Pamela Powers, a progressive voice for Arizona
In the few short hours since I posted Tucson Unified School District’s (TUSD) plan to reorganize the Ethnic Studies Program, I have been personally attacked on the blogs and on facebook, and my post has been misrepresented as an attack on Mexican American Studies (MAS) and a bow to the evil will of TUSD Board President Mark Stegeman. Anyone who has read the post knows that these assertions are not true.
In addition, MAS supporters have told me repeatedly that I have to give my opinion (since I purposefully left it out of that post), and today they also gave me the old George Bush line– “you’re either with us or agin us.”
Well, not really. First of all, my opinion– which I have expressed many times– is irrelevant.
My main difference of opinion with the MAS supporters is not whether or not the courses should be electives or core courses. The difference is more fundamental; we see change differently. (Get ready for the Buddhist/Taoist scientist to emerge.)
The die-hard MAS supporters take a hard-line stance that any change in the current MAS program– staffing, curriculum content, funding, program structure, or core curriculum status– is bad and should be fought at all levels with maximum intensity. They forcefully demand obedience to their cause and condemn all who do not comply 100%.
I believe that change is neither bad nor good; it just is.
Let’s use the MAS reorg as an example of how we differ on the idea of change.
The TUSD document in my post proposes to take away the core curriculum status of the MAS history course (eg, changing it to an elective– a certain number of electives are required for graduation), but it says the MAS staff should come up with a plan to continue implementation of the MAS literature course as core course (ie, a course that students can take for graduation credit)– thus splitting the difference, one goes to elective status, while the other could stay a core course.
The MAS supporters contend that making MAS classes electives is bad because fewer people will take them. The scientists in me says that effect of this change is unknown. If a given class changes from core status to elective, will it be different? Probably. Will it be worse or better? We don’t know. Will the classes be less effective? We don’t know; we actually don’t know how effective they are now because there are conflicting data. Will it reach fewer people? We don’t know that either. Will it reach different groups of students? Maybe. Stegeman proposed in an op-ed in the Arizona Daily Star to make the MAS courses available across TUSD. This would give the “precious knowledge” a potentially wider and a potentially different audience. For example, if the MAS history were an elective and more non-Latinos took that class, maybe they would become enlightened by this taste of Mexican-American history and culture. Is that good or bad? I don’t know. What is the definition of good and bad? It could lead to a less bigoted society, but I don’t know.
So, while the supporters say any change is bad and must be fought. I say: How can we know what has not happened? With change, things are often different, but we don’t really know that for certain.
Given my viewpoint on change, here is my opinion on Ethnic Studies (note my homage to the unknown).
I wholeheartedly support the right to teach and learn ethnic studies. I believe the Arizona law targeting ethnic studies is discriminatory, and I hope the teachers win their lawsuit. Regarding all other related issues– such as staff performance or effectiveness of the program– I have seen no data and cannot offer an opinion on these issues. As someone who has worked in research for more than 20 years, I believe that TUSD should evaluate all of its programs and that all funding should be transparent.
Making assumptions about the unknown often leads to disappointment. According to the Buddha, craving and attachment lead to unhappiness and cause humankind to be trapped in the cycle of birth, life, and death, until we realize how unimportant it all is and reach enlightenment.
The minute that just passed is gone forever. The next minute is in the future and is unknown. All we really have is now, and we should make the best of it.
Letting go is true freedom.
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“my opinion– which I have expressed many times– is irrelevant”.
Your opinion is irrelevant? I do not believe this is true and I do not believe you believe this to be true either.
“The die-hard MAS supporters take a hard-line stance that any change in the current MAS program…is bad and should be fought at all levels with maximum intensity. They forcefully demand obedience to their cause and condemn all who do not comply 100%.”
Where, in your opinion, is the line drawn if not here?
Do you really believe that the justifications the opposition puts forth is accurately reflecting of their underlying motives for attacking MAS? That is, do you really believe their motive is equality and fairness for all in a just society?
Do you really believe that, given this victory, they will be satisfied and no further persecution, or “changes” if you prefer, will be forthcoming? The campaign against Ethnic Studies is not an isolated event. It is a part of a very obvious pattern of persecution against an entire community. And it is a pattern we have seen before, over and over in our history. The motives behind the persecution of the Latino community and Latino culture today are no different than the motives behind the murders of Sacco and Vanzetti almost a century ago, only the ethnicity of the victims has changed.
So, if not now, when? If not here, where?
Now imagine the Arizona Republic calling you out by name and bashing you for years…
Imagine the Attorney General having a personal vendetta against you…
Imagine your name being called out on the Jon Justice show for right-wing crazies to build their hatred of you…
Imagine a picture of your kids at school being sent to you… imagine death threats…
Imagine your job threatened, your classes threatened, your livelihood threatened…
Now you are beginning to understand what Mexican-American Studies students and teachers and administrators have to deal with Pam… not really though. You are just asked to choose the side of justice against your personal friend who is attacking minorities in Tucson.
But if I can gather from the emotion you start off this article with, you have a small sense of the hatred that minorities get everyday, and how every day is a struggle when even Democrats join in on the attack.
Welcome to the club.
I suggest you interview Judy Burns to get a different perspective on things, if the criticism you get from minorities is too much for you.
Get off the cross Three Sonorans there is only room for one. You should listen to yourself, pretty pathetic.
well put DA! “I suggest you interview Judy Burns to get a different perspective on things, if the criticism you get from minorities is too much for you.” excellent suggestion…of course i suppose even ms.burns could be accused of being a raving feminist if she speaks out for human rights too loudly, huh?
The other minorities who reside here in Tucson are too busy getting good grades in Math, science, engineering etc. When they go to the job interview when they graduate they wont be asked if they had mexican american studies. Those Chinese, Asian, and Sikhs/Indians will already be 10 steps ahead of your MAS tools.
Well put, Three Sonorans. Moreover, I have never read such a bizarre article…Buddhism misconstrued to support a point that is clearly not thought out.
TUSD school board member Judy Burns rightfully and courageously calls Stegman’s resolution “racist garbage”. And it is. You, on the other hand, say about the resolution that “letting go is true freedom” and that “change is neither good nor bad”.. Huh? Judy is taking a solid stance in support of a quality education for all our kids. More importantly, she is not holding back in fighting for our Chicano kids who also deserve to benefit from educational programs that work. I think I will go with Judy who understands the horrible significance of Stegman’s resolution.
Pam, change may be inevitable, but we can decide what kind of change we want to see. In 1954, the US Supreme Court decided to change the way schools discriminated against minorities and implemented a program, specific to each school district, to remedy the problems of the past. These programs have been studies, as much as social science data can be. In social science, there is no fact that can be empirically proven to be right or wrong. The only way to know what is right is to ask the people that the program was meant to help. But you don’t seem to want to do that because they are saying something you don’t want to hear. You put out your opinion and then couch it in pseudo-science and say it’s irrelevant. Your opinion is not irrelevant, especially when you have a platform for it, and use it. If you can’t debate without feeling personally attacked, then you should stay away from these topics.
Can we control out destiny, as Stacy suggests? Up to a point, yes, but we are all part of an interconnected web that includes people, animals, and the environment. A stranger drinks too much at a bar one night and slams into you, and you’re gone. Change happens.
I thought I was the master of my destiny. I had a high-powered, good-paying job; plus, I was an international consultant, traveling here and there giving talks. I had a nice house with a swimming pool in a good neighborhood. Then I got laid off and lost everything— my house, my money, my power, dozens of people whom I thought were my friends but weren’t. (Even my dog died during this difficult period.) At the time, it was devastating financially and emotionally. I sold most of my furniture and eventually my big house to pay my bills, and I dramatically downsized my life. In the end, being laid off from that horribly stressful job was one of the best things that has happened to me in recent years. It taught me what was important– my family and the handful of real friends I had left. The power, the money, the big house– those things were not important. That change– which looked so bad at the beginning– was good.
Typos! “our destiny”– not “out destiny”.
Pamela, you are just not getting it.
This is not the time for us to get all philosophical. This is the time to take a solid stance.
While you talk about losing your house and job (which, of course, is very unfortunate) there are kids in Tucson who will never even get the opportunity to receive a quality education. They won’t get that high paying job to even afford a swimming pool, much less proper health care for their kids.
See what I mean? Your messaging in your writing about this “racist garbage” (as Judy Burns put it) is causing a major disconnect between good democrats like you and Jim acting as apologists for Stegman and the rest of the community (including some of your readers) and their advocacy.
It sounds like this:
We are going on strike! – Response: ‘Change is good! Relax!’
That racist comment is offensive! – Response: ‘Letting go is true freedom.”
Chicano students continue to have the highest drop out rate! – Response: ‘According to the Buddha, craving and attachment lead to unhappiness ‘
See what I mean? Major disconnect.
And the reason a lot of us care is that we value and need your opinion. We don’t need some kind of ambiguous, half support for Stegman. You and others have taken solid, progressive positions on other issues. But not this one? “Gray area” for this one? Really?
At next Tuesday’s TUSD board meeting, there will be hundreds, if not thousands of people protesting this resolution. They will not be neutral. They will not be philosophical. They are absolutely outraged at the possibility of this resolution passing and they will not ask, not suggest, not request– they will demand that the board vote no.
Among the hundreds of people there will be doctors, attorneys, professors, students, and every day working folks. Do you think they are unreasonable? Do you think they don’t get it? Do you think they are just not studying enough Buddha?
I would say that you should take all the push back you are receiving as a complement but we don’t have time to be polite and chat. If other Democrats come out with your same position (and they have not), they will receive the same push back.
We don’t have time to navel gaze.
Come on over, Pam, we need you. Or just state your support for Stegman’s resolution and your ‘relax and just take it’ position. At least then we can just disagree and move on.
excellent breakdown miguel! thank you!!
“there are kids in Tucson who will never even get the opportunity to receive a quality education.”
Why not? What is stopping them from receiving “quality education?”
“They won’t get that high paying job to even afford a swimming pool, much less proper health care for their kids”
Why not? What is holding them back from success?
Your analogy to your own life is inapplicable to the civil rights struggle in the U.S. The oppressions you suffered were unfortunate, but they do not span generations and form a fundamental part of the history of this country. Much of our history has been spent trying to understand and respond to the institutionalized discrimination against minorities that began with slavery. There have been unexpected setbacks in this process, no doubt. But if the many individuals across generations who changed this system had followed your advice and just let change happen on its own, we would still be living in a segregated society today.
So, while I agree that there are some things beyond our control, I disagree that this means everything is beyond our control and we should just be blown by the winds of change.
You losing your job is NOT akin to ethnic studies being downgraded to an elective course. Do you understand the difference between elective and core? Elective= PE, drama, dance, art, wood shop, home ec, auto shop, photography, etc. Core= American history, European history, MAS, algebra, geomety, calculus, trig, english, biology, chemistry, etc. That change WILL lead to less enrollment, as you look at any high school’s class enrollment rolls in the core vs. the elective courses. Stegeman is being disingenous with his proposal, who knows very well this will NOT lead to expansion. This is not some magical change that will create some magical results of which no one can expect. The UN Comission on Human Rights rightfully denounced HB 2281 as violating the UN Declaration of Human Rights last year when it was passed. In this context how can your friend in good conscience believe that changing the program to elective status is good? We make changes because we believe they will improve our lies NOT destroy them (not in the case of repuglikkkans, but that’s a different argument). Letting go is allowing the oppressor to win, and we will never do that. Perhaps you need to read up on TUSD’s 1C program of the past that destroyed the lives of so many young lations and chicanos, as the ELL 4 hour segregation program is doing now. Why anyone would downsize a successful program that is defeating the achivement gap is beyond me. Why a self proclaimed progressive would think doing this would have no affect or perhaps a positive affect on our children is also beyond me. Wake up Pam and tell your friend that if he and any other board member votes for this racist garbage they will not win another election for any office in Tucson (unless the switch to repuglikkkan). His seat is up next year, the community will not rest until he’s gone.
Pam, as a life long educator let me make a few scientific hypotheses to appeal to your science sensibilities. Will students that are not engaged by school or interested in school be willing to add multiple history and English classes to their schedule in lieu of art, music and other electives? If the current school budget does not support history and English teachers to teach electives, will any of these electives even be offered? I have more, but I believe this intellectual exercise is not the true issue. Latino drop out rates are extremely high and Latinos are over-represented in the prison system. Eliminating a program that is successfully educating these students, and having them return to status quo classes that may not have engaged them to the same degree, is amoral and thus the passion from the supporters. When you are familiar with the real struggles for the students and their families this issue isn’t simply a test of one’s spirituality or intellect, and whether you meant to or not, that’s how this post feels to some.
Well, “bill” why don’t you identify yourself?
All of you Latino men who talk about struggle are forgetting that the largest oppressed minority in the world is women. Don’t assume that because I am anglo that I have not struggled with discrimination– particularly in the workplace.
I totally agree with you, Pam, and would never diminished the struggle of women, homosexuals, or any other group that has faced discrimination. I was simply reacting to how your piece sounded. Isn’t that how this comment thing should work? I really don’t understand the defensiveness especially since I’m sure many young women are benefitting from the program in question. I never claimed anything about your ethnicity either and really like some of your columns, but I think my comments deserve a second read before too many assumptions can be made.
I was referring to all of the comments by the multiple Latino men on this thread– not just yours. Yes, I hope MAS is serving the young Latinas and not substituting the brown man’s history for the white man’s history. I know you have people from the UA MAS faculty speak in those classes, but do you have anyone from Women’s Studies speak? There are parallel struggles going on. In the early days of feminism, I stopped reading novels by and about men and discovered literature written by the other half of the population. I really do understand what you are trying to do.
We have a class struggle going on in the US. Anyone who makes less than $1 million a year is under siege by the corporatists. The divisive rhetoric by those of us at the bottom fighting for the crumbs just plays into their hands.
Don’t change the subject. No one here made any comments about women. Stop trying to play the victim. When you make statements like “my opinion doesn’t matter”, “what is the definition of good and bad”, “I believe that change is neither bad nor good, it just is,” you are trying to say that the Tucson community that is against this racist resolution is unreasonable, doesn’t know what’s good for them or their community, and can’t reach enlightenment. Here’s some Buddhism as it pertains to TUSD MAS: suffering exists (latino hs dropout rate, achievement gap, eurocentric history and education), it has a cause (white nationalism), it has an end (ethnic studies) and it has a cause to bring about its end (the rising up and civic participation of the chicano/latino community). All of the student activists that were graduates of MAS and have taken a prominent role in defending it have been women, Leilani Clark, Eliza Mesa, Kim Dominguez. They feel just as strongly, if not more so because they are female, as the men that are fighting this xenophobic resolution by Stegeman. He is assuming the role of the great white male oppressor. Who’s side are you on? Why are the two females on the Board against his proposal? Why did the white female, Judy Burns, call the resolution “racist garbage”? You’re “neutrality” with rehearsed and rehashed talking points about “supporting ethnic studies” is siding with the males on this one.
Defination of a Progressive firing squad…..a circle. You think the other side feels sorry for you……….nope.
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Pam, I appreciate your desire to provide more complete information on this issue, including my complete (draft) resolution. I disagree with the comment “If you can’t debate without feeling personally attacked, then you should stay away from these topics.” Historically, this kind of reasoning has silenced, or sought to silence, a great amount of dissenting speech.
Thanks for the support. Yes, I agree that some of these comments are meant to suppress free speech and alternative views.
The idea that I would shy away from debate is silly. I grew up debating politics with my Dad, Grandpa, and uncles. Since I am part Irish and since Daddy was a union man and Grandpa wasn’t, heated debate was a family sport! Although those debates got loud, they never included personal put-downs and lies, and there were never any hard feelings afterwards. Real debate is not what appears in the comment sections of my articles. I think Daddy is up there somewhere– looking down and saying, “That’s my little girl. She’s a scrapper like her old man. Get ’em, Pammie!”
“Yes, I agree that some of these comments are meant to suppress free speech and alternative views.”
Hopefully the spirit of open and free discussion remains in this blog….others are less inclusive..
i cant even read all of these comments because im too overwhelmed with the insane notion that change just is…just is. and not good or bad…la la la.. well some tremendously courageous people in our history (who had much more integrity and vision that you aspire to) would disagree with that. people who were viciously beaten at lunch counters fighting to CHANGE the atrocious jim crow law were fighting for CHANGE. THEY MADE THAT HAPPEN. IT WASN’T JUST THERE…IT WAS FOUGHT FOR…AND, by the way, that change was good. very good. women were beaten in jail cells so they could CHANGE a law that prevented them from voting. brave freedom fighters, civil rights warriors, died in this country to change things…to improve life for all of us. your go with the flow, change is neutral mentality is insulting. its appalling really. the proposal is racist garbage…as was stated by a WHITE WOMAN on the board. and for the record i am also extremely angry about the attacks against our students, teachers and community executed by xenophobes and xenophobes-lite (progressives)…and also, i am a white woman. i take great offense to you calling out “angry latino men” in your comments….that label actually smacks of your own xenophobic tendencies…your articles will be part of history now, because you are writing about historic times in our community. and you have fully aligned yourself with oppression and xenophobia. please don’t act like that was a misinterpretation. thats where these articles and your comments belong.
LOL, this is a pity party for the “who is more oppressed then who” crowd…