Arizona banned Mexican-American and Native American ethnic studies classes. The Tuscon Unified School District, after fighting it for a year, capitulated and shut down its ethnic studies program. The fallout is disturbing and evocative of Ray Bradbury's Fahrenheit 451: book banning on a potentially massive scale.
In May 2010 Arizona banned the teaching of ethnic studies in the state's public school classrooms, specifically targeting Mexican American and Native American studies. The new law forbid elementary and secondary schools to conduct classes "designed primarily for pupils of a particular ethnic group" or that advocated "the overthrow of the United States government" and "resentment toward a race or class of people."
Initially the Tucson Unified School District (TUSD), where the student population is more than 60% Hispanic, resisted closing down its large ethnic studies program. In 2011 the state brought in an outside auditor to assess TUSD's ethnic studies program. The auditor gave the program high marks and recommended it be continued. In late 2011 Arizona's state schools superintendent overturned the auditor's recommendation and announced he would cut off a portion of TUSD's state funding if it did not cancel the program. Three weeks ago, TUSD capitulated.
What, you ask, does this have to do with banning books? Everything, that's what.
Because now that ethnic studies classes are banned, so are the textbooks, essays, poems, and novels that were taught in those classes. Confiscated and boxed up right in front of humiliated teachers and students, then shipped back to the central textbook repository.
That these books will ultimately be banned not just from the now-defunct ethnic studies classes but from all classes is almost a foregone conclusion. They'll wind up being banned to all TUSD elementary and secondary school students. And it's only just begun. Check out this list of books reportedly removed, or about to be removed, from the shelves of TUSD schools. It's a list that'll surely grow in coming weeks, because how many school textbooks are there that don't address, at least to some degree, race, ethnicity, and oppression?
I can't prove it, but I suspect shutting down ethnic studies programs was merely a cover for banning books that encourage kids to think critically and question the party line, and that book banning was the real goal all along.
This is book banning on a colossal scale. Some of the banned authors are beginning to respond. Will the public? Will the courts? Will you?
The evening I wrote the first part of this diary, a TUSD spokesperson claimed the district had not banned any books. TUSD had only confiscated seven textbooks used in a few classes that had been cancelled, according to a prepared statement. Why, those same seven books are still being taught in other (non-ethnic studies) classes, and are freely available to students in school libraries. It’s much ado about nothing!
Some in the media took TUSD at its word and declared talk of book banning a false alarm. Others suspected TUSD was blowing smoke up the world’s butt.
I’m in the latter camp. Clearly TUSD’s intention is to keep students from reading, and teachers from instructing, certain books. The actions TUSD took to achieve that end are tantamount to book banning. As author Neil Gaiman says, “Every BannedBooksWeek there are people who claim books are never banned in the US. Sometimes they’re just put in boxes.”
The facts are not in dispute. TUSD administrators interrupted ethnic studies classes in progress and made teachers confiscate and box books and other teaching materials, right in front of their students. They told teachers to remove personally-owned copies of prohibited books (the ones they couldn’t legally seize) from offices and classrooms. The collected books were sent to a storage facility. Administrators told teachers they could no longer teach from or assign those books … or any books with themes of race, ethnicity, and oppression … and told them they’d be monitored to make sure they didn’t.
TUSD says other teachers (i.e., non-ethnic studies teachers) are free to instruct from, and assign, any of these books. Sure they are … if they don’t mind a mid-life career change. Everyone knows that in fact these books are now prohibited across the board, along with other books as yet undiscovered. TUSD president Mark Stegeman last week said this:
... I suspect that TUSD is using many books which were never legally approved, in many different courses, and we have to track those books down and either remove them or go through proper curriculum approvals. Staff has already begun that search process.
It’s important to point out that what Mr. Stegeman said isn’t confined to books used in the now-cancelled ethnic studies classes (because those books were already gone when he said it), but to books used in all classes taught within TUSD: literature, speech, social studies, history … what Mexican American and Native American students might now with total justification call White Studies classes.
This prohibition on books dealing with themes of race, ethnicity, and oppression is so open-ended, you could probably find an excuse to apply it to virtually any book used within TUSD. They haven’t found all the other textbooks and assigned reading books that talk about race, ethnicity, and oppression, but now that they’re looking for them, they will … and don’t you know it’ll turn out these as-yet unidentified books will not have been “legally approved.” These books too will be confiscated, boxed, and put in storage. Is that (gasp!) a copy of To Kill a Mockingbird? Oh, look, there’s a copy of Uncle Tom’s Cabin!
So what about TUSD’s claim that copies of seized books are still available to students in school libraries? Technically true, but as the Tucson Citizen points out,
In a district of more than 60,000 students, 61 percent of whom come from Mexican-American families, library copies of the targeted seven books appear to be sparse. There are two district-wide copies available of “Pedagogy of the Oppressed” by Brazilian educator Paolo Freire, which had been singled out by state superintendent Huppenthal.
The district’s online catalog showed only one copy of the Critical Race Theory textbook.
Tucson High School [the largest school within TUSD -- pw] does not have one of the 16 copies available in the district of the textbook “Rethinking Columbus: The Next Five Years,” according to the catalog.
So yeah, the books are "available." One or two copies will gather dust on a shelf somewhere, but with the classes that assigned the books cancelled, and all other teachers on notice they’ll be fired if they dare assign them, who’ll ever know they’re there?
Finally, the conservative press has made fun of book-banning alarmists’ claims that Shakespeare’s play The Tempest was on the list of allegedly-banned books. We never banned Shakespeare, protests TUSD! Well, let’s see about that:
… in a recorded meeting with his administrators last Wednesday, Tucson High School teacher Curtis Acosta was admonished not to teach the classic play in his literature class using the “nexus of race, class and oppression” or “issues of critical race theory.”
“What is very clear is that ’The Tempest’ is problematic for our administrators due to the content of the play and the pedagogical choices I have made,” Acosta said in an interview. “In other words, Shakespeare wrote a play that is clearly about colonization of the new world and there are strong themes of race, colonization, oppression, class and power that permeate the play, along with themes of love and redemption.
“At the end of the meeting it became clear to all of us that I need to avoid such literature and it was directly stated. Due to the madness of this situation and our fragile positions as instructors who will be frequently observed for compliance, and be asked to produce examples of student work as proof of our compliance, I cannot disagree with their advice. Now we are in the position of having to rule out ’The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn,’ ‘The Great Gatsby,’ etc. for the exact same reasons.”
Lest anyone doubt this whole exercise is rooted in racism, when students from TUSD’s Cholla High School recently walked out of classes
to march to TUSD headquarters in protest, they were met by a phalanx of administrators including Lupita Garcia (!), who told the students the reason Mexican American Studies is no longer being taught is because “this is America” and to go to Mexico to learn “Mexican history.” She then directed the protesting students to report to TUSD schools the following Saturday to make up for missed classes by performing janitorial duties
What, you think I’m kidding? Tom Horne, the former state schools superintendent who designed HB 2281, the law that banned Mexican American and Native American studies, views such classes as “civilizational war.” The histories of Mexican Americans and Native Americans, in his view, are not based on “Greco-Roman” knowledge and thus lie outside of Western civilization. When he introduced HB 2281 back in 2010, he also announced his intention to fire public school teachers with Mexican accents. The only thing that stopped him there was the threat of federal anti-discrimination action.
Arizona. Banner of books, racist meth lab, national and international laughingstock.