The case in question is about ‘the power to change oppression’ versus the ‘oppressive power over others.’ How does Mexican-American Studies, an inherently multicultural critical educational model that embraces empowerment through love, awareness, and respect for all cultures, get implemented at the K-12 level in Arizona, “a state inhospitable to Latino residents,” as reported by the Los Angeles Times. Moreover, how does Arizona state law nearly undermine federal law in a predominantly Mexican-American community by abolishing an effective and successful educational program? Ironically, the controversial program was created specifically with a pedagogical and theoretical framework designed to confront the problems of racism and socioeconomic oppression and to create stable social-educational identities and engaging learning communities. It becomes particularly problematic and ironic because Arizona (and the greater US southwest) is Mexico (historically)—what the US conquered post-Mexican-American War with the signing of the Treaty of Guadalupe-Hidalgo in 1848. In addition, the border culture is a hybrid culture comprised with culturally similar, but individually diverse people on both sides of the Mexic0-US border. I argue that the legal power of the courts and its legislative agency in the form of interest representation (of the majority-minority Mexican-American population) played a crucial role in the actual de jure implementation of Mexican-American Studies into the educational curriculum because of the 1978 Federal Mandate to desegregate Tucson Unified School District. Responding to the needs of the Mexican-American community, MAS is implemented to meet both the federal mandate and to satisfy the social, educational, and community needs of Mexican-American students and families.
Frankly, there is a neoliberal and neoconservative war on public education, and more broadly the public sector. In the broad battle in the public educational sector exists a connected front in the form of the P20K, English-Only and NCLB movements, and the related push to end ethnic studies is yet a new battle in this arena and is also a controversial topic in some multicultural and multilingual societies. In Arizona, there is a serious and multifaceted problem surrounding the nativist racism generally and the legality of Arizona discriminatory state laws pertaining to Mexican-Americans and to the banning of ethnic studies (Mexican-American Studies (MAS)) at Tucson Unified School District (TUSD), a district with a rich tradition of successful bidirectional bilingual education (IRDC). In addition, district officials and state political leaders contend that MAS’ educational curriculum and pedagogy is racist, ethnocentric, and insurrectionist. What is interesting about this case is how MAS got implemented in Arizona originally, and how despite federally mandated origins, the State of Arizona and TUSD persist with their crusade to end ethnic studies—almost successfully. The case crystallizes at several levels and various forms of agency are made evident. Interestingly, the MAS program was instituted due to a federal desegregation mandate to integrate students from a majority Latino community into the public education system, effectively aiming at balancing racial disparity in achievement and graduation. Somehow, the state of Arizona passed not one, but several state laws that are arguably either unconstitutional or contradictory to federal law or mandate, as in this specific case and the state legislation passed to ensure the complete demise of ethnic studies in public education. Nevertheless, oppositional actors involved using a narrative comprised of anti-Americanism, nativism, ethnocentrism, and codified xenophobic language to articulate an argument against MAS as promoting ethnic resentment (racial antagonism towards “other races”—other being white) and ethnic solidarity, social justice, and overthrow of the government. Some GOP TUSD School Board members have asserted that MAS is indoctrination, offering only one viewpoint not reflective of American exceptionalist history.
Further, stable identities directly affect motivation to learn and thus the potentiality for educational achievement. The case study examining the legal and political battle surrounding TUSD’s Mexican-American Studies program (which has consistently proven its effectiveness in yearly performance reports and creates stable identities in their pupils) serves as evidence for implementing a critical pedagogy (critical theory of education) in public education.
The main issues surrounding the problematic abolishing of Mexican-American Studies are directly tied to the actions from the court system because of an ongoing federal mandate to desegregate Tucson Unified School District. In short, TUSD has been under a federal desegregation order since 1978 that they have refused to comply with. The creation of the Mexican American Studies program is a direct result of that order’s legislative process over the last 30 years; subsequently, MAS in Tucson is a federally mandated program created by the courts in aimed at balancing racial disparity and funded by the local taxpayers.
As of December 2012, the demographics of the district were composed of: 62.4% Hispanic (of any race, primarily Mexican-American), 23.2% non-Hispanic Whites, 5.5% Black, 3.7% Native American, 2.4% Multi-racial, and 2.7% Asian, which relates to a total of 51,280 students. It follows that 31,976 were Hispanic (any race, primarily Mexican-American), 11910 non-Hispanic White, 2844 Black, 1913 Native-American, 1230 Multi-racial and 1407 Asian students. With this information, one would expect a curriculum that would somehow incorporate an accurate history of the Mexican-American experience and other minority groups without opposition. In Tucson, Arizona, that is exactly the opposite of what is—a 61% Mexican-American majority community, with a proven educational program, is being attacked legally and politically. As late as the 60s and 70s, deeply entrenched segregation plagued Tucson Unified School District. Therein lays the root of the problem of this case. The root of the desegregation dilemma in Tucson Unified lie in the past and posits how TUSD, which was a national model for desegregation prior to Brown v. Board of Education, become enmeshed in such racial and ethnic controversy? Moreover, how did it come under federal mandate to desegregate amidst charges that Mexican-American children were being given an inferior education (ironically that led the federal government to passage of federal funding for Bilingual Education as well)? Put into context, the campaign to end Mexican-American Studies, or ethnic studies more generally, reflects the political environment in Arizona—arguably inhospitable to Mexican-Americans as evidenced by the presence and anti-American\anti-immigration rhetoric reflected in the discourse of many leaders, most infamously, Sheriff Joe Arapaio among others.
MAS professors for me, give us a glimpse of mentorship and a side of academia not really seen elsewhere. Their consciousness of the historical experience of Chicana/o students and their experiences ascending through the academy create a unique space for teaching and learning where the relationship between professor and student is more equal. In MAS, the body of knowledge comes from our professors and Chicano scholarship, as well as the students and even the community. At times, most MAS professors allow us to call them by their first name. The classes and course content is not easy, rather it is very reading and writing intensive, due to the inherent nature of critical reflection and analysis. In transforming society, our professors motivate and mentor us through the graduate program and encourage regular meetings with them to demystify the professor-student relationship found in graduate school. Coming from political science and political philosophy, MAS opened my eyes and refined my views on things I either never knew or thought I knew all too well. It has broadened my horizons and prepared me in ways I never knew possibly—including creating a confidence I thought I had lost long ago, and reinforcing a strong pride for my culture and people. What is taught in traditional schools is basically a romanticized, abridged, edited, and glamourized version of Anglo, really Euro-American history; certain narratives are reproduced and ideologies repromulgated. MAS and ethnic studies offers an objective and inclusive view of history, society, and politics.
In perspective to race relations and racial justice, ethnic studies and Mexican-American Studies are key agents in fighting racist structures because these scholarly disciplines are themselves agential products of the Civil Rights eras. Ethnic studies arose out of the Civil Rights area, taking an interdisciplinary approach and emerging on several college campuses in the late 1960s and 1970s. Extending this to the Mexican-American ethnic group, the Chicano Movement and its activist scholars indigenously produced its own scholarship evolving between Raza Studies, Chicano Studies, Chicana/o Studies, and Mexican American Studies. Yet, RACISM IS NOT DYING. About 80-90% of all nonviolent drug crimes are by young black & Latino males, yet drug use & dealing is actually higher in the white community. It’s the New Jim Crow. After the great recession & foreclosure meltdown, most of the new homeless were disproportionately black & Latino. Prisons detain thousands of transnational migrant workers...for profit AND they predict building future prisons based in the standardized test scores of 3rd grade Latino & black boys. And, Ethnic studies is under attack nationwide, and now in Texas, eliminating the choice for people of color to take alternate US history courses in the ethnic studies disciplines. Racism is alive and we must actively fight it and not believe the myth of post racial America. MAS gives me the critical lens to analyze these pressing issues.
What’s more is the nature and history of American immigration and the multiculturalism, multingualism, and diversity that America is supposed to reflect. Euro-Americans were never a monolithic group, and neither has the thread of the fabric of American culture and history. MAS and ethnic studies incorporate critical theories of education which inherently reflect respect, diversity, and multiculturalism—awareness and equality of all races, not Brown or Black superiority. With so many different ethnic and national origin groups in the US, ethnic studies makes sense, especially in demographically minority-majority local districts and states. Targeting laws towards ethnic studies, specifically Chicano Studies, is targeting a specific racial subgroup—an ethnic group—within large multitude of American identities—not mention racist. Ethnic studies are rife in American history, but historically were Euro-American. If ethnic studies were to be integrated into the broad curriculum, then vestiges of racism and categorization analysis would dissipate. All students, including white students, benefit from these courses. These courses remind of the true history of America—the hardship, the struggles, the inhumanity, impunity, along with the great victories and advances. If we ignore the actuality of history, then we’re not teaching true history. The history of America is revolutionary—to seek relief from oppression from the British. The Civil Rights struggles made America better—ethnic studies make America better. Moreover, ethnic studies highlight the contributions of Chicanos, African Americans, Asian Americans, and other minorities to the building of this nation.
Multiculturalism and critical education can also break racial and ethnic societal divisions and allow for a multicultural/multiracial broad-based coalition or movement. Critical education infused with multiculturalism of the public masses like this will be conducive to stable identities, accurate understanding of the past, and will lead to better race/societal relations and socioeconomic advancement—greater achievement gaps and access to higher education for people of color, social mobility. Further, critical education will facilitate the transition in race relations to forge a successful multicultural/multiracial-class coalition and broad-based movement that on the macro scale fuses coalition/movement politics with electoral politics and syncretizes the processes and strategies of mobilization, organization, public education, where again the role of education both with the movement and within the academy are vital.
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