Support for ethnic studies is not an accurate litmus test for tolerance

One sentence on the front page of the New York Times caught my attention the other day, “When tensions rise at a Quaker meeting, the room is immediately brought to silence — the Quaker form of worship.” Since the shooting of Congresswoman Giffords, and the local Sheriff pronounced Tucson the “Mecca of hate and bigotry,” the tension in Tucson could not be higher and the silence more deafening. A Society of Friends we are not. Worship is not the source of the silence; tensions and fear are.

In large part, the silence is created by those very people who claim to be interested in opening channels of communication and opening minds through “authentic caring.” The critical thinkers of Ethnic Studies do not tolerate those who are critical of their thinking at all.

TUSD ignores underserved students

Through the masterful manipulation by Ethnic Studies proponents and propagandists of uninformed journalists, tragically hip rock stars, and fringe politicians much of the public has become obsessed with Arizona’s newly enacted education law. To be clear, HB2281 is not good public policy, however too many myths about it currently frame the few discussions allowed. Supporters of the Mexican America/Raza Studies program make the claim that Arizona’s HB2281 prohibits Ethnic Studies. As this is clearly not the case, one must assume that the claims are made solely for political advantage.

This is not an epic struggle about academic freedom. Instead, it is a fabricated crisis that Raza advocates believe cannot go to waste. It is about Tucson’s largest school district that cared so little for its underserved students it has been under a desegregation order for three decades. Despite the billion dollars of taxpayer money that was spent to desegregate Tucson Unified School District’s (TUSD) schools, the TUSD Governing Board ignored the fact that its students were slowly being herded back into segregated classrooms by ideologues masquerading as educators. HB2281 does not target TUSD’s, or any other school district’s, Ethnic Studies programs unless, of course, these Ethnic Studies programs promote hate over acceptance and create resentment rather than knowledge.

Civil discussion silenced

Proponents of the Mexican American/Raza Studies (MAS) classes at TUSD have used support for the program as a sort of litmus test for bigotry and tolerance. According to them, those who support the classes for any reason, are not racist and those who even question the classes’ value for any reason, are racists. However, just as there are opponents to these classes whose reasoning is racist in nature, there are supporters whose reasoning for support of Raza Studies is racist as well.

Support or opposition for the classes is not a litmus test for bigotry or tolerance. The vicious and certain branding of anyone who raises a single question about MAS classes as racists is dishonest, dangerous, and intolerant. The few, but very vocal, supporters of Raza classes are quick to condemn those who question the classes as racists. Tucson’s Mexican American/Raza Studies propagandist blogger, David Abie Morales, known as the Three Sonorans, makes almost daily accusations about those who question the classes. He writes, “… there is a very real racist attack on brown students in Tucson.” His attacks on fellow Hispanics are particularly vicious. When a TUSD School Board member voted to reduce the achievement gap between students, Morales wrote, “…. has also proven that he is a vendido,…… will never be elected to another office in Tucson again… selling out to the Republicans is a horrible idea since they will never support a …. Latino”

Civil discussion of the issue has been virtually silenced. There are few valid arguments for MAS/Raza Studies and many more valid arguments against their use in grades K-12. Valid arguments or not, it is unlikely that constructive debate can ever occur.

Almost any discussion of the classes by anyone but the most strident supporters of the discredited pedagogy known as “critical theory” elicits veiled threats from Morales and his sidekicks. One of them wrote, “500 years is a long time to deal with second-class citizenship in your own homeland. Tucson is the epicenter of the new civil rights battle for a reason. This year has been filled with tension…” His rants openly suggest there will be impending violent action if elected officials and the public do not meet his demands.

Another Arizonan blogger, Stephen Lemons, with a pen name of Feathered Bastard, adds to the suppression of debate by writing, “…. On his list of folks that didn’t take ethnic studies classes… includes the neo-Nazis, the nativists, Timothy McVeigh, child-killer Shawna Forde and so on.” He might just as well have added to the list of those who did not take ethnic studies classes Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Gandhi, Cesar Chavez, Nelson Mandela and Abraham Lincoln. These senseless and immature attacks on skeptics of critical theory and other members of the public at TUSD school board meetings have resulted in creating an atmosphere of terror at these public meetings. Those people who are asking well-thought-out questions, seeking sound pedagogical foundations for curriculum, and attempting to find reasonable compromises have been insulted, harassed and threatened by Mexican American/Raza Studies proponents.

Education is the civil rights issue of our time

Many who question the value and appropriateness of the Mexican American/Raza Studies classes for grades K-12 do not do so for bigoted reasons. Some of us have worked on equal access issues and are deeply committed to the continuing civil rights struggle. Some of us agree with President Obama that education is the civil rights issue of our time. Many recognize the diversity deficit in our current history and literature curriculums, but question the appropriateness of replacing the traditional racially biased curriculum with another racially biased curriculum. Many would prefer to see a curriculum developed that is as racially and socio-economically neutral as possible based on an appreciation for diversity of ethnicities, personal beliefs, and opinions.

Most everyone would oppose any curriculum that thwarted tolerance and developed closed minds. A study by Steve Chatman of the University of California indicates that Ethnic Studies actually reduces the college students’ level of respect for others’ personal beliefs. One could safely assume that the impact of this curriculum would most likely be greater on more impressionable minds.

Most question the Mexican American/Raza Studies lack of rigor. The students who take these classes deserve the respect to be challenged academically. They are bright, interested, and engaged students who would most likely meet whatever standards adults set for them. Instead TUSD’s MAS curriculum is disjointed and appears to be a mere compilation of materials that are less informative than inflammatory. The MAS American History class curriculum exemplifies the lack of cohesion and rigor. The text includes “The Pedagogy of the Oppressed, “which is commonly used in college level courses, yet the tests and assignments would not be considered difficult for most fifth graders. One of the mere thirteen questions on the semester final exam asks, “All of these states are representative of Aztlan except: Wyoming, Colorado, Florida, New Mexico.” Question number thirteen asks, “What grade do you think you have earned in this class?” It is interesting to note that even though TUSD has determined this class meets state requirements for graduation credit in American History, the final examination did not have a single question on either the American Revolution or the ratification of the US Constitution.

TUSD staff skeptics targeted and silenced

Staff in the Ethnic Studies department target talented and highly skilled educators who have dedicated their lives to educating underserved students yet dared to question Raza Studies classes. Their tactic is to create a climate of fear through marginalization by accusation. One Ethnic Studies teacher went so far as to send out a letter to parents condemning a colleague for writing a letter to a public official. There are those who are attacked as elitist closet racists for merely suggesting to students that they might find more satisfaction in rigorous AP courses than in the less challenging Mexican American/Raza Studies curriculum. Many who have witnessed the students at school board meetings believe that if adults were allowed to steer them to the college course work found in AP classes and help them channel their passions into productive community projects these young adults could achieve amazing. They may even achieve some of the goals their teachers say they want. Instead they are enlisted into angry protests and demonstrations which only serve adults who are economically and politically vested in the preservation of the classes.

Students caught in the middle

Some who question the district’s actions during this difficult time are concerned by the use of these children in this adult melodrama. The children seem to have been caught in an ugly divorce with parents on both sides who have little regard for the long term effects on their children. Rather than engage them in deliberate discussion of their concerns and questions the students are trotted out to perform on cue for program patrons and sympathetic media.

Students have been told lies about the successes of the program. Dozens of students have testified at School Board meetings that 97% of Raza students graduate high school. What damaging impact will it have on students when they discover that the educators they have come to trust were misleading them? The reality, proven by TUSD’s own data, is that students in Raza Studies classes have no more success in graduation or passing the AIMS tests than their peers who have never taken a Raza Studies class. This is true even though Raza classes typically average about 20 students per class while traditional classes average about 30 students per class. These same educators have squandered the public’s trust and limited education dollars on trips to far away places and meaningless conferences that add nothing of real value to the students’ classrooms. District sources report that estimates of the cost of one conference alone, was over $100,000.

The limited resources for public education in Arizona could be spent more productively in other areas and on proven programs. We know that highly motivated and competent teachers at all levels, but especially at the K-3 level, will increase the likelihood of a student’s ability to read at grade level by the time they enter 4th grade. TUSD’s Governing Board’s decision to offer their underserved students unproven and unproductive high school classes after years of educational neglect will not mask their institutionalized bigotry of low expectations. That fact suggests an answer to the question; who are the real racists here?