Pamela Powers Hannley, a progressive voice for Arizona
[tnivideo caption=”Precious Knowledge trailer” credit=”LPBMedia”]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=W8CXCH99fNQ[/tnivideo]
Not a week goes by without at least one story on the Tucson Citizen.com about the Mexican American Studied Program (MAS) at Tucson High School.
Unless you have been sleeping for the past year, you know the basic facts of this saga. Dolores Huerta— life-long labor activist and Cesar Chavez’s comrade in the farm workers’ struggles in the 1960s — gave a guest lecture in an MAS class at Tucson High and said that Republicans hate Latinos. (Given the wealth of evidence on this point, Huerta probably thought that this was a well-known fact and not a controversial statement.)
All Hell broke lose in Phoenix when then Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Horne heard about Huerta’s comments, and in 2010, he spearheaded the passage of discriminatory legislation that targets ethnic studies for elimination. Long before Huerta’s statement, there had been several stories about revolutionary leanings of Raza Studies (another name for MAS) and the charges by a former MAS teacher that the program was teaching Chicano nationalism. (For some basic background that pre-dates the Three Sonorans– check out these stories from Arizona Republic and elsewhere– 1, 2, 3.)
MAS is just one part of the Ethnic Studies Program at Tucson High. Until recently, all of these ethnic studies programs in Tucson Unified School District (TUSD) were under the Office of Student Equity, headed by Augustine Romero, Ph.D. but now Romero’s office and MAS both report to Lupita Cavazos-Garcia, Ph. D., Assistant Superintendent of Government Programs and Community Outreach. (I don’t know about you, but with all of dozens of articles published about ethnic studies on the TucsonCitizen.com, I never heard of Cavazos-Garcia– who supervises the program!)
Anyway, you’re probably wondering where I am going with all of this…. but hang in there.
I have always been a supporter of the rights to teach and learn ethnic studies. Looking at this analytically, teaching skills– like writing, critical thinking, and even math– by engaging students in subject matter that is interesting and relevant to them is a tried and true teaching method. I don’t know much about the conflicting effectiveness data that has been touted, but as one who has taught at the college level and who has guest-lectured at the high school level, I do know that using engaging subject matter to teach skills is an effective teaching practice. I also believe that students who grow up in the southwest would be interested in learning the “Precious Knowledge” about the history and culture of their region and their ancestors. And, as a feminist, I also agree that the history taught in the schools is the white man’s history. (An interesting question would be: Is MAS teaching the brown man’s history? Hopefully not.)
Even with all of this background, there were parts of ethnic studies controversy that I didn’t understand– particularly the “no compromise” stance (since it seems unwinnable, given Horne’s jackboot stance). Looking at Chicano struggle from the early 1970s, the local heroes of that struggle, and the relationships over time, the cover story in this week’s Tucson Weekly– Being Baldenegro— connected a lot of dots for me. Check it out.