The Fight in Arizona for Progressive Education in the Classroom
Author: Shakena Goode
Originally Published at Peace and Conflict Monitor on: 01/24/2012
As of the 2012 New Year, school district officials in Tucson, Arizona made the decision to ban certain elements of Mexican-American studies courses. They argue that the lessons are biased and are furthering clashes between different ethnicities in the area. Specifically, lawmakers chose to ban a list of books from the curriculum that have been used for years, with the threat of withholding funds if the lessons are not altered to satisfy the school board. The following books have been black-listed:
Critical Race Theory, by Richard Delgado
500 Years of Chicano History in Pictures, edited by Elizabeth Martinez
Message to AZTLAN, by Rodolfo Corky Gonzales
Chicano! The History of the Mexican Civil Rights Movement, by Arturo Rosales
Occupied America: A History of Chicanos, by Rodolfo Acuna
Pedagogy of the Oppressed, by Paulo Freire
Rethinking Columbus: The Next 500 Years, edited by Bill Bigelow and Bob Peterson (Siek, 2012)
District leaders argue that lessons including these books “promote the overthrow of the U.S. government, promote resentment toward a race or class of people, are designed primarily for pupils of a particular ethnic group, [and/or] advocate ethnic solidarity instead of the treatment of pupils as individuals” (2012). The Tucson Unified School District announced the change in the curriculum with the justification that they want “to increase its coverage of Mexican-American history and culture, including a balanced presentation of diverse viewpoints on controversial issues. The end result shall be a single common social studies core sequence through which all high school students are exposed to diverse viewpoints” (2012).
But what does that really mean? I find these new regulations have not been well thought-out as they do not correlate with how history has been taught and maintained over the years. For example, in the case of Pearl Harbor, there is no desire to remove the event from history books. Couldn’t someone argue that discussing such an event would cause a rift between Asian and American students? The same goes for the history of slavery. It took a number of years and nonviolent movements to respectfully discuss such American history in the classroom. Imagine the setback the country would have faced if school districts would have banned aspects of truth from those history lesions.
My assumption, being a product of the Commonwealth State of Virginia, USA, is that this change signifies the constant desire of elite America wanting to disguise embarrassing issues of the past. What does the school district consider a balanced presentation? The truth is, the facts behind American history cannot be ignored simply until they no longer exist. Each aspect of history no matter how embarrassing it may be, serves the purpose of teaching accounts of the past to newer generations. As is taught in a number of peace and conflict resolution courses, what happens in the past can never be erased. All that can be done is to use past information to encourage change where need be.
Where would we be globally, if we did not refer to the past in order to make present and future decisions? The history that students are learning now can be used to avoid similar situations in the future. Many times, current decision-makers forget that students are not pawns in their game of capitalism, but rather future decision-makers that should be well-rounded in their knowledge of the world. If the school board continues to delete portions of history courses to better satisfy their personal perspectives, there will be no way for future generations to learn from the mistakes of the past.
It could be possible that school leaders and state officials are unaware of how to deal with the transitional justice concerns surrounding past Mexican-American relations. There seems to be no structured thought of how to deal with the situation, possibly because the district feels the issue is easier to ignore. Although most traditional transitional justice practices involve reform, in this situation the importance of knowledge and acknowledgement are possibly more important. Students openly discuss their frustration with the new laws and their lack of accountability for their ancestry. This is especially the case of many students of Mexican descent. Even though many of them have been educated on what occurred, hearing stories passed down through their families, they still desire an institutionalized form of education about the subject. So much so, that a number of them have rallied, along with some Tucson teachers, to protest the new amendments to their curriculum (2011).
Furthermore, there seems to be a lack of respect for cultural and social rights. In the definition of social rights is the inclusion of the right to educational choices; cultural rights refer to the preservation, expression, and belonging to specific cultures and groups. These new reforms violate both of these rights, forcing Mexican-American students to suppress their ethnic pride and forbidding students and teachers alike the chance to broaden their educational horizons. As stated in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights: Article 26.2: Education shall be directed to the full development of the human personality and to the strengthening of respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms. It shall promote understanding, tolerance and friendship among all nations, racial or religious groups, and shall further the activities of the United Nations for the maintenance of peace (1948). So, as long as the lessons are being taught with respect for both the Mexican and American nations, there should be no problem. Continuing to deny these rights is yet another form of censorship enforced on the public. If regulations continue in this manner, there will be major limitations to what is taught to future generations and diminishing clarity of our nation’s history.
This area is also the origin of the Arizona Immigration Law, permitting police and other state officials the right to demand citizenship papers from visibly Hispanic individuals in the area. In the event that the individuals do not have their citizenship papers, officers have the right to detain the individuals until the paperwork can be found, regardless of their nation of birth.
Bio: Shakena Goode is a student from Virginia, USA with an undergraduate degree in Accounting. After graduation she changed her career goals to satisfy her passion of human rights. She is currently a graduate student at American University/University for Peace studying International Peace and Conflict Resolution with a concentration in Human Rights. Her goal is to work in immigration policy. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.