When this bill passed last week, I came upon a comment at the Arizona Daily Star that provided a great deal of insight into the background of this bill. I then asked the author of the comment, Clay Gibson aka cgibson to post a diary here on the topic.
This weekend, Clay registered to post this diary but was confronted with the new user one week probation period, and so he asked me to post this for him to keep it timely.
Below the fold is his diary in its entirety.
The views being expressed here are mostly based on fact, but I do not pretend to support House Bill 2281 in any sort of positive light.
After House Bill 2281 was passed on the House floor, before being transmitted to Governor Jan Brewer, I decided to investigate the struggle that the Department of Ethnic Studies in Tucson, AZ, had been facing for the past several years. In March of 2010, I conducted interviews with members of the Social Justice Education Project and Maria Federico-Brummer, a Mexican-American Studies Teacher at Tucson High. Many of my friends and mentors are students, volunteers, alumni, and teachers of the Mexican-American / Raza Studies program at Tucson High, where House Bill 2281 has targeted its attacks. I was born and raised in Tucson, Arizona and was a student at Tucson High between 2004-2007. I am a 20 year old student, currently pursuing my BFA in Art at the California Institute of the Arts in Valencia, California.
A Brief History: Tucson, Arizona
In 1969, students from Tucson High Magnet School, in solidarity with community members, began to demand a more equitable education for the youth of Tucson, Arizona. The group, calling themselves "Cormas," assembled walkouts at Tucson High, boycotting what they felt was an unjust education.¹ In 1974 Hispanic students and parents rallied together to file a lawsuit for the desegregation of public schools. "Roy and Josie Fisher, a black couple with students in the district, filed a similar lawsuit that year. Their suit, and that filed by Hispanic parents, eventually were put into one; and in 1978, U.S. District Judge William Frey issued the desegregation order." The movement for an ethnic studies department arose out of the desegregation order which "made specific faculty assignments in the 1970s and implemented three phases of student assignments to schools in the early1980s." Funding for desegregation initiatives in the Tucson Unified School District (TUSD) came from federal programs, until 1984-1985, when the funding was transfered to state taxes. ²
The demand for TUSD to establish and fund a centralized ethnic studies department continued into the 1980's and 1990's with the sustained activism of community members and current students. Finally in 1997, the Department of Ethnic Studies was established; and in July of 2004 the department accounted for Native American, African-American, Pan Asian, And Mexican-American / Raza Studies programs. As of 2004, the Department of Ethnic Studies, in association with the University of Arizona, was able to provide a comprehensive curriculum for three high schools and three middle schools. Chicano Literature, Social Justice, and American History : Mexican-American Perspective were among the many classes offered through Mexican-American / Raza Studies at Tucson High.
The drive to develop an ethnic studies department came out of the need to maintain a curriculum that was more reflective of the student population that was enrolled in its classes. It called for a curriculum that included the history of the community; taught by teachers who were of the students' own cultural background and whom possessed bilingual capabilities. Maria Federico-Brummer, a Mexican- American / Raza Studies teacher at Tucson High, explains that the material that is being taught is, "the history of youth fighting, not only for their right to an education, but also that [that education] is an equitable one and represents their cultural heritage. So what these classes hold on to, as a tradition, is the history of people sacrificing their lives for the right for these spaces to exist, which inspires the
[current] students to do the same." ³
In 2007 Dolores Huerta, an activist leader and close friend of Cesar Chavez, was asked through the Department of Ethnic Studies to give a speech at Tucson High. In her speech, Huerta made the statement that, "Republicans hate Latinos," which gained national media attention almost immediately. Most importantly, it caught the eye of Arizona's Republican Superintendent of Public Instruction, Tom Horne. Shortly after, Horne published "An Open Letter to the Citizens of Tucson," which opens with, "The TUSD Ethnic Studies Program Should Be Terminated." ⁴ Horne describes in the section entitled "Personal Observations," how Latina Republican Deputy, Margaret Garcia Dugan, appeared at Tucson High in order to refute Huerta's sweeping judgement. Horne mentions that a group of Raza Studies students rudely walked out during Dugan's speech when asked politely to remain seated. Horne goes on to say:
In hundreds of visits to schools, I've never seen students act rudely and in defiance of authority, except in this one unhappy case. I believe the students did not learn this rudeness at home, but from their Raza teachers. ⁴
In 2008 Senate Bill 1108 was proposed as a Homeland Security Bill that was composed of such vague propositions as to, "Develop, implement and maintain regional homeland security strategies." ⁷ The bill claimed to secure borders, but if passed it would deplete funding from all Arizona schools that implemented ethnic studies programs; including universities, community colleges, charter schools, etc. However, the bill was so broad that if passed it would not only cancel ethnic studies but a wide range of other academia and necessary school funding.⁷ At Tucson High, students and teachers assembled walkouts, reminiscent of those in 1969, and marched to city hall to protest. Luckily, the bill never left the Senate floor.
In June of 2009, Senate Bill 1069's purpose was to prohibit, "Arizona schools from instruction in ethnic studies aimed at a particular group or that advocate ethnic solidarity." ⁸ In response, community members and local groups including Capolitio Chicali, an indigeonous organization in the community, and a group called the Social Justice Education Project (SJEP) consisting of alumni and current students of the three high schools within the Department of Ethnic Studies and the University of Arizona; formed a protest. In the middle of the scorching June heat, the groups assembled and ran over one hundred miles, beginning at the TUSD Headquarters in Tucson and ending at the Arizona State Capitol building in Phoenix. As with SB 1108, this bill never left the Senate floor, but the powers that be were not satisfied.
On April 30th, 2010 House Bill 2281, written by Horne, was transmitted on to Arizona's Governor Jan Brewer to give the final vote on the bill after it passed the House with thirty-two votes "yes" and twenty-six votes "no." The bill prohibits any curriculum that, "Are designed primarily for pupils of a particular ethnic group, and advocate ethnic solidarity instead of the treatment of pupils as individuals." ⁵ However, Sean Arce, director of Mexican-American studies for TUSD affirms that the department does not exercise anything that the bill forbids. "While ethnic studies supporters said that the bill is too vague to apply to their program, Horne said that if it becomes law, and TUSD contests it, he will have a third party verify that it applies to the district's program." ⁶
HB 2281 states:
15-111. Declaration of policy
THE LEGISLATURE FINDS AND DECLARES THAT PUBLIC SCHOOL PUPILS SHOULD BE TAUGHT TO TREAT AND VALUE EACH OTHER AS INDIVIDUALS AND NOT BE TAUGHT TO RESENT OR HATE OTHER RACES OR CLASSES OF PEOPLE.
15-112. Prohibited courses and classes; enforcement
A. A SCHOOL DISTRICT OR CHARTER SCHOOL IN THIS STATE SHALL NOT INCLUDE IN ITS PROGRAM OF INSTRUCTION ANY COURSES OR CLASSES THAT INCLUDE ANY OF THE FOLLOWING:
- 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.
On May 12th, 2010 Brewer signed off on HB 2281.
Maria Federico-Brummer reflects on the harm this bill has caused to the
Ethnic Studies department,
On an emotional level, this is something that has been considered sacred to this community. Our elders that struggled for this space to exist are filled with an anger and a sadness because we continue to have individuals who don't understand what this space is about and don't understand that our educational system attempts to create a more accessible and more equitable
experience for our students. ³
HB 2281 declares that any school not in compliance with its ordinances will be given a 90 day warning by the ADE, the Auditor General, or the Attorney General. Following that 90 day period, if the school refuses to comply with the law, the state will withhold ten percent of funding from the school; therefore, forcing the school to close its doors to all classes in violation. According to Arizona Education Association and as of 2008, Arizona already ranked, "49th out of the 50 states in the amount spent per student." * The Tucson Unified School District is also facing the possibility of issuing approximately 102 pink slips to teachers if Proposition 100 is not passed on Tuesday, May 18th. ** Prop. 100 proposes create a 1% temporary tax increase, where two-thirds of revenues collected will be put towards K-12 public education. To make matters worse, the Arizona Department of Education has also informed schools that educators with accents will no longer be permitted to teach English classes.
Horne accuses the ethnic studies classes of marketing African-American studies for African-American students, Mexican-American studies for Mexican- American students and so on. Supporters of HB 2281 have easily accepted Horne's argument as fact; however the truth is that the ethnic studies classes are open to the whole school. The fact is that the majority of the student population in TUSD schools are Latino, so it would seem accurate that the majority of students in any class would be Latino. TUSD's Ethnic Studies programs are offered in cooperation with the district's Social Studies and English Writing requirements, and are provided along with traditional American History and English classes. The classes are chosen by the students and not presented as pre-requistites for the identifying racial group. The Ethnic Studies classes are open to all students, regardless of their ethnicity.
Horne builds his attack on the department for promoting "ethnic chauvinism," to, what he thinks, are classes of one singular race. "It is fundamentally wrong to divide students up according to their racial group, and teach them separately." ⁴ Horne's argument on racial segregation, however comprehensible, proves to be misguided and obsolete in congruence to the Ethnic Studies classes he targets. The segregation that Horne refers to may more appropriately be attributed to the 1890's case of Plessy vs. Ferguson under the educational law of "separate but equal." Therefore, by passing HB 2281, Horne has created the exact segregation that he attempted to abolish. Written all over this law is the disregard for how this bill would promote the same kind of discrimination it attempts to be rid of. It represents the lack of responsibility for the actions of those backing HB 2281.
What this law has done, among many other things, is to bring more clearly in to the public consciousness the idea of power and privilege. However, there have been many other instances of this throughout history that we could speak of, Horne and Brewer's decisions and ideas on these matters reflect a disregard for their position among a social hierarchy that puts them at an advantage.
Privilege is unearned entitlement and advantage, giving power to specific groups. This system of hierarchy works to benefit one group of people at the expense of another. The visible and invisible mechanisms of power and privilege ultimately sculpt today's society and influence a person's role and social status. Whether it is seen as an advantage or not, it is necessary to understand these power relationships affect each and every one of us in a negative way. And whether HB 2281 was passed or not, these matters would still affect us, but with the circumstances of HB 2281 it brings into light how effortless it was for this bill to be passed; and the effects that it will have on the community.
The history of America is the history of social hierarchies that disenfranchised countless minority groups in order for a small percentage to continue to benefit from their struggle. Dismembering the knowledge of those framings of America's society segregate minority groups from an accurate cultural heritage and perspective. The Ethnic Studies programs encourage multiple perspectives and the equality of voices being heard. Horne's philosophy, as he states in, "An Open Letter to the Citizens of Tucson," is that "people are individuals," and should be taught as such.⁴ The ethnic studies programs provide multiple perspectives so that the students may gather a well-rounded perspective and come to their own individual conclusions. Horne's philosophy seems to epitomize the Ethnic Studies programs, while his uneducated arguments backfire and exemplify what will occur if he does in fact, terminate the department.
Most of these students' parents and grandparents came to this country legally, because this is the land of opportunity... Those students should be taught that this is the land of opportunity, and that if they work hard they can achieve their goals. They should not be taught that they are oppressed. ⁴
It is not Horne's disregard for oppressive hierarchies that is the problem, but rather, it is his neglect for his own privilege and access to a history that may not be available to other groups. Horne speaks from a perspective where "working hard," brings success; however he does not account for his own unearned advantages from the racial group in which he socially belongs. Horne speaks of teaching oppression as if the teachers were to say, "You are not good enough." Fortunately, this is not the case. The teaching of social hierarchies in a classroom setting is not only relevant to an individual's identity development; but it is also extremely important in order to understand how to approach society and challenge unbalanced and unjust norms.
"...The problem is recognizing that the 'reality' of the oppressed, which has been concealed and forced into conformity by the
'reality of the dominant,' has such an unimaginably different face. It is difficult for people living the dominant reality to acknowledge that there is another reality not visible to them... Speaking of an official history means constructing a national past based on a single orthodoxy, suppressing the diversity and conflict that exists among people."
Adrian Lorenzi, a Caucasian alumni from the Tucson High Ethnic Studies program talks about how Chicano Literature impacted his identity and academic performance:
As far as my education goes, the Raza Studies classes I took had the most impact on my life of any class I've taken in college or high school to date. The most significant effect was probably in the way I perceive and think about race in both a societal and an individual context.
The importance of having classes like American History from the Mexican- American Perspective, for example, is that those voices were erased from the public records and previous mainstream history books; and any picture that doesn't take those voices into consideration is left incomplete.
The idea is this. A large group of people are stranded on an island; each one of them different from the next, with different backgrounds, stories, experiences, etc. They have gathered in the center of the island and plan to assemble a map of the island so that they may choose the most effective exit. They decide to each walk to opposite ends of the island and at the end of the day meet back at the center to recount each linear path so that they may get a better sense of the whole. They tell of significant obstacles they encountered along their paths and of their destinations; each person's account as imperative as the next. With the knowledge gathered from the multiple perspectives, the group is able to better understand the whole and to begin their departure. We cannot exist in multiple locations or observe through multiple perspectives at once, so we rely on living vicariously through another's expression of their experience. This is the power of multiple voices and perspectives.
The situation between the Mexican-American / Raza Studies program and Horne's HB 2281 represents the clash of hybrid cultural heritages with the larger American historical context. It brings up the question of who's voice represents the ever-diversifying nation that is America and how can we accurately portray its history? Horne attempts to understand equality and justice by arguing for equally diverse class populations, however by doing so Horne attempts to eliminate the voices of more than half of those diverse proportions. Horne's bill and philosophies are the result of a lack of understanding of larger systems of oppression that work to keep him in the position of power and removed from a place of solidarity and understanding. Therefore, his meager attempts at apprehension of multicultural representation in public education do not add up.
The Social Justice Education Project backs a program called the Youth Participation Action Research (YPAR) which encourages youth in low-income neighborhoods to speak from their experiences and to participate in positive changes happening in their neighborhoods. The youth are essential so that the changes being made reflect what they see and not what outsiders view as positive change. As an outsider, Horne views his actions as positive change in a community which he overlooks but is in no way a part of. It is up to the community, the youth, and those inside of the neighborhood of Ethnic Studies to speak out and produce the positive changes that they see necessary in order to rescue education.
Education is the property of no one, it belongs to the people as a whole. And if education is not given to the people, they will have to take it. - Che Guevara
¹ corma: figurative (embarazo) hindrance, obstacle
² Bustamante, Mary. "TUSD Desegregation: Mission Accomplished? Sides Hope to
Influence Judge." Tucson Citizen. 21 June 2005.
³ Federico-Brummer, Maria. Interview. 25 March, 2010.
⁴ Horne, Tom. "An Open Letter To the Citizens of Tucson." Letter. 11 June 2007. MS. State of Arizona, Department of Education, Phoenix, Arizona.
⁵ USA. Arizona State Legislature. House of Representatives. HB 2281 : Schools; Prohibited Courses; Discipline. By Steve Montenegro. Arizona State Legislature, 20 Jan. 2010. Web. 30 Apr. 2010.
⁶ Wallace, J.D. "Battle over Ethnic Studies Sends Students to the Streets." KOLD-TV. 7 May
- Web. 10 May 2010.
⁷ USA. Arizona State Legislature. State of Arizona Senate. SB 1108 : Arizona Revised
Statutes; relating to the homeland security advisory council. Arizona State Legislature 2008.
⁸ USA. House of Representatives, Arizona. SB 1069. Postsecondary Education Grants; Implementation. Sponsor: Senator Gray L. 2009.* Education Week's annual report, Quality Counts;
"Arizona expended $6232 per student which is $2741 below the national average expenditure of $8973 per student. Arizona would have to increase per pupil spending by 44% to move to an amount equal to the national average expenditure per student. The cost to move Arizona to the national average is estimated to exceed $2.7 billion. "
"The Tucson Unified School District has been losing 1,500 students annually for the last three years and is facing a deficit of as much as $45 million in the next school year. The amount will drop down to $17.3 million if the 1-cent-per-dollar state sales-tax increase is approved by voters on next Tuesday. "