Why banned books in TUSD should be read by all: 48 teachers file amicus brief against HB2281

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In January of 2012, 7 books were banned in Tucson’s largest school district that were at the heart of the Mexican American Studies program.

TeachersCaseThose books were:

  1. Pedagogy of the Oppressed
  2. Message to Aztlan
  3. Critical Race Theory
  4. 500 Años del Pueblo Chicano / 500 Years of Chicano History, in Pictures
  5. Rethinking Columbus: The Next 500 Years
  6. Occupied America: A History of Chicanos
  7. Chicano! The History of the Mexican American Civil Rights
    Movement

48 teachers from different states have filed their own amicus brief in the Maya Arce v. John Huppenthal Ninth Circuit case against HB2281, Arizona’s “Ethnic Studies Ban” bill.

If you have ever wondered why these books are so powerful, and why they should be read by all Americans, then you should print out a copy of the PDF above to read over the holiday break to find out how historical truth really gets under the skin of right-wing Republicans in Arizona, the “show me your papers state,” to the point that they try to mimic 1930s Germany even further by banning books.

INTRODUCTION AND SUMMARY OF ARGUMENT

In January 2011, Respondent Huppenthal and the State of Arizona removed
the Mexican American Studies (“MAS” or “the Program”) curriculum from the Tucson Unified School District (“TUSD”), claiming that it violated an Arizona statute prohibiting courses that promoted the overthrow of the government, were designed primarily for one ethnic group, promoted resentment of a race or class of people, or advocated ethnic solidarity. Ariz. Rev. Stat. § 15-112.

Relevant to this brief, Superintendents of Public Instruction Horne and
Huppenthal also ordered the removal of seven books, claiming that they violated the statute by inciting hatred or resentment of other races or classes of people and/or by advocating ethnic solidarity. See, e.g., ER at 1162 (“TUSD shall provide evidence of the district’s prompt collection of all MASD instructional materials from K-12 classrooms”); ER at 1165-66 (internal emails regarding books “that are specifically mentioned in the court order” and “that we can no longer use” “must be cleared from all classrooms, boxed up and sent to the Textbook Depository”). They justified their actions with Findings objecting to quotes from these books.

Whether or not the statute is constitutional, ordering the removal of books
based on isolated quotes does precisely what amici public school teachers devote their careers to preventing: it ignores context and argument, drawing shallow conclusions from fragments of text. Removing books based on isolated and purportedly offensive snippets or on generalizations, without considering the overall context of the work, violates students’ First Amendment rights to receive information.

Such an approach also overlooks one of the most important functions of
education: teaching students to read a text within its historical, cultural, and
situational contexts and to analyze it accordingly. Absent the guidance of
educators and an exposure to texts that, in whole or in part, appear to cut against the grain of mainstream culture, students face college—and life—with a diminished ability to think critically about the messages that they will necessarily be called on to confront and interpret as citizens, neighbors, employees, professionals, and civic leaders.

The approach taken also ignores that Arizona expressly instructs its teachers
to contextualize all materials provided to their students. Rather than teach isolated snippets—like those identified by Messrs. Horne and Huppenthal—Arizona educators are instructed that any work must be critically analyzed and assessed in a variety of contexts.

To be sure, amici do not claim that a teacher has an unfettered right to put
any book before a student. However, this Court does not allow states and school districts unlimited control over established curricula. And, the actions taken here violate this Court’s proscriptions.

This brief demonstrates how.

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