Tucson High School teacher recounts story of textbook and curricula ban

A FEW DAYS BEFORE SHE traveled to CFT Convention in San Jose, María C. Federico Brummer received an email at 8 p.m. from the Tucson Unified School District. It contained a list of newly banned books that the district wanted packed by noon the next day. During class, her students watched her comb the cabinets and remove classroom sets of the affected titles.

She packed Shakespeare’s The Tempest, Toni Morrison’s The Bluest Eye, Howard Zinn’s A People’s History of the United States, Rudolfo Anaya’s poetry collection Take the Tortillas Out of Your Poetry (a title included in the National Common Core Standards) and every textbook dealing with Mexican-American history.

Brummer’s students are 60 percent Latino and 25 percent white. The high school once suffered a high dropout rate. In 1998, the Tucson Unified School District began a Mexican-American Studies program, in part as response to a court desegregation order. Within a few years, 97 percent of the program’s students were graduating and 70 percent were continuing to higher education.

Arizona responded in 2010 by passing House Bill 2281, legislation that outlawed the Mexican-American Studies program. When the governing board of Tucson Unified balked at the new law, the state superintendent threatened to cut $14 million in district funding. The Tucson board caved.

Brummer, a high school government teacher of 14 years, told her story at a workshop on April 13. The following day delegates passed a resolution opposing Arizona’s ban on Mexican-American Studies and supporting a student’s right to a well-rounded and culturally rich education.

The state of Arizona has long been a Petri dish for reactionary ideas, such as refusing to recognize Martin Luther King’s birthday as a holiday, setting up its own immigration enforcement system, and now eliminating successful curricula in public schools.

Brummer said the program challenged students to academic excellence. She shared a Mayan philosophy called “En Lak Ech” used in the program. It concludes, “Si te amo y respeto/ If I love and respect you, Me amo y respeto yo/ I love and respect myself.”

Yet Superintendent of Public Instruction John Huppenthal told Amy Goodman on the NPR show Democracy Now! that the classes were “promoting ethnic solidarity in ways that are really intolerable in an educational community.”

Huppenthal called the program an indoctrination. “In no way, shape or form are we banning any kind of books or any kind of viewpoint from the classroom,” he said. “But we are saying that if all you’re teaching these students is one viewpoint, one dimension, we can readily see that it’s not an accurate history.”

Last summer, before the program was banned, Huppenthal hired Cambium Consulting to validate his critique but the group’s audit report concluded that the program did not violate state law. He discounted the report.

Brummer said many school board meetings have been tumultuous. Police in riot gear search people as they enter. Students have tied themselves together. Just three days before she left the state, the long-time head of the banned program was dismissed. After an April 2 interview with board member Michael Hicks on The Daily Show, students now give out burritos before meetings. Hicks said on the show that faculty members were serving burritos in class as indoctrination.

And the Arizona Legislature has more in the pipeline. SB 1202 would rescind a credential if the teacher used partisan speech in the classroom. SB 1203 would require any supplemental reading in the classroom to be posted online. SB 1467 would adopt FCC standards of speech decency for all teachers.

CFT is not alone in opposing the ban. The California Legislature passed a resolution supporting ethnic study programs. It says the actions in Arizona, “distort our hallmark as a diverse nation and mischaracterize educational curricula that affirm this diversity as reverse racism, hatred and ethnocentrism.”

—  By Malcolm Terence, CFT Reporter