Pamela Powers Hannley, 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.