writing which was a pivotal part of the program.

What: Ana Castillo Public Reading

When: Friday, May 4th, 6:30 pm

Where: John Valenzuela Youth Center, 1550 S 6th Avenue, South Tucson, AZ 85713

Saturday, April 14, 2012

"Arizona Teacher Sean Arce Fired in Latest Crackdown on Acclaimed Mexican American Studies Program" -- An Interview from Democracy Now

Editor: After posting the press release yesterday by the Tucson high school students who were fighting for their teacher, we just learned that teacher Sean Arce has been fired by the Tucson Unified School District. Sean appeared in the film "Precious Knowledge" that depicts the civil rights battle to save the Mexican American Studies Program in Tucson, Arizona with vivid portrayals of the students and their teachers.  I was able to view the film the other night and will write more about it later.  Film director, Eren Isabel McGinnis, has agreed to an interview that we will print on the blog in the future.

Below is a transcript reprinted from Democracy Now. The original content is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License.

Sean Arce, the head of the Tucson school district’s banned Mexican American Studies program, was dismissed Tuesday night amid vocal protests from dozens of supporters. Tucson’s Mexican American Studies program has been under attack following the passage of a bill which prohibits schools from offering ethnic studies courses. Arce maintains he was fired because he spoke out against what he saw as a discriminatory law targeting Mexican Americans and Latinos. "I, along with many others, stood up and [saw] this law as unconstitutional," Arce says. "And because we stood up, the district has retaliated."


Sean Arce, head of the Tucson school district’s Mexican American Studies program. He was dismissed from his job earlier this week. He is the recipient of the 2012 Myles Horton Education Award for Teaching People’s History from the Zinn Education Project.


AMY GOODMAN: ....We are—we are going now to Tucson, Arizona. Tucson, Arizona is a place where another teacher has been fired....

In Arizona, we’re going to the head of the Tucson school district’s embattled, acclaimed Mexican American Studies program who has been fired from his job. Sean Arce was dismissed at the school district members’ board meeting Tuesday night amidst vocal protest from dozens of supporters. Earlier this month, Arce was awarded the 2012 Myles Horton Education Award for Teaching People’s History from the [Zinn Education Project]. Tucson’s Mexican American Studies program has been under attack following the passage of a bill which prohibits schools from offering ethnic studies courses. Arizona Superintendent of Public Instruction John Huppenthal ruled the Mexican American Studies program violated the new state law.

JOHN HUPPENTHAL: In our determination, we found that these classes were promoting ethnic resentment. They were promoting ethnic solidarity in ways that are really intolerable in an educational environment.
AMY GOODMAN: Under the ruling, the district would have lost up to $14 million in funding this fiscal year had it allowed the program to carry on.School officials released a list of seven banned books that can no longer be used in classrooms after the suspension of the program. Officials told teachers to stay away from any books where, quote, "race, ethnicity and oppression are central themes." The banned books include Rethinking Columbus: The Next 500 Years, Shakespeare’s play The Tempest, Pedagogy of the Oppressed by Paulo Freire, and Chicano!: The History of the Mexican Civil Rights Movement — The Mexican American Civil Rights Movement.

Speaking to Democracy Now! earlier this year, Superintendent Huppenthal denied that any books had been banned.

JOHN HUPPENTHAL: In no way, shape or form are we banning any kind of books or any kind of viewpoint from the classroom. But we are saying that if all you’re teaching these students is one viewpoint, one dimension, we can readily see that it’s not an accurate history, it’s not an education at all. It’s not teaching these kids to think critically, but instead it’s an indoctrination.

AMY GOODMAN: To discuss the controversy Arizona, we go to Tucson to speak to Sean Arce, dismissed on Tuesday night. He was the head of Tucson school district’s Mexican American Studies program.

Welcome to Democracy Now!, Sean. Talk about what happened this week and what’s happened to the program and what’s happening to you.

SEAN ARCE: Thank you for having me.

Yes, this law, HB 2281, coming from our state legislature, put a lot of political pressure on our local school district. And unfortunately, our school district, Tucson Unified, under the leadership of John Pedicone, cowered to this racist legislation and essentially eliminated a very effective course of instruction, a course of instruction wherein Latino students became highly engaged, had higher graduation rates, and had a closing of the achievement gap, something that urban school districts throughout the country are seeking aggressively in ways in which to close the achievement gap for Latino students.

JUAN GONZALEZ: Well, Sean Arce, it’s bad enough that they’ve decided to end the program, but what excuse did they use for telling you you no longer have a job starting in September?

SEAN ARCE: The thinly veiled attempt to explain my release from the district is that they were going in a different direction, but when in fact we know this was an act of retaliation, in that I, along with many others, stood up and see this law as unconstitutional. This law is discriminatory. It really focuses on a disparate treatment, points out one group of students, which being Mexican American, Latino. And because we stood up, the district has retaliated.

JUAN GONZALEZ: And what’s been the response in the Tucson community to both the abolition of the program and then now to your firing?

SEAN ARCE: The response has been overwhelming in favor of actually restoring Mexican American Studies. Mexican-American and Latino students within TUSD have experienced for years a disparate and discriminatory treatment. Currently, Tucson Unified School District, under the current leadership of John Pedicone, has been put back under a 30-plus-year desegregation plan, desegregation suit, because the district has not acted in good faith with the Mexican-American and Latino community. So, something that was very organic, something that the community demanded to be—for the district to be responsive to the academic, the social needs of our students, our community created this Mexican American Studies program. And now the district, again, in currying to the racists and being accomplices to that racism, particularly John Pedicone, has—in essence, has abolished a very effective, a very engaging—something that was very cherished, a program, an effective educational model for Latino students.

AMY GOODMAN: Sean Arce, I wanted to ask you about another issue going on in Arizona, a headline we read yesterday: two people trying to cross into the United States from Mexico having been killed in an apparent attack by an armed militia. According to Pima County Sheriff’s Department, the victims were killed when a pickup truck carrying up to 30 undocumented immigrants near the Arizona town of Eloy was ambushed by "subjects in camouflage clothing armed with rifles," the attack coming as Arizona lawmakers are considering a measure that would create a state-backed armed militia to work with Border Patrol agents along the U.S.-Mexico border to capture undocumented immigrants. Do you know anything about this?

SEAN ARCE: Yes, unfortunately, I did hear of this occurrence. And this is very telling of the anti-Mexican, anti-immigrant sentiment here in the state of Arizona. It is very pervasive, and, unfortunately, it has seeped into our public institutions, particularly our public schools, wherein Mexican-American and Latino students are actually dehumanized. So this is this—our instance of the elimination of an effective educational program is really a reflection and is something within the context of this greater anti-Mexican, anti-Latino sentiment within the state of Arizona. And unfortunately, our school district is actually perpetuating such a sentiment within our schools.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, Sean Arce, we want to thank you very much for being with us.

The original content of this program is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License. Please attribute legal copies of this work to

Friday, April 13, 2012

High School Students Defend their Teacher and Director of the Mexican American Studies Program in Arizona’s Tucson Unified School District

Editor: Tucson High School students and members of the Tucson High School M.E.Ch.A. have put out a press release about their support for a Tucson, Arizona teacher whose job is in jeopardy.  Below is the Press Release.
Tucson High Magnet School M.E.Ch.A.
For Immediate Release: April 10, 2012
      As Tucson High M.E.Ch.A., we would like to declare our unending support for Mr. Sean Arce, director of Mexican American Studies. We have witnessed countless malicious attacks on our teachers and the removal of the highly efficient Chicano Studies program. Now Mr. Arce's job stands on the line in the hands of the TUSD School board and Superintendent John Pedicone.
     Mr. Arce is our maestro, advocate, and above all, our friend and we stand behind him. Not many teachers and even fewer directors of programs hold this title among students and alumni. Some of us have had the pleasure of experiencing Mr. Arce as a substitute teacher during a chaotic time last year when TUSD was slow to hire a new, qualified Chicano Literature teacher. We have never known any administrative personnel to take on substitute teaching during their busy schedules. Indeed, we know of no other administrator who would take the time to develop relationships with their students just as he has.
     In the short time we had him as a substitute teacher, we enjoyed interactive and personal learning from someone who we know cares about us. Mr. Arce is one of the many faculty members that represents the rights that were taken away from us as students---the ability to learn in a safe and loving environment. For this we are grateful and hold Mr. Arce with the utmost respect. As students we demand that Sean Arce remain secure in his position.
Contact: Tucson High Magnet School M.E.Ch.A.

Saturday, April 7, 2012

"Precious Knowledge" Film Screening with filmmaker Eren Isabel McGinnis to be Shown at Western Washington University

Precious Knowledge is a film about the Mexican American Studies Program in Tucson, Arizona that was banned by the Arizona State Legislature.  There will be a free public screening of the film on the campus of Western Washington University.  For those who are in the area, come and join us.  For everyone who is concerned with the issue, share your thoughts on this blog.

Date/Time: April 11, 2012 7:00pm -- 9:00pm

Location: AW 204
Free Screening!

From Description:
Precious Knowledge interweaves the transformative stories of seniors in the Mexican American Studies Program at Tucson High School. Inequalities in education continue to affect people of color. The ticking time bomb story of our time is that fewer than six in ten Latino adults in the United States have a high school diploma. These alarming dropout rates will continue to have a serious impact on our nation. The documentary goes further, however, by illustrating forms of critical pedagogy that can empower Latino youth and other youth of color and change this state of affairs. Precious Knowledge will illustrate to a nationwide audience a Mexican American Studies program that inspires 82% of its students to enroll in college. The themes of Precious Knowledge are embedded in the journey of each student as they: self reflect, seek out precious knowledge, begin to act, and ultimately transform, while nurturing positive images of Latino identity and embracing the dignity of all cultures and histories. A discussion with the filmmaker will be held following the movie.

For more information, contact Saraswati Noel at

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.

Saturday, February 4, 2012

NO HISTORY IS ILLEGAL-- A Grassroots Campaign Challenges Arizona's Ban on Mexican American Studies

We announced in our last post that our current issue of the journal has an article by Augustine Romero, Director of Student Equity and Co-Founder of the Social Justice Project of the Tucson Unified School District in Arizona, in which he describes the political climate that led to the legislation banning the Mexican American Studies Program in Tucson, Arizona. See “The Hypocrisy of Racism: Arizona's Movement towards State-Sanctioned Apartheid. “ Our blog has been continuing to cover this story with updated news.

We have learned of a national grassroots movement that is rising up to challenge this ban to eliminate certain voices and stories from the curriculum. A Network of Teacher Activist Groups (TAG) is coordinating a month of solidarity activities in support of the Tucson’s Mexican American Studies (MAS) Program. Across the nation, the reading of the banned books, teach ins, and discussions are taking place in classrooms, community centers, houses of worship, and homes. On February 1st, the first day the Tucson schools had to comply with the law, students here on our own campus engaged in an all-day open dialogue with critical inquiry sessions about ethnic studies, culturally relevant curriculum, and the Arizona Ethnic Studies Ban.

The Network of Teacher Activists Groups has set up a website , “No History is Illegal: A Campaign to Save our Stories,” where readers can find a guide that includes sample lesson plans from the Mexican American Studies curriculum as well as creative ideas and resources for exploring this issue with students.

Check out the website, “No History is Illegal: A Campaign to Save Our Stories

Sunday, January 22, 2012

What is Really at Stake in Arizona’s Ban on Mexican American Studies

I have been asked to capture the essence of what is happening in the Tucson Unified School District in a few paragraphs for the newsletter and website of the Washington State Association for Multicultural Education (WSAME). I have served on the Board of Directors of that fine organization for a number of years. Check out their website to see some of the wonderful things they do.

I thought I would reprint my commentary here for our readers.

Arizona’s Ban on Ethnic Studies: The Latest Battleground over Ideology, Power, and Voice

Lorraine Kasprisin
Professor of Educational Philosophy, Western Washington University
Editor, Journal of Educational Controversy
Board of Directors, Washington State Association for Multicultural Education

The recent dismantling of the Mexican American Studies Program in Tucson, Arizona has less to do with facts over a highly successful thirteen year old curriculum taught in the Tucson Unified School District and more to do with ideological dominance and power over whose voices will be heard in a democracy.

In response to the long historical failure of the public schools to raise academic achievement and reduce the dropout rates of students of color, the Tucson Unified School District created a Mexican American studies program that would be more culturally responsive and socially relevant to the needs of the large population of Latino students in the district. By all accounts, the program has been highly successful. Readers can go to the Save Ethnic Studies website for details about audits on the program’s effectiveness. In 2010, in a highly charged political environment, the Arizona State Legislature passed HB 2281 banning any program that “prohibits a school district or charter school from including in its program of instruction any courses or classes that: promote the overthrow of the United States government, promote resentment toward a race or class of people, are designed primarily for pupils of a particular ethnic group, advocate ethnic solidarity instead of the treatment of pupils as individuals.” (Arizona Revised Statute § 15-112, 2010)

Despite the state’s own commissioned study that showed the Mexican American Studies Program fully complied with the law and had produced significant results in student achievement, Arizona Superintendent of Public Instruction John Huppenthal , nevertheless, continued his pressure to suspend the program. In January of this year, faced with a multimillion dollar reduction in state aid as a penalty, the Tucson School Board voted 4-1 to dismantle the program. The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals is now considering a suit that was brought by students and teachers. The court found, however, that the teachers do not have standing but that the suit by students could continue. Teachers have set up a website, Save Ethnic Studies, where readers can follow the progress of the case, donate to the cause, and sign a petition.

The struggle in Arizona goes to the heart of democracy. As U.S. Rep. Raul M. Grijalva says, “This legislation against diversity might be focused on Tucson, but it has significant ramifications across the country.” (Biggers, 2011) It raises questions about who will have a voice and how that voice will be exercised. It asks whose history should be taught and how it should be portrayed. Ultimately, it raises questions about truth. Do we betray our students by presenting only a sanitized account of our history; do we pretend that this nation has never failed to live up to its ideals; do we continue to suppress voices that have been historically silenced, or more often, co-opted and appropriated by the dominant discourse. Or do we allow and encourage alternative narratives in a more inclusive democratic conversation. Public education is at the heart of these questions.

As teachers were ordered to box the censored books for storage in the Textbook Depository, one cannot help but wonder what messages were being sent by a political authority that was supposedly concerned about not promoting ethnic resentment. 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.


Biggers, J. (2011). Arizona's Ethnic Studies Ban Has National Ramifications, Warns U.S. Rep. Raul Grijalva, HuffPost, Posted: 5/11/11 11:00 PM ET. Retrieved from on January 21, 2012.

Prohibited Courses and Classes; Enforcement. AZ Rev. Stat. §15-112 (2010) Retrieved from
For more insights into this issue, I invite readers to visit the upcoming issue of our electronic journal, the Journal of Educational Controversy (Volume 6 Number 1) and read “The Hypocrisy of Racism: Arizona's Movement towards State-Sanctioned Apartheid” by Augustine F. Romero, Director of Student Equity and Co-Founder of the Social Justice Project, Tucson Unified School District, Arizona.