Arizona’s Ethnic Studies Needs No Defense: It Needs More Defenders
by Jeff Biggers
In a must read cover story in the most recent Tucson Weekly, acclaimed journalist and fifth-generation Tucsonan Mari Herraras expertly sorts fact from fiction in the controversial Ethnic Studies ban in Arizona.
Yet, underscoring Herraras’ debunking of 10 myths — that “stories of mythical proportions have surrounded the fight for Mexican-American studies — with some truths sprinkled in between the lines” — is one of the most tragic, if not obscene, realities in Arizona’s education showdown: As the state inches toward its centennial in 2012, Mexican Americans — including the 60 percent of the students that make up Tucson Unified School District — still have to defend and justify the teaching of Mexican American history and literature, as if Mexican Americans are not part of the greater American experience.
The final showdown over the extremist witch hunt to outlaw Ethnic Studies in Tucson is only days away; but, the supremely American struggle for democratic education, justice and local control of schools has been playing out in the state’s segregated minds for over a century.
Five years ago, long-time educator Salomon Baldenegro nailed Tucson’s and the state of Arizona’s enduring and shameful problem: “…history is cyclical, and the Mexican haters have resurfaced. We again find ourselves having to prove our legitimacy in our own country.”
Or, at least in the legislative narrative of a modern-day Arizona framed by recalled Tea Party President Russell Pearce and his friends, Canadian-immigrant and violence-invoking Attorney General Tom Horne, and Tea Party extremist John Huppenthal, the embarrassingly incompetent Superintendent of Public Instruction.
Or, in the silence and ineptitude of a school district overseen by a demoralizing figure like TUSD Superintendent John Pedicone, who reneged on his promise to join the Mexican American Studies program in their federal court battle for constitutional rights, unleashed unforgivable and excessive police brutality on the city’s youth and elderly icons last spring, placed obstacles on the program, referred to college-bound students as “pawns,” refused to participate in public forums to heal the divide in the city, and dismissively concluded the historic legacy of Mexican American Studies as a “distraction” in his overwhelmingly Mexican American district.
In a chilling reminder of his acquiescence to the hateful narrative of Horne and Huppenthal, Pedicone refused to publicly rebuke, despite numerous pleas, Huppenthal’s vicious charge in September that his district’s own Mexican American youth could be compared to Hitler’s paramilitary Jugend.
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