Thursday, May 17, 2012

TUSD Responds to Urrea, Urrea Responds

Posted By on Thu, May 17, 2012 at 9:28 AM

On May 4, acclaimed writer Luis Alberto Urrea—The Humingbird's Daughter, The Devil's Highway, and Queen of America—was on the PBS show Moyers and Company discussing the book banned that took place in the Tucson Unified School District when it dismantiled Mexican-American studies. Urrea has been a steadfast supporter of the program.

Of course, TUSD didn't agree with Urrea's continuing assessment of what took place in the district. This week, the Moyers show posted a statement from TUSD that you can read in its entirety here.

Statement from Tucson Unified School District:

The Arizona law that resulted in Tucson Unified School District discontinuing classes in Mexican American Studies has sparked an extremely difficult and hurtful time for our students, teachers, and community.

Author Luis Urrea’s false assertions that books have been banned by TUSD are damaging and are a part of a directed effort to discredit the district. No books have been banned by the district.

TUSD disagrees with the state’s assessment that its MAS classes violate the law, and had previously appealed a decision that ruled the classes out of compliance citing an independent audit that supported the district’s position.

Moyers also gave Urrea a chance to respond:

No pun intended, but you cannot put this story back in the box. We can argue semantics all day, but the facts stand: On orders from TUSD, books were taken out of student hands, placed in boxes, removed from a classroom — some to the basement, some to the library, the classes abruptly dismantled. TUSD’s assertion that the books were merely “collected” (boxed) does not change the fact that books were removed, classes cancelled, faculty dismissed. Newspeak does not alter reality.

I am sympathetic to TUSD’s response in this matter. Clearly, TUSD has lost control of this story as a simple Google search of “banned books, Tucson” shows. No matter their protestations, the public reaction remains the same. Because by any definition, for a school to take books away from a student is a banning. TUSD decided the literature was not worth whatever alleged threat the state may have imposed. Whether that makes TUSD cowardly is an issue for the local voters to decide. My issue is with declaring this literature unworthy of being taught — (one wonders why instead of taking away these books, they simply didn’t rename the “Mexican-American literature” classes as “American literature” classes, but that’s another topic).

Although it is true that the actual list of “officially banned” books was quite focused; everyone involved knows perfectly well that the galaxy of books I have mentioned magically vanished. The fact is: Seven books were specifically removed from the classrooms. Some were placed in libraries. Other books, including five of my titles, were listed in a state audit as being inappropriately taught in Mexican-American and Native-American literature classes. Those classes were abolished in January. Those books not allowed to be taught. Those students were left to ask why. We authors are demanding accountability.

This is deeply personal to me, and to all the other affected authors who have responded so emotionally and eloquently to this situation. It is not about our books or about our sales. It is not about politics. It is about the children. It is about education. Literacy is the very definition of education.

The real point is that ethnic studies is not anti-American but is in fact a gateway to American culture for disenfranchised populations who don’t always know how to access that culture. It is not about books, it is about books in brown hands. It’s interesting to me that TUSD’s statement addresses “efforts to close the achievement gap.” The irony is their own nationally recognized Mexican-American Studies program was ALREADY closing the achievement gap (according to test scores and college admissions data). And TUSD destroyed it.

It is my obligation as an educator, as a father, as an author, and as a patriotic American to address these issues. What is happening in Arizona is obvious to the world. And I thank Mr. Moyers for shining a light on it.

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