By Anita Fore
Tucson Deep-Sixes Latino Studies Texts. During the first few weeks of March, political news junkies followed the media’s call-and-response to a Fox News freakout over Breitbart.com’s supposed bombshell video of a pre-President Barack Obama hugging the late legal genius, critical race theory scholar, and former Authors Guild council member Derrick Bell, one of the original shepherds of the 1960s school desegregation strategies, at a 1991 Harvard University protest.1
An earlier outbreak of what may develop into a full-blown Republican backlash against critical race theory came to a head in Tucson’s public schools this past January. Empowered by Arizona state legislation signed into law by Republican Governor Jan Brewer in 2010, state school superintendent John Huppenthal, also a Republican, officially suspended the Mexican American Studies program taught in Tucson’s schools—a program his predecessor had called “anti-white”—and ordered instructors to physically remove books used in the curriculum. Educators were required to scrap the classes or risk losing out on $14 million in state education funds.
After initial resistance, Tucson’s local school board caved and pulled the texts, boxing and storing all copies of Critical Race Theory by Richard Delgado and Jean Stefancic, Chicano! The History of the Mexican Civil Rights Movement by Francisco Arturo Rosales, 500 Years of Chicano History in Pictures by Elizabeth Martinez (ed.), Message to Aztlan by Rodolfo Corky Gonzales, Occupied America: A History of Chicanos by Rodolfo Acuña, Pedagogy of the Oppressed by Paulo Friere, and Rethinking Columbus: The Next 500 Years by Bill Bigelow and Bob Peterson (eds.). According to the Los Angeles Times, students in a district that is predominantly Mexican-American can no longer receive dedicated classroom instruction in history, literature and culture from a Chicano perspective. Critical race theory, the principal topic of at least one of the textbooks sent off to storage in Tucson, is an investigation into the places where race, law and power converge to shape policies and practices in American society. But educators such as Mansfield Middle School teacher Rene Martinez cannot engage in an exploration of even a simplified version of its tenets to help his seventh and eighth graders understand some possible motivations for the government’s eradication of their lesson plans. “My students asked me, ‘Why are they getting rid of this class? Can you explain?’” Martinez told the LA Times. “We do our best to explain the history of the law, but it’s hard to comprehend how we’ve come to this point.”
Superintendent Huppenthal invoked Arizona statute HB 22812 to do away with the program. That law prohibits any lesson plans that:
1. ‑Promote the overthrow of the United States government
2. ‑Promote resentment toward a race or class of people
3. ‑Are designed primarily for pupils of a particular ethnic group
4. ‑Advocate ethnic solidarity instead of the treatment of pupils as individuals
The decision is left to the discretion of the state superintendent or board of education, and any school that doesn’t straighten up and fly right within 60 days of being told to pull the plug could lose as much as 10 percent of its monthly share of state money. Although Arizona paid $110,000 to an independent auditor to evaluate Tucson’s compliance with the statute and although auditors found no violation, Huppenthal ignored the results and pressed for suspension.
Huppenthal characterized the Mexican American Studies program as an “indoctrination” of Tucson students and claims the objectionable books “repeatedly reference white people as being oppressors.” Huppenthal’s predecessor, Republican Arizona Attorney General Tom Horne, who had complained that the lessons being taught were “anti-white,” according to the New York Times, derided them as “ethnic chauvinism” and a “radical separatist agenda” during an interview with Anderson Cooper3. According to Huppenthal, “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.” Instead of recommending an even broader curriculum as an alternative, Huppenthal’s solution to what he perceived as a problem was to bring the weight of the law to bear on the local schools by targeting any course material in which “race, ethnicity and oppression are central themes.” The scope of the state’s prohibition is so broad that even a work such as Shakespeare’s The Tempest could be caught up in its net.
According to Richard Martinez, an attorney for the teachers and students involved in Tucson’s Mexican American Studies program, the curriculum was developed and implemented more than 10 years ago and it has demonstrably enriched the education of Tucson’s students, more than 60 percent of whom are Latino. During an interview with Democracy Now!, Martinez said the suspension is the latest expression of “the anti-Latino perspective that exists in this state.”