Last week important works of literature, history and philosophy by world-renowned writers and scholars such as Leslie Marmon Silko, Sherman Alexie, Ofelia Zepeda, Paulo Freire, Rodolfo Acuña, Carmen Tafolla and others were removed from classrooms and some libraries in the Tucson Unified School District (TUSD). The perspectives and insights about diverse ethnic, racial and gender communities contained in these works as well as the penetrating visions of human community they offer contribute in Arizona, as they do elsewhere, to cultivating in students appreciation for difference and diversity, knowledge of wide-ranging ideas and fearlessness in engaging with the ideas of others. The TUSD Board’s action in banning and removing these works, in contrast, promotes fear and suspicion about select ethnic and racial groups and fear of free and democratic discussion and debate. Such attitudes have no place in the public school system that serves ALL children.
The Tucson Unified School District in compliance with the State of Arizona Revised Statutes Sections 15-111 and 15-112 (formerly House Bill 2281 that was signed into law May 11, 2010) eliminated its Mexican American Studies (MAS) Program, resulting in the subsequent removal of textbooks and books on the MAS Program Reading List. Some of the banned and removed books are allowed in other classrooms, but not ethnic studies, making this a highly discriminatory action about who gets to teach. Why is a Mexican American Studies teacher prevented from teaching The Tempest but an English teacher is not? The removal of books amounts to censorship that undermines the United States’ commitment to democracy.
While the Board argues that the new legislation was intended to promote unity, the effect is to reject multiculturalism and pave a path back to Jim Crow practices of segregation and racism where the culture and values of ethnic groups go unrecognized in public education. Research has shown that multicultural education that addresses the history and identity of ethnic minorities in fact closes the achievement gap between white students and students of color.[i]
Mujeres Activas en Letras y Cambio Social (MALCS), a national professional association of Chicanas, Latinas, Native American and Indigenous women, calls on the Tucson Unified School District Board to reverse the decision to ban books from Tucson schools. MALCS encourages efforts to intervene through the use of non-violent tactics in order to guarantee democracy and freedom of expression. We appeal to all:
- To send letters and email messages supporting Arizona State Rep. Sally Gonzales’ HB 2654 that would repeal the ban on ethnic studies in Arizona: Sgonzales@azleg.gov
- Sign the petition on The National Black Education Agenda: http://signon.org/sign/repeal-the-arizona-governmen
- Work to pass resolutions in your associations and organizations opposing the elimination of ethnic studies and censorship of Latin@ faculty and students in Arizona
- Write to the Educational Opportunities Section of the U.S. Department of Civil Rights requesting that they investigate Arizona state superintendent of public instruction John Huppenthal, who has disregarded independent consultant reports on the value of the Mexican American Studies Program in Tucson. By e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org By telephone at (202) 514-4092 or 1-877-292-3804 (toll-free)
[i] University Relations and Marketing › News & Research Communications, “New Arizona Law Could Be Detrimental To Students, According To OSU Researchers,” 5-12-10 http://oregonstate.edu/ua/ncs/archives/2010/may/new-arizona-law-could-be-detrimental-students-according-osu-researchers