“The quality of ideas seems to play a minor role in mass movement leadership. What counts is the arrogant gesture, the complete disregard of the opinion of others, the singlehanded defiance of the world.” – Eric Hoffer, The True Believer: Thoughts on the Nature of Mass Movements
Over the years, one of the most common complaints by objective observers of TUSD’s Mexican American Studies classes is the anti-intellectual nature of the scatter shot curriculum. The frequent references to the fantastical place called Aztlan, migration theories that have no scientific foundation, and the easy to swallow, simple minded analysis provided by critical race theory have caused more serious educators to question the educational value of TUSD’s Mexican American Studies classes.
In the first day of hearings in the appeal of Tucson Unified School District on the finding by Arizona Superintendent of Public Instruction that the district’s Mexican American Studies classes violated state law, Governing Board President and established educator, Dr. Mark Stegeman, in emotional testimony, confirmed what many educators have been saying for years; the classes are a “cult.”
Dr. Stegeman, a well respected professor of Economics, read from notes he took during visits to Mexican American Studies classes this past spring. His extemporaneous notes describing his experience in MAS teacher Curtis Acosta’s class, included phrases such as “this is a political rally,” and “he is mostly entertaining kids not educating them.”
The ritualized clapping, commonly referred to as the unity or Casear Chavez clap at the start of the classes, the ritualized recitation of the “You are my other self” or “In Lak’ ek” chant during the class, and the political rally type atmosphere of the class along with the seemingly senseless events surrounding the classes in the past few months all “formed the foundation of my assessment.” Dr. Stegeman testified that the words “we are all still in the struggle” in one student’s personalized version of the “In Lak’ ek” chant, triggered a recollection of a book he had read years ago, The True Believer: Thoughts on the Nature of Mass Movements by Eric Hoffer, and he had an “epiphany.” His notes read, “this is a cult.”
Dr. Stegeman addressed each of the aspects of a mass movement as outlined by Hoffer by describing what he had witnessed in his experience with the Mexican American studies classes, community events, and the actions of MAS proponents. He referred to the classes’ denigration of the present and the glorification of the past with a reliance on a fabricated history. He testified about a writing prompt (writing topic for students) on the chalkboard of a classroom he visited that asked the students to “compare ethical issues along ethnic lines” in a discussion of the exploitation of “middle-aged European” males” and immigration laws.
The Professor compared the unwillingness of the MAS proponents to engage in community forums that would allow for a discussion of relevant issues by all sides, to Hoffer’s finding that mass movements normally have a complete disregard for the opinions of others. He pointed to the refusal of the MAS Advisory Board and the UNIDOS “student” group to participate in a district sponsored community forum as examples of this disregard for the public.
He spoke of the need of mass movements’ to make the arrogant gesture in theatrical displays. Dr. Stegeman cited the decision by MAS supporters to dramatically takeover the school board meeting and later laud students who participated in the takeover. He noted that one of the students who participated in the takeover was granted a seat on the dais of the Ethnic Studies sponsored forum. The students were publicly congratulated on their participation in the takeover.
He pointed out that the mass movements’ need to stand in defiance of the world and that the students stated in class that “we must be willing to act in a revolutionary way.” It should be noted in earlier testimony long time educator John Stollar said that the MAS staff refused to cooperate fully with Cambium auditors. The district also refused all efforts to work with the Arizona Department of Education in creating classes that complied with state law. It should be noted that in earlier testimony long time educator John Stollar said that the MAS staff refused to cooperate fully with Cambium auditors. The district itself also refused all efforts to work with the Arizona Department of Education in creating classes that complied with state law. These are further examples of this need of ideologues to express their ideology through defiance.
Over the years various teachers have come forward to express concerns about these exact types of behaviors they personally witnessed what happened in MAS classes and outside events and, as Dr. Stegeman noted, were also highlighted in Hoffer’s book. In 2008, former Tucson High School teacher John Ward wrote an op-ed piece for the Tucson Citizen which first exposed the highly questionable pedagological practices and curriculum of the district’s MAS classes and staff. Since then, more and more educators have reported their experience with the mass movement features of MAS students and “teachers.”
Long time educators in the TUSD schools reported their experience with the features of mass movements described by Hoffer and exemplified by the MAS program. They describe the use of the Caesar Chavez clap to intimidate and silence any school staff who they perceive to be enemies. They cite the anti-intellectual nature of the curriculum including the fantastical Aztlan. Across the board, most disturbing to all of them has been the elimination of individual identity and its replacement with a collective identity through the almost constant recitation of “In Lak’ ek”, the refusal to use students’ individual names, and the recruiting of more vulnerable kids into the collective whole or the “cult.”
Dr. Stegeman is not the first educator to see the indoctrination of students, nor is he the first one to notice the students’ and their “instructors’” cult-like actions. What makes his testimony so powerful is that he is the first adult in a position of leadership in TUSD to come out and say “we are the caretakers” for these children and then match his actions to his words.