LATINO VOICES
10/23/2013 10:21 am ET

Mexican American Studies Books Un-Banned In Arizona

PHOTO GALLERIES
Latino Books Once Banned In Arizona

The Tucson Unified School district voted Tuesday night to un-ban seven books from classrooms, two years after suspending a progressive Mexican American Studies curriculum made illegal by the Arizona legislature in 2010.

The school board voted 3 to 2 to approve the seven once-prohibited books as supplementary class materials, the Arizona Daily Star reports. The vote doesn’t mean teachers will use the books for classes, but they now have the option.

The books, all but one penned by Latino authors, were once used in classes that some Arizona conservatives accused of politicizing Mexican American students. The former teachers of the forbidden classes deny the allegations, and point to independent research showing the courses improved student achievement and a state-commissioned audit that recommended expanding the classes.

The state legislature outlawed classes in 2010 that promote the overthrow of the United States, foster ethnic resentment or treat students as members of an ethnicity rather than as individuals. The law resulted from a campaign against the Tucson classes by then-Superintendent of Schools Tom Horne and then-State Sen. John Huppenthal, both Republicans. Horne has since been elected state Attorney General and Huppenthal now serves as Superintendent of Schools.

Facing the loss of 10 percent of their budget if they failed to comply -- some $14 million over the fiscal year -- Tucson's school board voted to shut the classes down in January of 2011.

Administrators plucked the seven books from the district’s classes days later, noting that they had been named in a lawsuit against the district. The books included the classic Chicano history “Occupied America” by Rudolfo Acuña and Brazilian educator Paulo Freire’s “Pedagogy of the Oppressed” -- both texts routinely taught in universities across the country.

TUSD argued that removing the books from classes and forbidding their instruction did not amount to a ban because they made the books available in libraries. When pressed to explain what Latino literature was available to teachers for classroom use in the wake of the suspension of the Mexican American Studies curriculum, TUSD said existing rules only allowed teachers to use books approved by the school board as supplementary materials.

But several teachers said the rule was not generally enforced before the controversy. Some accused the district of selectively applying the previously ignored rule to the former teachers of the Mexican American Studies classes, almost all of whom are Latino.

Despite the wide use of Latino literature in Tucson classrooms prior to the suspension of Mexican American Studies, the school board had approved virtually no literature by Latino authors suitable for high school students beyond “The House on Mango Street” by Sandra Cisneros. A few more options existed for younger students.

One teacher who never taught Mexican American Studies said he’d continue to teach unapproved works by authors including Colombian novelist Gabriel García Márquez and Chilean poet Pablo Neruda.

“In my 23 years here, we’ve never had a discussion here in the English Department about getting books approved by the district,” Tucson High School literature teacher Chris Goldsmith told Fox News Latino last year. “But now because of this law there’s a hood they have to jump through.”

The former Mexican American Studies teachers, by contrast, faced constant scrutiny from administrators and were told in writing that “assignments cannot direct students to apply MAS [Mexican American Studies] perspectives.”

A lawsuit against the state over the ethnic studies law is currently winding its way through the courts.

Tucson implemented “culturally relevant courses” this year that include a Mexican American Studies component, as required under a decades-old desegregation lawsuit. The state has not said the new courses violate the ethnic studies law, though they noted:

“We observed three questionable posters in the Senior English class and the Social Studies classroom,” state education officials said in a letter to Tucson’s Superintendent H.T. Sanchez. “References to levels of oppression and liberation were problematic, particularly in light of the feedback we have provided in our previous curriculum review.”

Check out the seven books once banned from Tucson classrooms in the slideshow above.

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