Is teaching Mexican American Studies against the law?

The Huffington Post has an excellent article today summarizing the MAS trial and what lies ahead. An excerpt is below.

Sean Arce: Art by Arnie Bermudez

When Sean Arce, former director of Tucson’s banned Mexican-American studies program, took the witness stand in June, the state attorney’s line of questioning betrayed a clear agenda: She wanted to get Arce to describe white people as “oppressors.”

Despite repeated prodding, Arce offered a more subtle explanation of his views. “If you look at the disparities that exist within our society, if you look at prison rates ― if we look at a number of indicators, you see that there is, in fact, a dominant society and a subordinate society and you see that folks are marginalized,” the high school social studies teacher testified. “I am speaking of systems of racism and systems of oppression.”

The 47-year-old educator was testifying on the fourth day of a trial that concluded last month ― and that will soon decide whether Republican state officials violated students’ constitutional rights when they torpedoed Tucson’s unique ethnic studies program in 2012.

Arce and a group of likeminded teachers in the Tucson Unified School District banded together in the 1990s to create a Mexican-American studies program that aimed to narrow the wide achievement gap between white students and the Hispanic students who constitute the district’s majority.

“Their self-esteem was really low,” Curtis Acosta, another former teacher, testified of his Hispanic students. “We wanted to work on that self-image while giving them an academic foundation.”

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Some of the programs’ teaching methods were commonsense. They taught books by Hispanic authors that students were rarely exposed to otherwise, and they studied overlooked episodes of Latino history in the United States.

Other methods were less conventional. The teachers believed that mending their students’ fractured relationship with school meant boosting their confidence and helping them find inspiration in their culture, which the traditional curriculum had largely ignored. Some teachers began class with the “unity clap” ― a nod to the United Farm Workers movement ― or recited “In Lak’ Kech,” a bilingual poem inspired by Mayan teachings, in unison. The curriculum often homed in on the most contentious issues that students in the largely Hispanic district were facing, like illegal immigration and racial inequality. At its peak, the program served 1,200 students, from kindergarten through high school.

Arizona’s Republican-dominated legislature, however, viewed the classes as an example of thinly veiled left-wing indoctrination that used discussions about “oppression” to breed resentment against whites.

In 2010, the legislature passed a four-part law forbidding any public school classes designed for a specific ethnicity or promoting “the overthrow of the United States government,” “resentment toward a race or class of people,” or “ethnic solidarity” instead of “the treatment of pupils as individuals.” Then-state Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Horne and then-State Sen. John Huppenthal, both Republicans, crafted the bill to outlaw the Mexican-American studies classes specifically.

In 2011, Huppenthal took Horne’s place as state superintendent of public instruction and issued an order finding Tucson’s program in violation of the law he’d helped pass the prior year. To avoid losing state funding, the Tucson school board voted 4-1 to dismantle the classes in January 2012.

Source: A Judge Is About To Rule Whether Banning Mexican-American Studies Is Constitutional | HuffPost

Also published on Medium.

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