Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Who is Responsible for James Alex Fields, Jr.? by Angela Valenzuela

This piece, written by author, poet, and educator, Sara Holbrook, asks the right question regarding who is responsible for James Alex Fields' recent horrific actions in Charlottesville, Virginia, on August 12, 2017.  In ramming his car into a group of alt-right, neo-Nazi protesters, he killed Heather D. Heyer, 32, of Charlottesville and injured 19 others, several very seriously.

In reflecting on recent events in Charlottesville, Holbrook offers up James Alex Fields Jr., as the progeny of insufficient attention in curriculum and teaching in our nation's classrooms about "current events" or as a result of not having students research "the historical social structures that led us to where we are today" (see Holbrook's post below). 

I appreciate her reflection, but her statement, in my view, needs to get converted into a question and it needs to get anchored in a progressive movement for change, namely, the Ethnic Studies movement that has taken—or is beginning to take—root in states like Arizona, California, Texas, New Mexico, Oregon, Colorado, and Minnesota.

That said, I ask teachers, administrators, practitioners, and blog readers to please be aware of what is called the "white liberal dilemma."  This is where whites identify themselves as "the problem" and because they "caused it," they also think that "they're" the ones to "fix it."  Were it only so simple as a formula for getting us out of this morass.

This is indeed a "wake up" call to teachers as Holbrook suggests, but I ask whether teachers are even prepared to address such issues as white, ethno-nationalism, racism, prejudice, bigotry, and their institutionalized expressions competently even if they agree that this is what is needed?  And I'm not confident that we are anywhere near shared agreement on this anyway. Plenty of ignorance, implicit bias, and unresolved prejudices also abound. Plus, since no one is born with the ability to teach these themes in a thoughtful, reasoned, and ethically-grounded way, then let's go to the experts whose job it has been—and will continue to be—to labor in this area.

Even under the best conditions of a willing faculty, they are, as a whole, woefully ill-prepared and lacking in time due to the ways that our test-focused, de facto curriculum structures out all of the critical, higher-order-thinking course content that both students and teachers could be learning from.

Amazingly, nearly all of our nation's teachers have themselves been educated within public elementary, secondary, and higher education institutions that stubbornly reproduce current constellations of power centered on whiteness and white privilege despite plenty of rhetoric to the contrary.  This is evidenced through the systemic socialization of our youth into a monocultural, monolingual, and monochromatic thought-world that for children of color on the receiving end, both alienates and objectifies them.  It dismisses their languages, cultures, and community-based identities and reduces them to objects, with their value frequently amounting to little more than a number—a test score—on a piece of paper.

And what about not just what they want to be when they grow up, and what about who they want to be?  And remember that who they want to be comes straight out of the values of their experiences, communities, cultures, and sense of place in history, society, and the world.  What matters is not solely what we know or how highly we achieve in life. That's superficial and inauthentic.  What matters instead is whether this life has taught us to be caring, respectful, and to love the "most unloveable" among us.  It has taught us to live lives full of gratitude and to welcome "the stranger" among us. As teachers and professionals, we embrace the moral and ethical commitment "to do no harm."  It is to do what Creator, God, Dios, Allah, Jehova, Pachamama, requires of us, "To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God." (Micah 6:8)

Unfortunately, the opposite holds true in far too many quarters in our country.  We inhabit a world where folks are "othered," or treated as deficient, as "other."  They are oftentimes invisible.  Son los invisibles.  It matters not that their kinship structure and identities are deeply rooted to this continent or that they, as a people, can be a vehicle to the one of the world's most important languages spoken by a widely diverse people.  I refer here to the culture of an educational system that is so profound that "going charter" or "going private" won't fix—and may even exacerbate.

This is an educational system that routinely and casually "treats" them.  It "administers education" to them.  If they fail, it's their fault.  They are systematically "othered" into a "we-they" frame that privileges whiteness on the one hand, and constructs "the other's" difference as deficiency, on the other—and mostly unbeknownst to the perpetrators themselves.  A good education, a buena educación can fix this.  I tiny bit of awareness can un-do much harm.

Schooling itself becomes a patron-client relationship characteristic of colonialism in segregated contexts in the way that the late Berkeley professor and renowned anthropologist, Dr. John Ogbu, cogently captured in his classic ethnography, The Next Generation (Ogbu, 1974).  His work is widely used in schools of education like my own to capture the stuff of majority-minority relations in U.S. society.  These terms do not refer to numbers, but to power in society—specifically, cultural, economic, social, and political power.  Societies can have numerical or demographic majorities that nevertheless lack cultural, economic, social, and political power.  This is exactly the situation in which children of color—or minorities—are found not only today, but historically, as well.

While some of this "treatment" is overtly hostile in our education system, it is mostly covertly experienced.  As a minority, for example, one may not know the details, regarding why your school is segregated, underfunded, excessively test-focused, or why you are getting tracked into lower-level courses, but you do know that you're not getting the attention you need from teachers and that the expectations held toward you are low.  Not that the situation is any better, as a whole, for white children living in poverty, however the way that they experience all of this can be markedly different.  

White children and parents on the receiving end may feel exceedingly shortchanged as many minorities, but because they feel entitled to something better in U.S. society, working class resentment can result. Berkeley Sociologist Arlie Hoschild captures this well in her latest book, Strangers in Their Own Land: Anger and Mourning on the American Right.

Even if some positive change has occurred in the span of our relatively short history as a nation—including the presence of Hispanic-serving institutions (HSIs) and Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs), as a whole higher education is very conservative and white, meaning that they conserve white, middle- and upper-class, privilege and existing constellations of power in society.  The supposition on the right that our institutions are packed with "tenured radicals" is laughable and not even close.  

Although many are changing, including the University of Texas where I teach, universities as a whole, much like their K-12 counterparts, are assimilationist, conservative institutions.  This systemic bias explains why campaigns, policies, and officers for diversity and inclusion abound.

Instead of our teachers "calling out" injustice, oppression, inequality, racism, sexism, homophobia, and white supremacy as Holbrook suggests, they actually need to "teach it," and teach it well.  However lofty this goal, it cannot get accomplished without a deep, interdisciplinary subject-matter, knowledge of these things such as through the critical, historical content (like colonization, individualism, racialization, intersectionalities, white privilege, etc.) that an Ethnic Studies or Women and Gender Studies course or curriculum could provide.  

White Studies is itself a growing interdisciplinary field within Ethnic Studies that could be particularly illuminating, if not altogether transformative, on the very topics of whiteness, white privilege, ethnonationalism, and the myth of meritocracy, to name a few.  Yes, white (male and female) liberation is possible and, in fact, necessary in a complex, highly-diverse, racialized, interconnected world. 

Anything short of a critical curriculum like this at best, is tantamount to hang-wringing and a stoking of white, liberal guilt as if this were itself a pedagogy, policy, or panacea.  At worst, it becomes a "white liberal dilemma" that leads to, if not justifies, inaction.

Check out this story from one of Fields' former teachers to see how this young person idolized Hitler and Nazism.  What kind of curriculum can disrupt this? What kind of teacher preparation can help teachers anticipate this?  I have blogged amply about this and it is clear to me that while one can "stumble into" these critical frameworks within virtually any field or discipline in the humanities or social sciences, a matter of such importance that is currently tearing at the fabric of our country, should not be left to chance.

To help illustrate the difficulties and possibilities of white, male (and female) liberation from the perspective of a white, male teacher with a doctorate from the University of Southern California, here is a courageous, if painfully honest, story out of the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) that helps deliver the point that positionality or standpoint matter enormously in education.  These terms refer to how one positions oneself in society, as well as how to how others position you based not solely on how you "look," but also on how you "be," based on the particularities of your own biography and whether it is in any way close or proximate to the experiences of the children whose hearts and minds you desire to reach.

This LAUSD teacher wrongly thought that he had all the requisite skills, knowledge, and motivation to do a good job as a teacher in the inner-city school to which he was assigned.  Accordingly, he works very hard to understand why he's unable to connect to youth in his classroom.  Although personally vexing, he learns from the students themselves that his difficulties rest in the fact of his membership in the cultural, economic, social, and political group in power.  It inescapably impacts the teaching-learning relationship.  This observation is at the heart of my own work in Subtractive Schooling where I similarly observed this phenomenon in a three-year, ethnography of a Houston high school where most teachers were white while most students were mostly of Mexican origin.

In contrast, his students are members of subordinate groups that are frequently held in contempt and from whom little is expected.  This fosters a corrosive dynamic where their shared, collective experience of marginalization in the curriculum is invisible to him—and with great consequence (my paraphrase; you should read this unusually in-depth, article yourself).

Yes, white teachers do need to learn about the contributions of people color, but they also need research-based, frameworks and interdisciplinary perspectives that come out of race relations and inter-disciplinary scholarship with sociopolitical and sociocultural content and perspectives that are not only attentive to questions of power, but which also help us to see education as a colonizing institution, par excellence.  

Moreover, we should, as Paolo Freire, the great Brazilian educator advanced, put learning at the service of social justice.  Our classes can do this through service learning, problem-based learning and assessment, as well as through participatory action research.  My latest book, Growing Critically Conscious Teachers, provides a framework for how this may be done.

Through the lens of a test-focused, culturally chauvinistic, and linguistically eviscerating curriculum, the myth of white American exceptionalism, and thusly, (white) dominance, as a central motif, is pervasive in P-20 schooling.  Since it's the "air that we breathe," it can be hard to see—for minorities and majorities alike.

To take but one mere example, this motif finds expression in curricular policies like assimilation—operationally linked to how we structure, fund, and equip (or not) domestic and foreign language instruction in our schools.  For the most part, it occupies a subordinate role in the academy, and thusly, in our K-12 schools.  And when present as a focus, languages of power, rather than those that emanate from—and are historically and societally important to this continent—get taught.

To begin to re-shape Holbrook's analysis into a policy agenda, we must first recognize that the relationship between children of color and the schools is a coercive one.  Specifically, children are expected to assimilate to schools, while schools are not expected to assimilate to them. This is hardly a helpful premise on which to pursue an "inclusion" or "diversity" agenda.

For starters, our curriculum and teaching would need to interrogate the myth of American assimilation which assumes that all Americans begin as immigrant ethnics that need to "melt" into our country's alleged "melting pot." Many of us even have ancestors that never crossed the border; rather the border literally crossed us.

Even if young people do acculturate to the dominant language, values, and mores of this society, the assimilation framework itself is ahistorical and systematically fails to account for territorial minorities, indigeneity, colonization, and slavery and how these have created the situation of both "meltable" and "unmeltable ethnics" in U.S. society.  These include Latinos/as, African Americans, Puerto Ricans, Asian Americans, and American Indians who simply cannot "turn white."  Nor do they wish to, especially when biculturalism, bilingualism, and multiculturalism are viable options that at once enhance a sense of personal efficacy and help to make our country great. 

Whites and others do not lose from an expansion of minority rights, and they frequently benefit.  It's not whiteness, my friends, but diversity and multiculturalism together with a progressive agenda for change, that make us the envy of the world.

If we really want to move the needle away from the dangerous path that the alt-right is attempting to taking us down as a country, then let's continue to disavow this movement and reject the politics of hate.  However, let's also lend our support to Ethnic Studies, greater diversity, and our desperate need for a diverse teaching faculty at both K-12 and higher education levels that is also critically conscious in all these above-mentioned ways.

Critically conscious faculty will not solely equip all of our youth with the skills of civic engagement, but will also address the vacuum in white identity that is currently at play through a non-teaching of critical perspectives.  This is a de facto "policy decision," by the way, and it undergirds the systematic mis-education of all of our youth, particularly at the K-12 level where Ethnic Studies perspectives scarcely exist.

I am happy to say that the Austin Independent School District that represents my community is leading the way in the great state of Texas.  This fall, AISD will be offering ninth- and tenth-grade Ethnic Studies courses in 6 high schools and by Fall, 2018, in all high schools district wide.  There's also a nationwide movement about which I have also posted amply to this blog.

To do schooling differently, all of our youth should optimally receive Ethnic Studies courses throughout their schooling experience—at K-12 and higher education levels—so that they can efficaciously navigate difference and address inequality as responsible members of a polity in a democracy.  Plus, it correlates to higher academic achievement to boot—for both whites and students of color.

To conclude, Who is Responsible for James Alex Fields, Jr.?  Sadly, our systemic "color blindness" in the curriculum—which only sees in white—is responsible.  The absence of critical frameworks, critically conscious teachers, and teaching creates an opening for unstable, ideologically- and hate-driven youth like James Alex Fields, Jr., to bring great harm not only to society, but to themselves.


Angela Valenzuela

As Teachers, We Are Responsible For James Alex Fields Jr.

We own this man. He is our failure.

By  Sara Holbrook, Contributor

08/13/2017 11:24 am ET | Updated 12 hours ago

Handout . / Reuters
Friends, citizens, educators: we own this man.

The politicians who ran on American (read: white) exceptionalism and the people who voted for them ― and his kindergarten teacher, his granny and Mr. Rogers ― all told him he was special. And then failed to tell him he was no more special than the kids on either side of him.

Scarier still, we’re making new ones just like him every day. We need to stop saying that this cult of racism is in its final death throes. At 20 years old, this alleged murderer represents an up-and-coming generation of dangerous minds with superiority complexes. From their G.I. Joe lunch boxes to their light sabers, we encouraged and then chuckled at their acceptance of violence as a way to solve problems. We took them to movies with titles like “Avengers” and “Rambo” ― in which the hero is a homicidal white male. And now we are surprised when he aspired to that ideal and reportedly transformed himself into a killer?

Teachers, this is a call to action. What if we (gasp!) stop spending an entire year of social studies schooling on ancient worlds and use a little of that time to teach current events and have students research the historical social structures that led us to where we are today? Myth busters need to bust out of science class and start shaking up history class.

Current curriculums rely too heavily on literature classes to teach “diversity.” I’ve got another word for “diversity” ― it’s called reality. Using words like diversity and (worse) “tolerance” implies that racial and social homogeny was the norm and it’s changing. Homogeny was never the norm.

We need to teach about the dangers of worshiping the lifestyles of the rich and famous when many of those people are greedy psychopaths (or the offspring of greedy psychopaths), the entire Trump family being prime examples. We need to stop accepting plastic surgery as an ideal, in humans or in history.

We need to stop participating in aggressive conformity through shaming those who are genuinely trying to build bridges between races, genders, religions, etc. We need to stop sucking in our breath in the face of racist remarks because we are afraid of rocking the boat and instead ROCK THE BOAT without equivocating or worrying that we are mixing our metaphors.

This man is a hero to some. Due to the rule of law, his fate is sealed. We need to confront “the some” on every level.

We need to project the face of this man nationwide on terrestrial and internet billboards. James Alex Fields Jr., 20 years old ― loser. A failed human being.

Because we need to recognize he is our failure.

Sunday, August 13, 2017

What UVA did wrong when white supremacists came to campus by Shaun R. Harper and Charles H. F. Davis

I agree with yesterday's Los Angeles Times Opinion-Editorial by professors Shaun R. Harper and Charles H. F. Davis.  Specifically, they critique President Sullivan's NOT naming the problem for what it is.

I encourage you to read, "Charlottesville Was Not a “Protest Turned Violent,” It Was a Planned Race Riot.  Isn’t it time for the media to be honest and call white supremacists the domestic terrorists that they are?" by Zenobia Jeffries in YES! Magazine (August 12, 2017), who also doesn't mince her words on the matter.

Like Republican Corey Garner is doing (read story here), we must call out white supremacy for what it is in all its manifestations.  The events in Charlottesville are inescapably about racism and extreme-white politics and how hate-filled and lethal they are. 

When we consider that nationally, 83% of our college and university presidents are white, according to 2016 data from the American Council on Education, it is incumbent upon them to both anticipate and respond swiftly and boldly to racism and xenophobia—beginning by a naming it as such whenever and wherever it rears its ugly head.  Our universities should also focus on having diverse leadership and faculty.


What UVA did wrong when white supremacists came to campus, by Shaun R. Harper and Charles H. F. Davis

“White lives matter, you will not replace us,” chanted white nationalists as they marched through the University of Virginia campus in Charlottesville, Va., with tiki torches Friday night. On Saturday, Ku Klux Klan members and others displaying Confederate flags, swastikas and an array of hate symbols gathered for a rally in Emancipation Park in that small, majority-white college town.

In a four-sentence statement on the university’s website, UVA President Teresa A. Sullivan deemed the campus march “intolerable” and “entirely inconsistent with the university’s values.” Sullivan also added that she was “deeply saddened and disturbed by the hateful behavior displayed by torch-bearing protesters that marched on our grounds this evening.”

But Sullivan’s message, and subsequent university postings Saturday, failed to explicitly name white supremacy as the motive of the protesters and made no mention of race. We suspect that many black parents who are about to drop their 17- and 18-year-olds off for move-in day and the fall term at UVA in the next week are worried. They have heard nothing from campus leadership that is likely to assure them that UVA is firmly committed to addressing racism when it occurs on and around campus.

The posted statements don’t say that the “hateful behavior” of the “Unite the Right” marchers targeted people of color. When black freshmen at the University of Pennsylvania received messages containing racial slurs and threats of lynching last November, Penn’s President Amy Gutmann and other administrators repeatedly called these acts racist and acknowledged that black students were victims of the digital attacks. Higher education leaders must explicitly and specifically denounce racism as alt-right and other white nationalist groups bring hate to campus.

The UVA statements do nothing to debunk Ku Klux Klan members’ and others’ claims about the status of white people. By far, whites make up the largest racial group at UVA, campus statistics show. There were 13,098 white students during the 2016-17 academic school year, compared with 1,323 blacks and 1,285 Latinos. Furthermore, last year only 87 of the university’s 2,754 faculty members were black. White men made up 49.1% of the faculty. These numbers make clear that white lives, especially white men’s lives, do in fact matter at UVA and in Charlottesville, and are in no danger of being replaced. The university must deploy these facts against the alt-right’s erroneous assertions.

In moments of racial crisis, students and faculty — especially people of color — look to senior administrators for guidance and reassurance. They expect courageous leadership and the responsible use of evidence. Mishandling these situations in raceless ways does nothing to confirm, for instance, that black lives matter. It signals to students and faculty that their university is either too unaware, too afraid or insufficiently skilled to talk about racism, let alone to address it. According to 2016 data from the American Council on Education, 83% of college and university presidents in our nation are white. Campus chief executives, including those who are people of color, join white nationalists in preserving and exacerbating white supremacy when they neglect to name and boldly counter racism.

Shaun R. Harper and Charles H. F. Davis III are professors at USC’s Rossier School of Education. They lead the USC Race and Equity Center.

Friday, August 11, 2017


The Reality Check: BRACEROS ORGANIZE AFTER ONE WORKER DIES: BRACEROS ORGANIZE AFTER ONE WORKER DIES By David Bacon The American Prospect, 8/8/17 http://prospect.org/ Picking blueberries on a W...

Wednesday, August 09, 2017

A Judge Is About To Rule Whether Banning Mexican-American Studies Is Constitutional

Excellent update by journalist, Roque Planas, on the Mexican American Studies court case in the Tucson Unified School District in Arizona.  Yes, the judge will rule soon.  

There is a fundamental misunderstanding among Arizona leadership of what "La Raza" means.  It does not mean race, but "people," or "the people."  Race relations scholarship clarifies that all groups, by definition, are ethnocentric.  "Ethnos" is a Greek term for "people."  "Ethnology" is the study of people and how their characteristics are distinct and overlap.

Donald Noel is a sociologist who posits, based on his own scholarship, that the problem is not ethnocentrism itself—since all groups are, by nature, ethnocentric. Instead, the problem is extreme ethnocentrism.  That is not what we are seeing in TUSD's Mexican American Studies curriculum Arizona even if they have previously used "Raza Studies" as a self identifier.

Instead it was a well conceived, college-preparatory, compassionate pedagogy that served those children and youth well—and to which all the available evidence squarely points (see previous blog posts on this).  I should know.  I was an expert witness in the case.  

It is tragic that the state ended an excellent program that was graduating students and sending them on to college in record numbers.

At the end of the day, officials'—as well as official—action was caught up with a decision to not empower them—and in fact, to disempower them by dismantling the program.  Shameful and sad.  

I am hopeful that Justice Tashima rules on the side of justice—which includes the right to live in an open society where all of our communities can be free to study "the American experience," if you will.

Do read this excellent piece for an update on the MAS Trial.  And thank you, Roque Planas, for doing your due diligence as a conscientious and honest journalist.

Angela Valenzuela

08/08/2017 05:46 am ET | Updated 15 hours ago
Arizona Republicans accused teachers of stoking racial discord. But the law they passed in response may violate the Constitution.

A lawyer for the state of Arizona repeatedly asked Sean Arce, the former director of Tucson’s Mexican-American studies program, who the “oppressors” are.  
TUCSON, Ariz. ― When Sean Arce, former director of Tucson’s banned Mexican-American studies program, took the witness stand in June, the state attorney’s line of questioning betrayed a clear agenda: She wanted to get Arce to describe white people as “oppressors.”
Despite repeated prodding, Arce offered a more subtle explanation of his views. “If you look at the disparities that exist within our society, if you look at prison rates ― if we look at a number of indicators, you see that there is, in fact, a dominant society and a subordinate society and you see that folks are marginalized,” the high school social studies teacher testified. “I am speaking of systems of racism and systems of oppression.”  
The 47-year-old educator was testifying on the fourth day of a trial that concluded last month ― and that will soon decide whether Republican state officials violated students’ constitutional rights when they torpedoed Tucson’s unique ethnic studies program in 2012.
Arce and a group of likeminded teachers in the Tucson Unified School District banded together in the 1990s to create a Mexican-American studies program that aimed to narrow the wide achievement gap between white students and the Hispanic students who constitute the district’s majority.
“Their self-esteem was really low,” Curtis Acosta, another former teacher, testified of his Hispanic students. “We wanted to work on that self-image while giving them an academic foundation.” 
Some of the programs’ teaching methods were commonsense. They taught books by Hispanic authors that students were rarely exposed to otherwise, and they studied overlooked episodes of Latino history in the United States.
Other methods were less conventional. The teachers believed that mending their students’ fractured relationship with school meant boosting their confidence and helping them find inspiration in their culture, which the traditional curriculum had largely ignored. Some teachers began class with the “unity clap” ― a nod to the United Farm Workers movement ― or recited “In Lak’ Kech,” a bilingual poem inspired by Mayan teachings, in unison. The curriculum often homed in on the most contentious issues that students in the largely Hispanic district were facing, like illegal immigration and racial inequality. At its peak, the program served 1,200 students, from kindergarten through high school.
Arizona’s Republican-dominated legislature, however, viewed the classes as an example of thinly veiled left-wing indoctrination that used discussions about “oppression” to breed resentment against whites.
In 2010, the legislature passed a four-part law forbidding any public school classes designed for a specific ethnicity or promoting “the overthrow of the United States government,” “resentment toward a race or class of people,” or “ethnic solidarity” instead of “the treatment of pupils as individuals.” Then-state Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Horne and then-State Sen. John Huppenthal, both Republicans, crafted the bill to outlaw the Mexican-American studies classes specifically.
In 2011, Huppenthal took Horne’s place as state superintendent of public instruction and issued an order finding Tucson’s program in violation of the law he’d helped pass the prior year. To avoid losing state funding, the Tucson school board voted 4-1 to dismantle the classes in January 2012.
Students and parents in the district filed a lawsuit to overturn the state’s restrictions, accusing Arizona officials of passing and implementing the law with the goal of discriminating against Hispanics. The lawsuit argues that the ethnic studies law violates the 14th Amendment’s guarantee to equal protection before the law and students’ First Amendment right to receive information freely.
While Arizona Republicans accused the teachers of indoctrinating students, the state’s defense of its ethnic studies law was also largely ideological. Rob Ellman, one of the lawyers representing Arizona, accused the teachers of using “inflammatory materials” to “portray America as a racist society” ― and argued that it was well within lawmakers’ purview to ban such a program.
“If you characterize the relationship as Hispanics being oppressed and whites being oppressors, I think that’s of grave concern to any policymaker,” Huppenthal said.
One thing is clear: When U.S. District Court Judge A. Wallace Tashima rules on the case some time in the coming weeks, he will set a precedent for how far legislators are allowed to go when pushing their political views into the classroom.
Nixing Talk of “Oppression” 
The argument that the Mexican-American studies program taught students to despise whites formed the crux of Arizona’s defense during the two-week bench trial, leading to the contentious line of questioning about who Arce thinks the “oppressors” are.
It was a bizarre interaction. People of Hispanic heritage can belong to any racial group, and Arce’s daughter Maya Arce, a 19-year-old university student who also appeared as a witness against the state’s ban, is both Mexican-American and light-skinned. The state seemed to be arguing that Arce would devote his professional life to sowing resentment against a group of people that might include his own immediate family.
Acosta testified that maligning white people would offend him personally because he is himself biracial, and loves his Anglo mother. Sally Rusk ― one of the program’s former teachers, who watched the trial from the audience ― is a white woman with no Hispanic ancestry.
Lacking direct evidence that the teachers railed against whites in the classroom, the state of Arizona then sought to prove that the curriculum itself was overtly racist and politically biased.
Huppenthal testified that discussions of “oppression” have no place in classrooms if they delve too far into the subject of the privileged place of white Americans or the marginalized place of Hispanics in the United States. Doing so, he argued, would only undermine students’ ability to succeed in life.
“The idea that you have oppression taking place in society, I thought that was a dominant idea of the classes,” Huppenthal testified. “I thought that was an unhealthy idea.”
Yet the program’s outcomes appeared to show that teachers were successfully narrowing the achievement gap. Students who took the elective classes graduated at higher rates and scored higher on state tests than their peers, according to studies led by University of Arizona education professor Nolan Cabrera, who testified as an expert witness during trial. They even performed better on math tests, a subject the Mexican-American studies program didn’t cover at all. This unforeseen result may indicate that students’ attitudes toward education improved overall because of the program, Cabrera said.
The state’s defense made clear that officials’ criticism of the Mexican-American studies program hinged more on ideology than pedagogy.
Horne, Huppenthal’s predecessor as head of Arizona schools, first launched the state’s battle against ethnic studies in 2006, after civil rights leader Dolores Huerta said “Republicans hate Latinos” in a speech at a Tucson high school while referring to the toxic immigration debate. Horne testified that he had crafted the 2010 law to ban all ethnic studies from the state, based on his personal belief that they fostered separatism.
“Philosophically, I disagreed with dividing students up by race,” Horne said on the stand.
And the officials who spearheaded the passage of the ethnic studies law both testified that they had never witnessed a single class. Horne based his assessment largely on complaintsfrom two Tucson teachers outside the program ― Jon Ward and Hector Ayala ― who accused the Mexican-American studies teachers of politicizing the classroom, using racially charged language and making white students feel out of place. (Neither Ward nor Ayala testified at trial.)
Horne said on the stand that he’d made of a point of not visiting the classes, arguing that teachers would mask their alleged racial and political agendas in the presence of a state official. Instead, he said he offered to videotape the classes at the expense of the state. The school district declined.
Huppenthal met with students in Acosta’s high school Latino literature class for a discussion once in the spring of 2010, when he was serving as a state senator. On the witness stand, Huppenthal described Acosta as an effective teacher, admired by his students. He also praised Acosta’s well-groomed appearance and neatly pressed shirt.
But Huppenthal testified that he walked away from the visit concerned about the poster of Argentine revolutionary Ernesto “Che” Guevara on Acosta’s classroom wall. (Acosta said he put it up at the request of a student.) And Huppenthal said he was disturbed when one of the program’s administrators described Benjamin Franklin as a “racist.” In 2011, he signed the order finding the Tucson classes in violation of the ethnic studies law he helped pass the year before. 
Arizona’s attorneys often focused on passages from the program’s textbooks they viewed as inflammatory, emphasizing Brazilian educator Paulo Freire’s Pedagogy of the Oppressed.They described Freire as a Marxist, intimating that such writings were unsuitable for a classroom ― despite the fact that the book is widely studied in American universities. The Tucson school board approved it for classroom use in 2013, after the Mexican-American studies program was dismantled, without complaint from the state.
Huppenthal said he viewed the book as emblematic of an “oppressor-versus-oppressed” framework that would teach Hispanics to resent white people. When a plaintiffs’ lawyer asked him to describe the parts of the book he found troubling, Huppenthal told the court: “Well, it’s hard to get past the name.”
Former Superintendent of Public Instruction John Huppenthal testified that he opposed what he viewed as an “oppressed-versus-oppressor framework” that would undermine Hispanic student achievement.  
Horne echoed that sentiment in disputing the educational value of Rodolfo Acuña’s classic Chicano history, Occupied America. “The mere title shows what kind of propaganda it is,” he said. “I read it and I was shocked by it.”  
The state often objected to specific terms in course texts as well, like “Aztlán,” a Mexica word used to describe the area known today as the U.S. Southwest. Horne testified that he suspected the term implied a desire to reconquer that territory on behalf of Mexico. “They keep referring to the ‘artificial’ borders, which are the borders of the United States,” Horne said.
Former Republican officials fixated in particular on the term “la raza,” which was once part of the curriculum’s title. The Spanish word can literally be translated as “the race” or “the breed.” But Mexican-Americans in the Southwest use “la raza” to refer to the mixed-race people of Mexico and Central America, a usage Mexican philosopher José Vasconcelos coined in the years after the Mexican revolution. He envisioned a “cosmic race” ― “la raza cósmica” ― would emerge from the racial mixing of European, indigenous and other peoples in Mexico. Chicano activists adopted the term during the civil rights era to describe Mexican-Americans living in the United States.
When Acosta tried to explain on the stand that the teachers used the term “la raza” as roughly equivalent to “Latino” or “Hispanic,” Arizona’s lawyers objected, arguing he wasn’t qualified to give expert linguistic testimony. Judge Tashima sustained the objection.
But both Huppenthal and Horne testified at length that they viewed the term “la raza” as a racist affront to whites. Huppenthal stood by his 2010 campaign vow to “stop la raza.” Horne described any other interpretation as preposterous, pointing out that the civil rights group National Council of La Raza had just weeks before his testimony changed its name to“UnidosUS.”
“‘La Raza’ means ‘the race,’” Horne said. “When they say it doesn’t mean ‘the race,’ it means ‘the people,’ they’re being deceptive. The people is the ‘gente.’”
Proving ‘Racial Animus’
Judge Tashima has considered the ethnic studies law before. In a summary judgment in 2013, he invalidated the section of Arizona’s law forbidding classes aimed only at a specific ethnicity. A three-judge panel of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld that part of his decision in 2014, but ordered Tashima to hold a trial because there may have been evidence that Arizona officials discriminated against Hispanics when they passed and implemented the law.
Proving that elected officials passed a law with racist intent ― “racial animus,” in legal jargon ― is difficult in a world where politicians rarely use ethnic epithets and are sensitive to allegations of racism. But Huppenthal gave the students’ lawyers an unusual gift in this case: When he was up for re-election as the head of the Arizona Department of Education in 2014, local media discovered that Huppenthal had made a string of racially charged and often offensive blog comments over the last four years.
Using the names “Thucydides” and “Falcon9,” Huppenthal had called for the end of all Spanish-language media ― except for some words on Mexican restaurant menus ― and compared the Mexican-American studies teachers to the Ku Klux Klan. He cried at a press conference after the local media exposed him, saying he “renounced and repudiated” his insulting commentary. The incident played a role in the failure of his re-election bid.
But on the stand this year, Huppenthal recanted his apology, arguing that the comments he’d made were racially neutral, if indelicately phrased. Rather than showing racial animus, he said, his comments reflected a desire to help Mexican-American students excel in school by learning fluent English.
Huppenthal emphasized that he grew up in majority-Hispanic south Tucson and retains Latino friends from those years. He testified that after losing his re-election bid, he dedicated his time to teaching math to Hispanic students.
Horne, for his part, described his life as a “crusade against racism,” saying that he’d attended Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech in person and that he reads Mexican history books in Spanish in his free time.
But the students’ lawyers don’t have to show that Horne or Huppenthal are raging racists to clear the legal bar for proving racial animus. The U.S. Supreme Court set the legal standard for proving racial animus in Arlington Heights vs. Metropolitan Housing Corporation, a 1977 ruling that found it’s enough to show that officials’ actions disproportionately affected a specific group, fit into a larger pattern of targeting that group, and that officials took unusual measures to get the law passed.
So far, Arizona’s ethnic studies law has only shut down the Mexican-American studies program in Tucson ― though Horne testified that he hoped his law would eventually ban all ethnic studies classes from public schools.
The plaintiffs’ lawyers appeared to have less success in convincing Tashima that the law was part of a broader legislative trend that targeted mostly Hispanics. The lawyers pointed out that Arizona’s ethnic studies law was passed the same year as S.B. 1070, the state’s immigration crackdown that the Supreme Court later gutted. But Tashima sought to keep the trial focused on educational issues, rather than immigration laws.
The question of whether Republican officials strayed from normal procedures in banning the Mexican-American studies classes was less cut and dry. Lawyers for the state argued that nothing about the legislative process was unusual. Horne had written a law with the hope of banning ethnic studies across Arizona, submitted it to the Republican-majority legislature, and lawmakers voted to pass it.
But lawyers for the students noted that Arizona already had a law on the books restricting partisan materials in classes. If state officials objected to the books in Tucson’s classrooms, they could have lodged complaints without banning the program altogether. “They passed, enacted and enforced a law they didn’t need,” argued Steven Reiss, one of six lawyers representing the students, on the last day of trial.
Even if the students’ challenge is successful, it’s unclear whether the prohibited curriculum will resurface in Tucson. Some of the teachers who started the program have since left the district. Others lost their jobs, went on to teach different subjects, or tried to salvage the work they started by joining a “Culturally Relevant Curriculum” program that Tucson created to replace Mexican-American studies.
But in the wake of the nearly decade-long battle over the unique Tucson program, ethnic studies courses have spread across the United States, largely as a response to the controversy in Arizona. Several districts in California implemented elective ethnic studies classes ― including the state’s largest ones in Los Angeles and San Francisco ― and theCalifornia legislature voted to create a model course so all schools can have access.Individual schools in Texas are adopting Mexican-American studies courses inspired by the Tucson curriculum, with the blessing (but not funding) of the State Board of Education. Indiana passed a state law in May requiring public schools to offer elective ethnic studiesclasses once a year.
The Tucson school board dismissed Arce in 2012 after shuttering the program he directed. He now works in Azusa, California, where he teaches classes similar to the ones Arizona banned. Officials in California have sought Arce’s input for its model ethnic studies course. Other educators routinely ask him to share the material from the defunct Tucson courses so they can replicate it.
“That’s probably the most lasting thing from this whole legal struggle ― people have become aware of this issue. We’ve formed all these relationships. People see real promise,” Arce told HuffPost after the trial. “It happened as a direct result of what transpired in Arizona.”
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