Gaetane Jean-Marie, in “Leadership for Social Justice: Preparing 21st Century School Leaders for a New Social Order,” describes the classroom as one which “raises students’ consciousness and prepares them to engage in larger social struggles for liberation”
Imagine, if you would, a third grade public school classroom in which the students are taught lessons based upon the Catholic Church’s Trinity of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit as metaphors for ideal student behavior and classroom participation. Unless you are a hard line Catholic conservative you would reject the use of this metaphor in a public school setting.
The Tucson Unified School District put on its defense of its Mexican American Studies classes on the third day of hearings in its appeal of the finding by the state’s Superintendent of Public Instruction that the district’s MAS classes violate state law. The testimony of district’s fourth witness, third grade teacher Julie Elvick-Mejia from Ochoa Magnet Elementary, was supernatural to say the least.
Elvick-Mejia’s testimony interrupted the testimony of Jeffery Milem, a Professor at the University of Arizona and Critical Race Theory proponent. Like Arce, she appeared telephonically and her availability was limited by her class schedule. Ms. Elvick-Mejia has taught grades 2-5 at three schools in TUSD.
In 2009, Ms. Elvick-Mejia wrote in defense of the Mexican American Studies classes an opinion piece for the Arizona Daily Star. In it she writes of a humane Aztec society based on respect and equity, and the classroom as a vehicle for social change.
I have often wondered whether it is our ignorance or our fear as white folks that makes us say things like, “All United States citizens should subscribe to the idea of one common culture with values shared by all.”
I have learned so much about Mexican-American history, culture and philosophy — much of which began thousands of years ago with the ancient Aztecs. For example, Tlatecutli — the central image in the ancient Sun Stone, Tonalmachoitl — represents all that the indigenous ancestors of the students in my classes believed.
Together we explore issues of social justice, not only among people of color but all marginalized groups of people. The work we do provides opportunity for young minds and hearts to participate meaningfully in civic engagement.
Educators responded strongly to Elvick-Mejia’s opinion piece. Overall they agreed that we have elements of our culture that we all share, but as the whole notion of cultural diversity…and its first cousin …cultural relativism…have gained broader acceptance, the notion of a common culture has been set aside to a great extent. Educators questioned whether this is a good thing or a disaster? One long time educator concluded, “Public schools, because they are a mirror to our society…are definitely caught up in this societal debate. All of us agree that schools are the second most important vehicle for cultural transmission…right behind the family. The question of whose culture should be transmitted is a big part of the whole MAS issue.”
Ms. Elvick-Mejia testified that she accesses the MAS materials and staff to teach “big ideas” like identity. Experienced educators asked what cultural identity is being developed in these classrooms. “Are they pushing for the development of a Chicano identity? Are they pushing for the development of a Mexican American identity? Do they have a right to allow their ideology, their commitment to social justice, determine what identity a child will develop? There is a vast difference between teaching and indoctrinating. What do we have in these classrooms?”
One educator responded to Elvick-Mejia’s statement, “It appears that what they are doing goes against the mission of public schools. Furthermore, does it fall in line with the goal of Benjamin Bloom, which was to change a child’s worldview from what they were taught at home? It seems to.”
Elick Mejia testified that her third grade students “create counter-stories” which is a feature of Critical Race pedagogy. She opined that MAS gets students to “present counter stories to the narrative we are all pretty familiar with.” She testified that the goal is to get kids to “reject things at face value.”
Ms. Elvick-Mejia, clearly an avid supporter of the MAS classes, testified that she is among a “handful” of elementary teachers who have introduced MAS into their classrooms. She testified that she made the decision to introduce the curriculum after having attended the Institute for Transformative Education conference.
Ms. Elvik-Mejia was a presenter at the Institute on the subject of the “Implementation of Critical Praxis with Elementary Students.” According to Freire, critical praxis develops “conscientization.” This is “the process by which students, as empowered subjects, achieve a deepening awareness of the social realities which shape their lives.” Gaetane Jean-Marie, in “Leadership for Social Justice: Preparing 21st Century School Leaders for a New Social Order,” describes the classroom as one which “raises students’ consciousness and prepares them to engage in larger social struggles for liberation”
What does transformative resistance look like when third graders are engaged in it? Is it a sit-down in the school lunchroom to protest about the quality of the dessert? Will they reconnect to their Aztec roots through enslaving their neighbors?
|Ancient Mexika Calenar System TUSD MAS (middle school)|
Many educators have not supported the Raza Studies due to what they believe is its anti-intellectual nature and its rejection of modern science based theories. According to district insiders, at least two elementary principals have refused to allow MAS classes to be taught at their schools.
The willingness or need to ignore scientific realities was best exemplified in a local television news report this year. A young elementary student reported that, “she never knew she had one-fifth Aztec blood” before taking TUSD’s Mexican American Studies classes. According to experts, in order for this child’s claim to be true, she would have had to have been interviewed hundreds of years ago.
Ms. Elvick-Mejia testified that she and MAS staff employ a team teaching model. Elvick-Mejia testified that she has worked most recently with Norma Gonzales and in the past with Jose Gonzales.
In the second day of testimony, one teacher testified that she attended a rally held by Jose Gonzales that focused on the Aztec people. “It was not about participation in history” but about their “religious beliefs.” She was uncomfortable with an “instructor who was clearly biased and presented his class in that matter.”
The teacher testified that Gonzales “taught a lot about the Aztecs” and the “life forces.” She stated that Gonzales told his class that “he didn’t care what the University of Arizona courses said, he had done his own research about the Aztecs” and there “was no human sacrifice that went on in those cultures.” She felt that this was misinformation.
Elick Mejia testified that she started the year working on the Aztec calendar and the “guiding principles” or “five nahuatilli.” She states that these “are not lessons” but “guide our interactions in our classroom community.”
She testified specifically that she used one part of MAS lesson plans in her class, the “Four Sacred Elements to Becoming Human.” The four elements are represented by Aztec gods. She discussed the gods at length.
She offered explanations for two of the Aztec gods which represent the “four sacred elements”. She described the hummingbird symbol, otherwise known as Huitzilopochtli. Huitzilopochtli is the Aztec god of war, which she claims represents introspection and reflection. She stated that the most misconstrued god was Quetzalcoatl because he appears to be peeling off his own skin. Elvick-Mejia testified that he represents transformational change. She mentioned that Quetzalcoatl the serpent god, represents precious knowledge.
A testiphonial film entitled “Precious Knowledge was released this year. The movie simplistically presents heroes and villains, good gods and bad gods. It features charismatic teachers and desperate children trying to save their “precious knowledge.” Using the simple minded less than critical thinking of the movie’s creator, Tom Horne plays the role of Satan, and Curtis Acosta is the Christ figure or whatever counterparts the Aztec religion offers.
In later testimony from Dr. Maria Menconi, the district’s curriculum guru, it was revealed that no one “could never know what is actually happening in any Mexican American Studies class at the elementary level” because the lessons are developed on “an ad hoc basis.”
The Supreme Court has strictly limited the use of public school classrooms to promote Christianity and Judaism. It is evident in the following testimony that the Aztec gods are not treated as myth, but elevated as guides for behavior. It is unlikely that the Supreme Court anticipated that the Aztec religion would be an issue in the year 2011, but in Tucson Arizona, it just might be.
Elvick-Mejia’s testimony raises far more questions than it answers.
Is it the role of classrooms teachers to aggressively develop a child’s identity based on the teacher’s ideology?
Do we have adults of a particular ideological persuasion training children to reject all values that do not conform to their ideology?
Do they have permission slips from the parents of these students saying they agree their children should be trained to look at the world this way?
Would MAS teachers allow as there might be other ways for children to look at the world?
Do teachers have the right to indoctrinate students?
Do kids have a right to NOT learn that 2+2=5, or that they have 1/5 Aztec blood?
Is it damaging for young children to not only reject Santa Claus but reject everything around them because their identities are being shaped to reject things at face value?
How is this pedagogy different at all from the pedagogy used to create the mentality of both the Hitler Youth and the members of the Young Communist League?
Let the debate begin…….