Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Escape Goat Pt. II: Here's Part of the Reasons Why TUSD Told Corey Jones to Stop Teaching at Cholla

Posted By on Wed, May 13, 2015 at 2:30 PM

The day after we published the article Escape Goat—where former Cholla High culturally relevant educator Corey Jones offers his insight on the significant CR curriculum, classroom and attitude changes he witnessed during the Arizona Department of Education/TUSD anti-Mexican-American studies law ordeal—the district sent us some documents pertaining to an investigation TUSD conducted into Jones and the events that led to Jones' removal from the classroom. 

The first is a letter dated Feb. 23 from Cholla principal Frank Armenta to Jones (the other two are summaries of the district's investigation and findings), where Armenta explains the reasons for assigning Jones home.

It begins like this: After Jones was told to leave the school on Monday, Feb. 9 (not Friday, Feb. 6 as I wrote in the article), the students in his second period "U.S. history from a Mexican-American perspective" class were interviewed, as the district and school were trying to figure out what had been happening inside those walls, since the notice of noncompliance arose. 

"The purpose...was to gain clarity on the following: What you informed the students regarding directions on how you were to deliver the CRC course content; if students were walking out of your class; and if students were possibly walking off campus to district offices," the letter says. (The day ADE representatives were supposed to visit Jones' class, he says students planned to walk out as a form of protest.)

Then, there is a chunk of "complaints" and "concerns" regarding Jones' "conduct and actions." Among the list are allegations that Jones did not provide accurate information about the CR curriculum's status to his students (such as changes in the reading list and the freedom of bringing in additional resources), and that he told students and parents he was instructed to stick to the textbook "The American Vision" and other material attached to that book (I will get to that later).
Those statements stroll into accusing Jones of creating "an environment where students believed that the U.S. CRC course and (Jones') teaching were under attack by the district and the Arizona Department of Education." 

"According to the district (John Huppenthal's notice of noncompliance) was not attacking the classes, that the ADE was not  attacking the (culturally relevant curriculum)...the students were fully aware of it, I had a handful of former MAS students in my class...(who were) MAS students while in middle school, and they were saying, 'This is the same... they are attacking it again,'" Jones says. "But according to the district, I was the sole individual responsible for creating this environment."

Jones says a week after Huppenthal submitted the letter, CRC director Lorenzo Lopez visited his classroom and made an announcement: "'These classes are under attack by the state. They are trying to take them away,'" Jones remembers Lopez saying. "And this is the same Mr. Lopez who conducted interviews with my students that is going to conclude that I was the one who created that environment. The same individuals in power are the ones investigating themselves."

Back to the classroom materials. In the article, Jones says readings of Paulo Freire's "Pedagogy of the Oppressed," Rodolfo Acuña's "Occupied America," and Howard Zinn's "A People's History of the United States," moved down the list of priorities, and the book "The American Vision" moved in as primary. The students noticed the changes, and this is when a few of them began to leave Jones' class and headed to the library or elsewhere to read or work on assignments. The district says that Jones' decision to inform his students of the material modifications caused the students "added mental stress."

Then there's Rage Against the Machine and other supplemental material Jones enjoyed bringing into the classroom to add another layer to the discussions. After the state started watching them closely, he tried incorporation lyrics by Immortal Technique, Dead Prez, Common and Rage, as well as the PBS documentary "Precious Knowledge" in a non-CR class, and was told he wasn't allowed. In one of the other documents, the district says they had an issue with the lyrics because it contained offensive vocabulary.

Jones gave me copies of the lyrics he intended to use, the same ones Cholla administration used to highlight certain phrases and words that concerned them.

From Common's A Song for Assata [Shakur] the lines "We make this movement towards freedom, for all those who have been oppressed, and all those in the struggle," are highlighted. "During a meeting I said 'there is no offensive language...what is the offensive language, and they said 'oppressed.' Oppressed is the offensive language," Jones says. "I am working with an administration that finds the term 'oppression' offensive."

From Rage's Bulls on Parade: "They rally round that family, with a pocket full of shells."

Immortal Technique's The Poverty of Philosophy: "Latin America is a huge colony of countries whose presidents are cowards in the face of economic imperialism...But plutocracies, in other words a government run by the rich such as this one and traditionally oppressive European states...My enemy is the white man I don't see: the people in the White House, the corporate monopoly owners, fake liberal politicians, those are my enemies..." It keeps going, and there is a section where the words "mother fucker," are highlighted—Jones agrees. Those are offensive words.

"However, that is not the point, the point is to look at the context, what is Immortal Technique claiming, let's open that up for discussion," Jones says. "Nothing is going to change unless we open this up."

Here's an interesting find: Initially, the school and district told Jones he had to stay home while an investigation looking into his alleged involvement in the student-ADE visit walkout sorted out—the documents presented prove, based on student interviews, that the students thought of that on their own. There is mention of a separate walkout, one that was supposed to take place on Feb. 18, planned by other Cholla teachers and students, according to the docs.

"This is in their own findings, other teachers on campus were organizing with my students, I find that fascinating," he says. The findings say that according to a student, "'students would show up for Mr. Jones' on the 18th."

As of last week, Jones no longer had access to his TUSD email account, even though technically he is an employee until May 22, per a statement by Superintendent H.T. Sanchez. 

Jones has one word for what has been happening: Oppression.

"When you use your position of power within an institution to retaliate, to intimidate individuals, that is oppression," he says. "'We will retaliate against individuals who speak up and try to hold us accountable.' You as an individual teacher, how dare you hold the district accountable. They create their own reality. Again, no accountability, they investigate themselves, and because of that they are able to act with this impunity. It is frustrating beyond belief."

Some of the district's findings for your eyes:

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