Critical Race Pedagogy On Trial In Arizona

Betts Putnam Hidalgo, a Mexican American Studies supporter wrote on Facebook this weekend: “Oh for christ’s sake, there is absolutely no way to talk about race without getting someone pissed off at you.” Unfortunately her words are too true.

Soon, federal Judge Wallace Tashima will answer the simple question before him: were Arizona lawmakers acting in a discriminatory manner when they passed a law making it illegal to promote racial resentment in K-12 classrooms. In the case of Tucson Unified School District’s Mexican American Studies, the state of Arizona is being sued by a group of educators, who support Critical Race-based pedagogy in K-12 classrooms.

Critical Race-based pedagogy requires students to view all experiences through a racial or ethnic lens.

When properly trained, it is through this lens that a student can identify all of your problems, all of society’s problems, and all of their problems with you and society.

The you in this case is anyone who does not look, or think, or act the way the students do. Words, thoughts, and actions can be deemed appropriate or inappropriate on an almost minute-by-minute basis, and fair warning is not given, nor is it deserved, in their opinion.

You, whoever you are, will be judged for how you make others feel. Objective standards are a thing of the past. Objective standards must be racist because rational thought by its very nature is racist.

Your right to speak freely is unlimited as long as it is limited to serving the greater goal – whatever that might be on any given day.

It is in this new world that those of us dedicated to ensuring equal access to education must navigate.

Former Arizona Attorney General Tom Horne testified in front of Judge Tashima. Horne served as Arizona Superintendent of Public Instruction during the emergence of the Mexican American Studies. After receiving complaints from minority students and teachers about the program, Horne found the classes to be in violation of A.R.S. 15-112, which prohibits the promotion of hate and resentment based on the color of one’s skin or ethnicity.

Horne, a Harvard education son of Jewish immigrants, marched with Dr. King. The aggressive and sometimes violent behavior exhibited by TUSD’s Mexican American Studies students stood in sharp contrast to King’s passive resistance. Horne is definitely the product of a different time, but his expectations for students/change agents should have been timeless. Respectful civil disobedience is a thing of the past. It is employed only by agents of the oppressors.

Horne’s testimony can be summed up this way: if you define the words I choose to use after I use them and do not inquire as to my understanding of the meaning of those words, you are not interested in a conversation; you are interested in a conviction.

Horne, and the sponsor of legislation on trial, Senator Steve Montenegro, might use words that make someone like me, a staunch liberal, flinch at times, but no one could credibly accuse them of being racist. Conservative? Yes, absolutely. Naïve? Without a doubt. Racist? Absolutely not.

Unfortunately, the plaintiffs have the blog posts from Horne’s predecessor; former Superintendent of Public Instruction John Huppenthal, upon which to find the entire Legislature guilty of racism. It is precisely Huppenthal’s simple-minded assessment of the struggles facing the disenfranchised in this country that bolsters the case for Critical Race-based pedagogy. If all we had were Huppenthal’s ugly words, I would be the first one to condemn the law and the lawmakers.

We don’t just have Huppenthal. While his words filled the courtroom time and time again, the judge did not hear the voices of the brown and white educators, students, and parents, who had been victimized by TUSD’s Mexican American Studies “educators.” They exist, but like too many others who challenge the new rules and rule makers, they have been the victims of marginalization through accusation. The accusation is racism, and once found guilty, a person is wise to disappear into the woodwork or face continued and increasing abuse.

The “silencing of those lambs,” and each and everyone one of victims I met were lambs, will have an effect on all of us. They expressed their concerns to TUSD administrators and eventually Horne in the hope of starting a much needed conversation and ended up with a conviction. They were sentenced to a life of fear-filled silence.

As a life-long self-identified liberal, I watched in horror as friends, who had dedicated their lives to public education, were portrayed as haters. They were villainized for trying to keep classrooms places for education, not indoctrination. Fine educators and activists were condemned, never to return to the very schools that desperately needed their rare talents.

We saw the same thing happen at Evergreen College. The students condemned a professor to a life of fear-filled silence and won some minor concessions from the school’s administration. They also earned the scorn of taxpayers across the country. You know the taxpayers who fund public institutions like Evergreen. Great! They just ensured that efforts to secure increased funding for public schools will be more difficult if not impossible in the future. Thanks!

Unless those of us on the Left stand up for the victims of marginalization, we will surely be the next victim. And then what? How then do we even begin to have a conversation about the fact that school choice offers no realistic choice for many families? How do we hope to move the needle at all on school funding? How do we address bias in testing and the absurdity of high-stakes testing? It won’t happen. We are going to be picked off one by one until there is no one left on the left interested in engaging in a civil conversation.

Then what? Here’s what: the dream of a color-blind society and the public school classrooms, through which that dream was nurtured and opportunity for all had its best chance, will evaporate.