Tucson’s Sin of Scandal Failing Students
By Rodolfo F. Acuña -
Rough Draft, 01/13/2012
What is missing in the media’s coverage of the elimination of the Tucson Unified School District Mexican American Studies program is that students were learning and they wanted to go to school. I take this travesty personal. One of the reasons I have stayed in education for over fifty-five years is that I wanted to do something about the dropout problem. I always heeded John Dewey dicta that a student failure was that of the teacher. If students drop out then there is something wrong with the educational system.
Arizona education has many problems: taxpayers do not want to pay for schools and it is dead last in student per capita spending. White parents don’t want their children going to school with Latinos and blacks as well as other working class people, so charter schools have multiplied to “balance” student ethnicity by making it whiter.
Arizona has blatantly avoided federal court orders to desegregate: more than fifty years after Brown v. the Board of Education (1954), the TUSD is still under a federal court mandate to “balance” the schools. The federal government, meanwhile, has poured millions of dollars into Arizona to help pay for integration purposes.
The truth be told, there has been no improvement. The dropout problem remains over fifty percent. As part of an effort to correct imbalances, the federal court in its desegregation plan, included the MAS program, which federal government paid for.
Because I have been a highly successful educator, I have seen that building student identity ameliorates an inferiority complex ingrained by the educational process. Innumerable studies prove that an increase sense of self motivates students to better their skills and allows them to succeed in school.
The reason that I want to improve education is personal. I am not religious, but I always remember the nuns telling me when I saw a person less fortunate to say, “There for the grace of God go I.”
Although I could not do it, I appreciate the work of Fr. Greg Boyle and Homeboy Industries. It hurts me every time I see a gang kid because I realize that as a member of society I bear a responsibility for the outcome. My vocation differs Greg’s and I work with students by giving them an alternative to gangs when they are young. My feeling is every student that goes to college does not end up in a gang.
The TUSD MAS program was contributing to that end. Despite the racist lies of Arizona politicos it is a model to motivate students. And, despite the actions of the TUSD school board, other districts will emulate and study it.
My feelings about the people behind the destruction of the MAS program are that they have no redemption. They are no better than the members of the mafia who do not care about the outcome or hardships they cause as long as they make a profit.
Democracy has been dealt a blow. The actions of these racist has contributed to disillusionment among many students. They have brought about a loss of faith, which is always difficult whether it be in religion or politics. This loss leads to an emptiness and hopelessness. For instance, I know people who as a result of the pedophile scandals in the Catholic Church have not returned to mass.
In ending the MAS program, the state of Arizona has been complicit in condemning many Latino students to failure. Thomas de Aquinas defined scandal as a word or action that is intrinsically evil, and leads to the spiritual ruin of another person. You don’t necessarily have to physically cause someone’s sin, but only be the moral cause of the sin. A sin of scandal is not accidental but premeditated as in the case of Arizona elites.
From the top on down, Arizona officials know that their actions is causing many Latinos to be stigmatized. They know that they are contributing to their dropping out of school and they don’t care.
Mark Stegeman, Michael Hicks, Miguel Cuevas and the newly appointed Alexandre Sugiyama all know it. They are bought men who don’t care about the consequences as long as it fills their pockets.
For them, education is business and it doesn’t much matter if Mexican Americans get an education. As long as people hate Mexicans, it is easier to cash in on their lack of education.
It is a well-known fact that the Tea Party is not a populist movement. It is racist and driven by right wing funding that includes the Koch brothers who Mitt Romney says are the “financial engine of the Tea Party.”
Most Arizonans know the role of ALEC (the American Legislative Exchange Council). The People for the American Way Foundation and Common Cause have published a report documenting the fact that ALEC has inspired and written most anti- Latino and worker legislation in the state. It is at the forefront of anti-labor, anti-healthcare and anti-environmental. It is behind the privatization of schools and prisons.
Major corporations including Coca-Cola, Kraft, ExxonMobil and GlaxoSmithKline are key players in Arizona politics. Two dozen major corporations have sat on ALEC’s board which is insidiously called the “Private Enterprise Board.”
Well aware of the growing Latino population, it is to ALEC’s advantage to keep the state white and Mexicans disenfranchised. Thus, it has sponsored voter suppression bills that potentially disenfranchise tens of thousands of Arizonans.
The report identifies fifty Arizona state legislators who are current ALEC members. These bought politicos wrote and sponsored SB 1070, Arizona’s notorious immigration. It is no accident that privatized prisons are flush with immigrant detainees. Uneducated Mexican Americans also insure future inmate growth. Aside from money to run the prisons, prison labor is competing with free labor.
In Tucson, the Southern Arizona Leadership Council is an ALEC mini-me; an all-white country club whose members overlap with other heavy hitters locally, regionally and statewide. The TUSD superintendent of schools is a former SALC vice-president.
Recently, when Judy Burns, a supporter of the MAS program died, SALC engineered the appointment of Alexandre Sugiyama, a lecturer in Economics at the University of Arizona, to fill her seat. It accomplished its ends by stacking the selection committee.
Sugiyama was obviously selected because he is half Brazilian and half Japanese. He has no ties to the community; he is a lecturer with no publications, or knowledge or interest in education.
His student evaluations are low: “AVOID (reasons): 1. Resents his own job such that he's consistently 15 mins late to 1hr class…” Another “if you choose to take this class with this teacher you are in for a real treat. TORTURE. Sugiyama is such a horrid teacher it is unreal. Do yourself a favor and just say NO.”
As soon as Sugiyama was appointed, he voted with Stegeman and Hicks to replace Cuevas as chair and then with a 4-1 majority abolished MAS. Democracy in action.
Thus far, what is lost are the Latino students and no one gives a damn. Nobody cares if they end up in gangs, as long as they money for the elites -- that is what counts. Fear of ending up in a class with a Mexican will generate more Charter Schools and more dropouts will insure larger prison populations. Everyone makes money.
The disillusionment is not limited to Arizona politicos but includes the federal government. The federal courts have not enforced federal laws. The Obama administration is paralyzed furthering the feeling of abandonment and encouraging TUSD Tea Party Board member Hicks to go around saying that state law trumps federal law.
My mother would say about the gaggle in Tucson, no tienen madre. They are disrespectful; they don’t care about the law, or how many people are hurt by their actions.
I am not as nice as my mother was. I feel much like the people in the Boyle Heights area when the Night Stalker, Richard Ramírez, was terrorizing Los Angeles. They put out signs daring him to come East of the River, and then took care of him when he did.
Hopefully the Tea Party will come to L.A.