Sunday, January 09, 2011

Rift in Arizona as Latino Class Is Found Illegal

In light of yesterday's events in Tucson, this article shows the dark and hate-filled sentiments that are permeating the state of Arizona, and our nation. Our thoughts and prayers go out to the Tucson community.


Published: January 7, 2011

TUCSON — The class began with a Mayan-inspired chant and a vigorous round of coordinated hand clapping. The classroom walls featured protest signs, including one that said “United Together in La Lucha!” — the struggle. Although open to any student at Tucson High Magnet School, nearly all of those attending Curtis Acosta’s Latino literature class on a recent morning were Mexican-American.

For all of that and more, Mr. Acosta’s class and others in the Tucson Unified School District’s Mexican-American program have been declared illegal by the State of Arizona — even while similar programs for black, Asian and American Indian students have been left untouched.

“It’s propagandizing and brainwashing that’s going on there,” Tom Horne, Arizona’s newly elected attorney general, said this week as he officially declared the program in violation of a state law that went into effect on Jan. 1.

Although Shakespeare’s “Tempest” was supposed to be the topic at hand, Mr. Acosta spent most of a recent class discussing the political storm in which he, his students and the entire district have become enmeshed. Mr. Horne’s name came up more than once, and not in a flattering light.

It was Mr. Horne, as the state’s superintendent of public instruction, who wrote a law aimed at challenging Tucson’s ethnic-studies program. The Legislature passed the measure last spring, and Gov. Jan Brewer signed it into law in May amid the fierce protests raging over the state’s immigration crackdown.

For the state, the issue is not so much “The Tempest” as some of the other texts used in the classes, among them, “The Pedagogy of the Oppressed” and “Occupied America,” which Mr. Horne said inappropriately teach Latino youths that they are being mistreated.

Teaching methods in the classes are sometimes unconventional, with instructors scrutinizing hip-hop lyrics and sprinkling their lessons with Spanish words.

The state, which includes some Mexican-American studies in its official curriculum, sees the classes as less about educating students than creating future activists.

In Mr. Acosta’s literature class, students were clearly concerned. They asked if their graduation was at risk. They asked if they were considered terrorists because Mr. Horne described them as wanting to topple the government. They asked how they could protest the decision.

Then, one young woman asked Mr. Acosta how he was holding up.

“They wrote a state law to snuff this program out, just us little Chicanitos,” he said, wiping away tears. “The idea of losing this is emotional.”

At a recent news conference, Mr. Horne took pains to describe his attack on Tucson’s Mexican-American studies program as one rooted in good faith. He said he had been studying Spanish for several years and had learned enough to read Mexican history books in Spanish and to give interviews on Univision and Telemundo, two Spanish-language broadcasters.

Asked whether he felt he was being likened to Bull Connor, the Alabama police commissioner who became a symbol of bigotry in the 1960s, Mr. Horne described how he had participated in the March on Washington in 1963 as a young high school graduate. He said of his critics: “They are the ‘Bull Connors.’ They are the ones resegregating.”

Mr. Horne’s battle with Tucson over ethnic studies dates to 2007, when Dolores Huerta, co-founder of the United Farm Workers, told high school students there in a speech that Republicans hated Latinos. Mr. Horne, a Republican, sent a top aide, Margaret Garcia Dugan, to the school to present a different perspective. He was infuriated when some students turned their backs and raised their fists in the air.

The Arizona law warns school districts that they stand to lose 10 percent of their state education funds if their ethnic-studies programs are found not to comply with new state standards. 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.

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