Tag Archives: Ethnic Studies

The Power of Words

Let’s face it: if Dolores Huerta had never uttered those three infamous words at Tucson High in 2006 —“Republicans hate Latinos” — then this entire debate over ethnic studies would probably not exist today.  I believe that Ms. Huerta is one of the most extraordinary, revolutionary, and inspirational individuals of our time, however, she crossed the line by making such a harsh and, to some, even hurtful statement at a public school assembly.  Moreover, she has done a disservice to the very people she has fought so hard for her entire life by allowing her own words to be used against her as fuel for the ethnic studies debate — a debate which may never have ensued had she simply taken those three words back.  If, after all the backlash that occurred as a result of her remarks, the organizers of the assembly or even Ms. Huerta herself had simply made a public statement to ensure the community that those three words were merely the opinion of an individual and in no way a reflection of TUSD’s view on Republicans overall, then perhaps they would have received a slap on the wrist and everyone would have moved on.  To my knowledge, however, nothing of that nature was ever said and the situation was only made worse when Tom Horne sent one of his top Latina aides to present a different perspective at Tucson High and students responded inappropriately, leading to even more controversy…and the rest is history.  As a result, we now have HB 2281, a lawsuit challenging HB 2281, and numerous multicultural programs and public education dollars at stake.

Ironically, the very individuals and groups who have been fighting so hard to keep ethnic studies programs in place are the same ones who could have put a stop to the debate during its infancy five years ago.  Instead, they have chosen to glamorize the debate by staging walk-outs and protests in an attempt to recreate the civil rights movement of the 50s and 60s, resulting in just the opposite of what was intended: a law which threatens programs that were never at stake of being threatened in the first place.  While it is evident that racism still exists in the 21st century, that doesn’t mean we have to fight it in the same way it was fought fifty years ago.  We obviously need to have a conversation about it because clearly there are still a lot of issues that need to be addressed, but that conversation does not need to include laws banning programs, organized protests, threats to education funding, and lawsuits. 

If individuals on both sides of the ethnic studies debate truly desired and wanted to make a real difference, they would sit down together like civil adults and talk it through (just like we tell our children to do) — out of the spotlight.  Who knows?  They might be surprised to learn that they have the same goal of educating our children and eliminating racism, but just have different views on how to accomplish that. 

If I could write a poem or a song about the power of words to Dolores Huerta, the refrain would go something like this:

You worked so hard to move us forward
But just three words was all they heard
And now we’ve fallen back
Can you take it back?

Throughout time, her words have served as a symbol of strength and equality, a means to organize and unify, and, most importantly, a voice for those without words of their own.  This time, however, they served only to divide and incite hate.  While we might be past the point of no return, I would still like to personally urge Ms. Huerta to take those three words back.  It may be naïve of me to think a gesture as small as taking these words back might have any impact at all on the ethnic studies debate, but I am hopeful that it will.  Perhaps by apologizing to those who have been most deeply offended, they will then be able to find it in their hearts to not only forgive, but to reassess the ethnic studies programs with fresh eyes and open minds.  Perhaps by realizing that the content of the ethnic studies programs in general has not been shaped by the viewpoint of a single guest speaker from five years ago, everyone can move past the bickering and just sit down and talk about it. 

My only question is: How can we get Dolores Huerta, Tom Horne, John Huppenthal, and TUSD all at the same table to have this conversation?


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Filed under Arizona, Civil Discourse, Dolores Huerta, Education, Ethnic Studies, HB 2281, Race and Ethnicity, Racism, Tom Horne, Tucson, TUSD, Uncategorized

Civil Discourse on Ethnic Studies

January 17, 2011

Dear Honorable Representatives of the State of Arizona, Tucson Unified School District, and the Media:

In light of the recent tragedy in Tucson and the call for more civil discourse that has resulted since, I urge you, especially the media, to take a step back and reconsider what the debate over ethnic studies is really all about: our children’s education. Sadly, I am not sure if any civil discourse on ethnic studies has ever taken place. Instead, all that I am aware of is a very heated and often hostile public dispute that has resulted in headlines such as “The Battle over Ethnic Studies in Arizona,” “Culture War Brewing over Ethnic Studies,” and “The Assault on Ethnic Studies”. It is disconcerting to say the least, and it is time for the name calling, clenched fists, and raised voices to stop — on both sides. Are you really the leaders that you want our children looking up to?

We teach our children to treat others with respect, listen to others when they speak, and value others’ opinions. We do not teach our children to disrespect others just because they have a different point of view. We do not teach our children to ignore others or ridicule others just because they disagree with them. Do you really think it is okay for our children to learn from our leaders in education, politics, and the media that it is okay to display contempt towards others just because they have a different political perspective? Do you think it is possible that those with whom you disagree the most, might actually have good intentions?

Consider this: What if individuals on both sides of this debate actually have good intentions? What if the proponents of HB 2281 are no more “racist” than the opponents are “renegades”? You might find this difficult to fathom, but I truly believe that individuals on both sides of this debate simply want what is best for our children: a good education. Unfortunately, you have made it clear that you do not see eye to eye on how to accomplish this.

HB 2281 went into effect on January 1, so whether you like it or not, the law cannot simply be ignored. As a result, I think everyone needs to pause for a moment and reexamine the actual components of the law. Nowhere in the law does it specifically state that there is a ban on ethnic studies programs. Rather, HB 2281 specifically bans programs that:

  1. Promote the overthrow of the United States government.
  2. Promote resentment toward a race or class of people.
  3. Are designed primarily for students of a particular ethnic group.
  4. Advocate ethnic solidarity instead of the treatment of pupils as individuals.

Regardless of whether or not you agree with the passing of HB 2281, if you simply look at its literal language, there is really nothing in it that should be a new or surprising concept to anyone. I certainly doubt that prior to the passing of this bill, there were classes in Arizona that were intentionally intended to promote the overthrow of the United States government. In addition, while TUSD and other school districts throughout the state offer numerous courses that focus on the perspectives of specific cultural and ethnic groups — courses such as African American History, European History, French Literature, Latino Literature, Middle Eastern Geography, Native American History, and Western Civilization — these courses are open to all students. Surely these courses were not deliberately designed primarily for students of a particular ethnic group. So, what exactly is the problem?

Obviously, there must be more to the story otherwise the ethnic studies debate would not be so contentious. But even so, I am still unable to pinpoint what it is specifically that has sparked so much anger, resentment, and intolerance in Arizona. In the media, the debate seems to be centered on a handful of Mexican American Studies classes offered at TUSD, which may or may not be in compliance with the law depending on who you ask. Does this really warrant a ban on all of TUSD’s ethnic studies classes and programs? Absolutely not. Does it warrant a reassessment of how a few specific classes are taught? Probably.

Here’s an example: If a student reported that a math teacher was promoting gender discrimination in a math class, then that teacher would likely be investigated and, if guilty, face appropriate disciplinary action. The entire math department would not be eliminated. Likewise, if a Mexican American Studies teacher is promoting racial discrimination, then that teacher needs to be investigated. The entire department does not need to be eliminated.

TUSD’s multicultural education programs and ethnic studies programs were initially created more than thirty years ago in response to a racial discrimination lawsuit and designed with the intent of making sure students of all ethnic backgrounds have access to an equal education. Unfortunately, even though we are more than a decade into the 21st century, discrimination still exists. While I agree that people should be treated as individuals regardless of their ethnic background, this does not mean we should disregard the cultural heritage of individuals or discount the racial experiences of individuals. Martin Luther King, Jr. may have stated that he wanted his children to “not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character,” however, an individual’s character is defined in part by his/her cultural, ethnic, and racial background and experiences. Recognizing the significance of people’s backgrounds and experiences should be considered enlightening not detrimental.

Arguably, one of the most effective ways to combat racism and discrimination is through education. Multicultural and ethnic studies courses that promote a greater understanding and appreciation of cultural similarities and differences should serve to enhance and improve our children’s education, not weaken it. People of all racial and ethnic backgrounds contributed to this country in different ways and we should embrace these contributions in our education system. Here in the Southwest, where a majority of our students identify as Hispanic, we should not be surprised that there is a greater demand for courses in Mexican American Studies. We should not be questioning whether or not these courses should be offered, but rather, “Are these courses being taught honestly and with integrity?” If so, then let them be. If not, then the specific classes in question need to be investigated and possibly put on hold, but the entire department should certainly not be eliminated.

Finally, what good is cutting $15 million in state funding from a school district that is already in a dire financial situation? The only people that will hurt are the very people you are trying to help: our children. Why should the children be punished when they haven’t done anything wrong?

Before the 60 days are up, I challenge all of you to sit down together and have an adult conversation about this. Just give each other a call and work this out civilly. Isn’t that what we teach our kids to do when they have a fight with their friends? Set an example for our youth. Be the leaders that we elected and respect. Give our kids something to look up to. Thank you for your service to the community and for allowing me to voice my concerns.


A Tucsonan/Arizonan/American for Civil Discourse

“We know that silence equals consent when atrocities are committed against innocent men, women, and children. We know that indifference equals complicity when bigotry, hatred, and intolerance are allowed to take root. And we know that education and hope are the most effective ways to combat ignorance and despair.”
-Gabrielle Giffords

“Our political discourse should be more civil than it currently is, and we all, myself included, bear some responsibility for it not being so. It probably asks too much of human nature to expect any of us to be restrained at all times by persistent modesty and empathy from committing rhetorical excesses that exaggerate our differences and ignore our similarities. But I do not think it is beyond our ability and virtue to refrain from substituting character assassination for spirited and respectful debate.”
-John McCain

“Public service is acting not in self-interest — but on behalf of others… Arizona, like all of America — has been through difficult times before. But, those times have united us, and made us stronger — more enduring. Let those of us who serve our state and country do so in a way that honors those we have lost.”
-Jan Brewer

“At a time when our discourse has become so sharply polarized – at a time when we are far too eager to lay the blame for all that ails the world at the feet of those who think differently than we do – it’s important for us to pause for a moment and make sure that we are talking with each other in a way that heals, not a way that wounds.”
-Barack Obama

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Filed under Arizona, Civil Discourse, Education, Ethnic Studies, HB 2281, Race and Ethnicity, Tom Horne, Tucson, TUSD, Uncategorized