As students described how these specialized classes enrich their downtrodden lives, I wondered how the non-Hispanic students feel about the program and their peers. And how segregated are they? Do they get to take general education courses, lunches and gym with the rest of the student population?
But those answers aren’t found in this documentary.
It wasn’t until after I pored through the 120-page report that an independent auditor produced based on extensive focus groups, one-on-one interviews and site visits to classrooms that the film clicked into focus for me.
Released last May, eight months before the program was shut down in order to avoid the district losing more than $14 million in state aid, the report was definitive: There was no observable evidence that instruction promoted resentment toward a race or class of people. In fact, students were taught to be accepting of multiple ethnicities of people and they weren’t segregated from mainstream courses or activities.
There was also no evidence of any instruction promoting the overthrow of the government or that the program excluded non-Hispanic pupils —white, Native American, black and Asian students took courses. Also no evidence indicated that the program advocated ethnic solidarity.
Actually, the report reads like a field manual for engaging students while boosting their academic achievement: excellent teachers delivered well-orchestrated lessons that were appropriately aligned to state learning standards and demonstrated real-life applications.
Parents were given ample latitude to opt out of some of the more controversial bits—and yes, there were some. Paolo Freire’s “Pedagogy of the Oppressed” loomed large in the film, and there were other books, specific topics and discussions that flirted with being pure political speech and call to action.
The report detailed how teachers could balance views and materials, tone down rhetoric and bias—and how the program as a whole could do a better job of managing the curriculum and working with the school district.