Saturday, April 23, 2011

Ethnic Studies Resolution Hardly a Solution

Posted By on Sat, Apr 23, 2011 at 6:40 PM

It's hard to say what's going to happen at the Tucson Unified School District governing board meeting on Tuesday, April 26, regarding the future of TUSD’s ethnic-studies courses—particularly Mexican-American studies.

There's a 30-minute call to the audience at the meeting, which starts at 4 p.m. at 1010 E. 10th St. Here's the agenda: April_26_agenda.pdf.

If logic were brought into play, you'd think we'd be having a different discussion on Tuesday. But there's no logic when it comes to ethnic studies, only strange political maneuverings and opportunism—and the result is heartbreaking.

On Tuesday, TUSD board president Mark Stegeman will bring a resolution to change the existing ethnic-studies classes—currently available to students as requirement-fulfilling courses for English and history—into watered-down classes offered only as electives.

We have to think back to how all of this started, when then-Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Horne deemed ethnic studies un-American, Satan-worshiping liberal-brain washing, and on and on and on. Mind you, he never visited a Mexican-American studies classroom.

If Horne's concerns were real, he would have gone into those classrooms, but he never did. That's because the case against these classes has always been about political opportunism.

Because Stegeman is a Democrat, the Southern Arizona Unity Coalition’s Solomon Baldenegro Jr. sent e-mails and began a Facebook campaign asking people to call all TUSD governing board members and Democratic Party officials, asking them to pressure Stegeman to pull the resolution from Tuesday’s agenda. They are also sending out e-mails to board member Miguel Cuevas, considered the third vote needed to pass Stegeman’s resolution, with Stegeman and Michael Hicks being the other two probable votes.

This past year, TUSD ethnic-studies teachers and staffers asked the governing board and the TUSD administration to stand behind them and to challenge the law that makes ethnic-studies classes apparently illegal. When John Pedicone took over as TUSD superintendent, he promised to fight for ethnic studies, and in public, he acts as if this is what he’s doing.

In January, I met with Stegeman for a couple of hours, not for an interview, but for background information. During our conversation, he mentioned that the board wants to save ethnic studies, but the question kept coming up during executive-session meetings: How could TUSD explain the loss of $10 million if the state declares the district to be out of compliance with the law? How would the board ever recover in the eyes of an already disgruntled constituency? After all, that constituency hasn't supported the last few overdrive elections and remains distrustful of a district seen as bloated, admin-heavy and uncaring.

A couple of weeks ago, David Safier, an education-savvy contributor at Blog for Arizona, came out in support of ethnic studies and put it out there that Pedicone has bragged in private that he has three votes in his pocket. In our story this week, Pedicone denies any ill will toward the program.

(This week, Cuevas contacted me and MAS community advisory board co-chair Raul Aguirre to say he was misquoted in my story. I explained to Cuevas that I reviewed my notes, and I stand by the quotes.)

While Stegeman, Pedicone and the board's particular brand of "support" for ethnic studies often seems downright odd, the timing of this resolution from Stegeman is peculiar, too. The lawsuit filed last year by the 11 TUSD Mexican-American studies teachers only had its first day in court this week. Current state Superintendent of Public Instruction John Huppethal's audit of the classes won’t be completed until mid- to late-May.

Why can’t changes to Mexican-American studies, if any, be discussed after Huppenthal’s audit or after the lawsuit? Logically, it would make sense to wait.

Also, why isn’t Stegeman leading an ideological defense of ethnic studies? Why does it feel like there's a capitulation to the likes of Horne and Huppenthal?

Auggie Romero, who is responsible for putting together the Mexican-American studies program, told me the secret to MAS isn't just teaching students a bigger part of the story; it's also teaching them with love, compassion and an interest in everything about their students — their lives, their families and their dreams.

Rather than focusing on trying to figure out how to dilute what exists, why aren’t critics and the board thinking of ways to expand these concepts in classrooms and departments throughout the district? After all, MAS has been proven to work for students of all races as classes of academic substance. Here are some new statistics to chew on: AIMS_and_MAS.pdf.

But it isn't just Stegeman and two other TUSD board members who need to be convinced MAS is worth saving. There's a missing piece — you.

Miguel Ortega, a member of the MAS community advisory board, has explained that the greater community is the missing piece. Those who fought to have a program like University High School, those who came out to save schools from closing three years ago and helped begin projects like the Arizona Education Network, and those who say they care about public education and work to protect it—all of you should join the students, parents and teachers who've been showing up on their own to save these classes. They need you now.

Here's the resolution ethnic_studies_resolution.pdf. I also recommend Safier's post at Blog for Arizona here.

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