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Posted at 11:27 AM ET, 05/25/2010

Why Arizona targeted ethnic studies

By Valerie Strauss

This is not a defense of ethnic studies in general.

This is not a defense of an ethnic studies program in particular.

What follows is an open letter written by Tom Horne, Arizona’s longtime secretary of education, that explains why he disliked an ethnic studies program in the Tuscon Unified School District so much that he pushed through a law that he hoped would end it.

Earlier this month Gov. Jan Brewer signed into law a bill that had been pushed by Horne, who took a disliking to the program several years ago.

The bill prohibits any class in the state from promoting either the overthrow of the U.S. government or resentment toward a race or class of people, and that advocates ethnic solidarity instead of the treatment of pupils as individuals, and -- here’s the big one -- that are designed primarily for pupils of a particular ethnic group.

The Tucson program offers specialized courses in African-American, Mexican-American and Native-American studies that focus on history and literature and includes information about the influence of a particular ethnic group.

Officials with the program say that it does not violate the new law in any way. They say it offers factual information; for example in the Mexican-American Studies program, an American history course explores the role of Hispanics in the Vietnam War, and a literature course emphasizes Latino authors. The students learn, for example, that Arizona was once part of Mexico, and that in the 1960s Chicano radicals called for reclaiming the land.

Historians and educators can argue the importance or lack thereof of such studies, and the merits and demerits of particular programs. I’m sure there are wonderful ethnic studies programs out there, just as there are probably poorly designed ones, a range of quality that can be found in every area of educational programming.

Under the theory that results are not all that matter in human discourse but that motivations matter too, read the open letter that Horne wrote in 2007 explaining why he decided to target the program.

I find his motivations revealing, and read into the letter a personal dislike that he turned into a political crusade and selectively chose and wrongly interpreted some material to make his case. You may find something else in the letter, but that's the beauty of America: We are allowed to disagree, at least so far.

The letter, dated June 11, 2007, is now prominently posted on the Web site of the Arizona Department of Education. Here it is:


I. The TUSD Ethnic Studies Program Should be Terminated.
The citizens of Tucson, of all mainstream political ideologies, would call for the elimination of the Tucson Unified School District’s ethnic studies program if they knew
what was happening there. I believe this is true of citizens of all mainstream political
ideologies. The purpose of this letter is to bring these facts out into the open. The
decision of whether or not to eliminate this program will rest with the citizens of Tucson
through their elected school board.

II. Philosophy.
First, let’s spend a minute on underlying philosophy. I believe people are individuals, not exemplars of racial groups. What is important about people is what they know, what they can do, their ability to appreciate beauty, their character, and not what race into which they are born. They are entitled to be treated that way. It is fundamentally wrong to divide students up according to their racial group, and teach them separately.

In the summer of 1963, having recently graduated from high school, I participated in the civil rights march on Washington, in which Martin Luther King stated that he wanted his children to be judged by the content of their character rather than the color of their skin. That has been a fundamental principal for me my entire life, and Ethnic Studies teaches the opposite.

III. Personal Observations.
I personally observed this at the Tucson Magnet School. My Deputy, Margaret Garcia Dugan, who is Latina and Republican, came to refute the allegation made earlier to the student body, that “Republicans hate Latinos”. Her speech was non-partisan and professional, urging students to think for themselves, and avoid stereotypes. Yet, a small
group of La Raza Studies students treated her rudely, and when the principal asked
them to sit down and listen, they defiantly walked out. By contrast, teenage Republicans
listened politely when Delores Huerta told the entire student body that “Republicans hate Latinos.”

In hundreds of visits to schools, I’ve never seen students act rudely and in defiance of authority, except in this one unhappy case. I believe the students did not learn this rudeness at home, but from their Raza teachers. The students are being ill served. Success as adults requires the ability to deal with disagreements in a civil manner. Also, they are creating a hostile atmosphere in the school for the other students, who were not born into their “race”.

Hector Ayala was born in Mexico, and is an excellent English teacher at Cholla High School in TUSD. He reports that the Director of Raza Studies accused him of being the “white man’s agent,” and that when this director was a teacher, he taught a separatist political agenda, and his students told Hector that they were taught in Raza Studies to “not fall for the white man’s traps.”

IV. Textbooks.
As I will describe, the evidence is overwhelming that ethnic studies in the Tucson Unified School District teaches a kind of destructive ethnic chauvinism that the citizens of Tucson should no longer tolerate.

The very name “Raza” is translated as “the race.” On the TUSD website, it says the basic text for this program is “the pedagogy of oppression.” Most of these students’
parents and grandparents came to this country, legally, because this is the land of
opportunity. They trust the public schools with their children. Those students should
be taught that this is the land of opportunity, and that if they work hard they can achieve
their goals. They should not be taught that they are oppressed.

One of the textbooks is Occupied America (5th ed.). One of the leaders it talks about is described as follows: “José Angel Gutiérrez was one of the leaders, and he expressed the frustrations of the MAYO generation. His contribution was indispensable; it influenced Chicanos throughout the country.”

One of Gutiérrez’s speeches is described as follows:
We are fed up. We are going to move to do away with the injustices to the Chicano and if the ‘gringo’ doesn’t get out of our way, we will stampede over him.” Gutiérrez attacked the gringo establishment angrily at a press conference and called upon Chicanos to ‘kill the gringo,’ which meant to end white control over Mexicans.

The textbook’s translation of what Gutiérrez meant contradicts his clear language. In describing the atmosphere in Texas where Gutiérrez spoke, the textbook states: “Texans had never come to grips with the fact that Mexicans had won at the Alamo.” (P. 323.) It is certainly strange to find a textbook in an American public school taking the Mexican side of the battle at the Alamo.

Another textbook is The Mexican American Heritage (2nd ed.). One of the chapters is “The Loss of Aztlan.” Aztlan refers to the states taken from Mexico in 1848: Arizona, California, New Mexico and Colorado. This chapter states: “Apparently the U.S. is having as little success in keeping the Mexicans out of Aztlan as Mexico had when they tried to keep the North Americans out of Texas in 1830.” (P. 107.) In other words, books paid for by American taxpayers used in American public schools are gloating over the difficulty we are having in controlling the border. This page goes on to state: “...The Latinos are now realizing that the power to control Aztlan may once again be in their hands.”

V. M.E.Ch.A.
The extracurricular activity at TUSD related to ethnic studies is called M.E.Ch.A. When I was at Tucson high school, the librarian was wearing a M.E.Ch.A. tee shirt. If you Google M.E.Ch.A., you will find its goals and constitution. In the introductory paragraph, M.E.Ch.A. states:

We are Chicanos and Chicanas of Aztlán reclaiming the land of out [sic] birth (Chicano
and Chicana Nation); 2) Aztlán belongs to indigenous people, who are sovereign and not
subject to a foreign culture....

In section 2 of the M.E.Ch.A. Constitution it states:
Aztlán belongs to those who plant the seeds, water the fields, and gather the crops and not to the foreign Europeans. We do not recognize capricious frontiers on the bronze continent.

VI. Teaching the Wrong Things About Literature.
When I began speaking out publicly against ethnic studies, one of the ethnic studies teachers had his students write me letters. One of these letters states: “All that the English classes teach is mainly about some dead white people.” I believe schools should teach the students to judge literature by its content and not by the race or gender of the author.

VII. MacEachern Investigative Reports.
After my confrontation with TUSD over ethnic studies had begun, Doug MacEachern, a columnist for the Arizona Republic, ran a series of investigative reports on ethnic studies. This is the kind of thing that the Star and the Citizen should do, but thus far only the Republic has done. One of his sources was a former TUSD teacher named John Ward, who despite his name, is Hispanic. Ward reports:

But the whole inference and tone was anger. (They taught students) that
the United States was and still is a fundamentally racist country to those
of Mexican-American kids.

Individuals in this (Ethnic Studies) department are vehemently anti-
Western culture. They are vehemently opposed to the United States and
its power. They are telling students they are victims and that they should
be angry and rise up.

. . .

By the time I left that class, I saw a change (in the students), he said. An
angry tone. They taught them not to trust their teachers, not to trust the
system. They taught them the system wasn’t worth trusting.

Because Ward no longer worked at TUSD, he was willing to be quoted. Many
current TUSD employees have talked to me about the horrors of what they have
witnessed in the Ethnic Studies Program, and the almost totalitarian climate of fear at
TUSD which keeps them from being quoted. Here is what MacEachern found:

In the past several weeks, messages have filtered out from teachers and other TUSD employees (some directed to Horne; others who have contacted me, following two previous columns on this subject) about what an officially recognized resentment-based program does to a high school.

In a word, it creates fear.

Teachers and counselors are being called before their school principals and even the district school board and accused of being racists. And with a cadre of self-acknowledged ‘progressive’ political activists in the ethnic-studies department on the hunt, the race transgressors are multiplying.

The director of the TUSD Ethnic Studies Department, who keeps a portrait of Ché
Guevara on the wall of his classroom, spoke to MacEachern: “Our teachers are leftleaning. They are progressives. They’re going to have things (in their courses) that
conservatives are not going to like, he told me.”

VII. TUSD’s Intimidation of Its Employees.
Ward eventually wrote his own column. He describes how the TUSD administration intimidated him by removing him from his class, and calling him a “racist,” even though he himself is Hispanic. This tactic, he writes: fundamentally anti-intellectual because it immediately stops debate by threatening to destroy the reputation of those who would provide counter arguments.

Unfortunately, I am not the only one to have been intimidated by the Raza studies department in this way.

VIII. The Time for Action Is Now.
TUSD can intimidate its employees. But it cannot intimidate you, the citizens. You are in a comfortable position. You can speak out. If the TUSD board eliminates ethnic studies, it will save $2 million a year of your money, the cost of ethnic studies administrators and consultants alone. That is your money. The school board represents you. I can use my pulpit to bring out the facts, but only you can bring about change.

Tom Horne

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By Valerie Strauss  | May 25, 2010; 11:27 AM ET
Categories:  Civics Education, History  | Tags:  arizona and ethnic studies, arizona department of education, arizona law on ethnic studies, ethnic studies, ethnic studies law, history, mexican-american studies, tom horne  
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A general thought on student drop out rate and discipline problems..

Motivate students to graduate with the privilege of a drivers license.
Change drivers license law to read "no one under age 21 can have a drivers license unless they have a HS diploma, GED, or are currently enrolled in HS and on track to graduate""......
Connect HS Principals office to State DMV by computer so at end of each semester a drivers license can be suspended by a Principal until grades are brought back to passing.

Several advantages with this.

Less discipline problems in all grade levels.
Create thousands of new jobs in education field.
Cut drop out rate dramatically.
Will not create any hardship on present HS population that is on graduation track.

Posted by: ral5555ph | May 25, 2010 1:52 PM | Report abuse

Why can't they change the Tuscon program or fire a few of the teachers that are teaching the way this letter descrbes? Latin American literature is recognized aroung the world and translated into many languages. It is worth teaching.

La Raza does translate as "race" but capitalized in Spanish it means the combination of European, African and Native American races that occurred after/during the Spanish Conquest, thus creating a new, mixed race of people. Old World and New world.

Some of this stuff is misunderstanding and some of it sounds like radical stuff. But can't the radical elements be brought under control in a public school setting? Does the whole state have to become ignorant on certain issues because of a few radical teachers?

Also, Dolores Huerta is someone who works for workers rights. She is not going to be politically correct in a "Republican" way. It doesn't mean that she is a bad influence. Che Guevara is popular among many people because he worked to help the poor.

Thsy should continue to tell the truth, but drop the hateful angry stuff.

Posted by: celestun100 | May 25, 2010 2:12 PM | Report abuse

I strongly disagree with your suggestion that Tom Horne is acting on a personal bias and agenda. Clearly these Hispanic/Latino studies cited are racist, hateful and revisionist. So you think it's OK for U.S. taxpayer dollars to fund these Hispanic fantasy classes?

Posted by: wmpowellfan | May 25, 2010 3:07 PM | Report abuse

I strongly disagree with your suggestion that Tom Horne is acting on a personal bias and agenda. Clearly these Hispanic/Latino studies cited are racist, hateful and revisionist. So you think it's OK for U.S. taxpayer dollars to fund these Hispanic fantasy classes?

Posted by: wmpowellfan | May 25, 2010 3:07 PM | Report abuse

I am a substitute in two schools that are primarily white and have white principals. The students, of all ages, routinely interupt teachers and talk through the morning announcements. Is this because they have been taught to hate their white principals and teachers? Or is it just that students today have so little experience in conversation, either at home or school, that they don't even know they are being rude?

Posted by: sideswiththekids | May 25, 2010 11:13 PM | Report abuse

sideswiththekids, students are typically not rude with people that come from outside the school to speak to them as was the case in the article.

Those ethnic studies classes that prmote the hatred of others in society based on ethnic, color or even past culture, or historical events, should be removed.

All classes should be teaching working together for a better society and world, not dividing each other into groups and hating each other.

Posted by: win1 | May 27, 2010 2:21 PM | Report abuse

While I believe in and uphold free speech and freedom of association, I find any organization based solely or primarily on race, and which advocates ethnic solidarity, promotes resentment of a race or class of people or promotes the overthrow of the United States government. such as La Raza, MEChA, the Black Panthers and the Aryan Brotherhood, no matter what good they might do, repugnant on many levels, not least morally.

Please ask yourselves if such organizations sound more to you like the KKK, White Citizens Councils and the Nazis, or more like the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., who so famously, courageously and passionately said, "I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character." How can one support that idea, and not detest La Raza, MEChA, skinheads and all other racists and haters of that ilk?

Courses designed for a single racial or ethnic group, I agree, sound like a return to what the South was like under de jure and de facto segregation and for some time after. Why would we ever want to promote racial or ethnic separation in our public institutions, after all of the blood, sweat and tears that have been shed to break down, eliminate and discourage racial separation in this country? How can separate ever be equal? Do those who teach and espouse such divisive, hateful and disloyal ideas want Brown vs. the Board of Education of Topeka, Kansas overturned? Really?

The advocacy of racial solidarity is pernicious, no matter what race is in question. The promotion of resentment of any race or people is just plain wrong. We know to what it can lead: the wrongs of Manzanar, the horrors of Kristallnacht and Buchenwald, and the Rape of Nanking, to list but a few.

The promotion of the overthrow of its own government is clearly unacceptable in any country. It is never something to be paid for with taxpayer's dollars. It has no place in the public schools.

Have we learned so little?

This is not about pride in one's heritage, culture, birthplace or land of origin: that is good. Nor is this in any way about devaluing or oppressing anyone, even though such deceitful excuses and claims have been made to justify some truly awful and abhorrent issue positions and actions of such groups in the past. Finally, this is not about whitewashing the blemishes and stains that must be known and understood by all our students, right along with our ideals and accomplishments. Rather, it is about who we are and should be as individuals, communities, states and a nation. It is about our best and highest hopes for our children.

This is about all our children.

Posted by: neopatetic | May 28, 2010 11:50 AM | Report abuse

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