Pedagogy of the Oppressed – in Arizona

New York Times: Arizona Orders Tucson to End Mexican-American Studies Program

So, in another major blow to education and immigration reform, and adding to Arizona’s reputation as the place where the American Dream goes to die, Arizona Attorney General Tom Horne has declared that Arizona’s Mexican-American Studies program is illegal.

Here are some of the “reasons” that the NYTimes cites for this decision:

“Programs that promote the overthrow of the United States government are explicitly banned, and that includes the suggestion that portions of the Southwest that were once part of Mexico should be returned to that country.

“Also prohibited is any promotion of resentment toward a race. Programs that are primarily for one race or that advocate ethnic solidarity instead of individuality are also outlawed. “

Okay… really? Let’s think this through. NO ONE is suggesting the overthrow of the US government by teaching Chicano youth about their heritage. I was a Hispanic Studies major in college. Does that mean that I was taught that everyone from the Iberian peninsula or Latin America was superior to “Americans”? Absolutely not. Plus, how do you even define “American” anymore – we have so many different ethnic, religious, and linguistic components of the US population that it’s becoming increasingly difficult to conjure a picture of what it means to be American.

From what I’ve seen, Hispanic immigrants NEED advocates in the classroom who can not only teach them the literature of their heritage but can also get them thinking about how to navigate a world (or state) in which they are clearly the underdogs. Apparently, Mr. Horne sees parts of the Mexican-American Studies curriculum as “inappropriately teaching Latino youths that they are being mistreated”. Well, they are. The Latino kids at my school were regularly made to feel like outcasts and second-class citizens (in a school that was already 99% minority) by their peers and teachers. Their parents would show up to parent-teacher conferences nights in the cafeteria only to find that the school hadn’t thought to have translators on hand for the 13% of the student body whose first language was Spanish. (I ended up forgoing my own conferences in order to translate.) A survey that I conducted with the entire Latino student body indicated that the vast majority (88%) felt not only that the school did not appreciate their heritage but also that the school – administration, teachers, students – actively disrespected it and made them feel unsafe, uncomfortable, and unmotivated. It’s clear to me that Latino kids in the DC area have a lot going against them; I can’t imagine what it feels like to be a Latino kid in Arizona right now.

Another thing that really pisses me off here is that there are other ethnic studies programs in Arizona schools, yet none of them have been criticized, let alone banned. Again, from my experience teaching in a primarily African-American school, students in Arizona’s African-American Studies program would have just as much reason to learn about advocacy and the history of their struggle for equality in this country as the Latinos. We should want kids to be independent thinkers who know how to advocate for themselves and have a desire to make things better for them and their community, and these programs provide a great opportunity to do just that. But that’s not even their central goal! These programs exist to provide students with a chance to engage with some products of their own culture and history, allowing them to form a more concrete identity and understanding of who they are.

I’m not saying there shouldn’t be any scrutiny over the curriculum of any special program or that there isn’t a difference between equipping kids to be effective self advocates and making them feel actively hostile. But really, Arizona – how do you expect to pass ridiculous immigration laws without some kind of response? Schools are where we create citizens. Like it or not, we are moving towards an ever more diverse population in the United States, and we will need leaders from every group.

What I also want to know is why no one has thought to integrate pieces of these special programs into the general curriculum. The amount of Latin American and African history and literature that is covered in schools today is disgraceful – just because they haven’t held all the power in the last century doesn’t mean they haven’t produced great books or ideas worthy of study by everyone. Maybe if more non-Latino kids were forced to read things from the Mexican-American Studies program, we’d start on a more peaceful path to an integrated, diverse society.

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About educationescritora

I'm a former high school Spanish teacher and central office employee. I believe that excellent public education will be a catalyst for positive social change in our country and that we cannot wait any longer to deliver the teachers, knowledge, and skills that our students need.
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