Monday, January 16, 2012

Arizona Disgraced

Two school districts in Arizona have recently come to the forefront of book banning news, one because it has begun to pack up and ship out boxes of texts, and the other because there are already those trying to keep books from being bought for classrooms and libraries for various (ridiculous) reasons. 

The first of these school districts is the Tucson Unified School District, which recently closed down its Ethnic Studies/Mexican American Studies program.  The program has been lauded for being innovative and much more instructional than previous programs attempted in various districts.  The governing board of the school district, much to the public's chagrin, voted 4-1 in favor of termination and the books will now be boxed up and shipped out to textbook warehouses.  The reason for terminating the program?  Debbie Reese, blogger and professor, writes: "Opponents of the program argued that the classes were promoting resentment toward a race or class of people. That race or class of people is white."  People are actually frightened that the classes will teach resentment toward other races and classes of people... as if that isn't happening already outside of classrooms on a national and international level!!!  Reese continues, in her blog post, saying:
I'm pretty sure that Laura Ingalls Wilder's Little House on the Prairie is not on the list.  Towards the end of that story, Pa learns that the federal government wants squatters (he doesn't use that word) to get off of Indian land.  They load the wagon and as they drive away, they look back and see that that "their little log house and the little stable sat lonely in the stillness."  Pa says that it is a great country, "but there will be wild Indians and wolves here for many a long day."  Books like Little House teach readers to resent a race or class of people, too, but I doubt it is being removed from classrooms....
In his Huffington Post article, Jeff Biggers cites Miguel Ortego, a community leader who ran for a position on the school board last year:
"In the 90's we asked why our students were last to be considered for an ethnic studies program....  Now we ask why we are the first to lose it. After successfully creating the Mexican American Studies program at TUSD in 1998, we knew we would need smart, ethical and courageous leaders to protect it. That fact hasn't changed. We just need to do a better job of understanding that the need for proper leadership to protect what is ours is constant. After last night's vote we should all realize that this need never changes."
I am having to take breaks every few minutes while writing and researching this post as the whole ordeal frustrates me and causes quite a lot of anger and sadness to boil up inside me.  I am even more aghast that a Federal judge refused to halt the implementation of the law banning the Ethnic Studies program, instead saying that a lawsuit to challenge the law could proceed if desired.  While I am hopeful, as is Jeff Biggers, that the program will return in time, I am still outraged that Tea Party state officials were able to influence enough people to pull this off in the first place!!!

In case you, dear reader, are interested to know what texts are being removed, here is a list provided by Debbie Reese:
  • Shakespeare's The Tempest (REALLY?!)
  • Suzan Shown Harjo's "We Have No Reason to Celebrate"
  • Buffy Sainte-Marie's "My Country, 'Tis of Thy People You're Dying"
  • Joseph Bruchac's "A Friend of the Indians"
  • Cornel Pewewardy's "A Barbie-Doll Pocahontas"
  • N. Scott Momaday's "The Delight Song of Tsoai-Talee"
  • Michael Dorris's "Why I'm Not Thankful for Thanksgiving"
  • Leslie Marmon's "Ceremony"
  • Wendy Rose's "Three Thousand Dollar Death Song"
  • Winona LaDuke's "To the Women of the World: Our Future, Our Responsibility"
  • Howard Zinn's A People's History of the United States
  • Jonathan Kozol's Savage Inequalities: Children in America's Schools
  • bell hooks' Feminism is for Everybody
  • Bill Bigelow and Bob Peterson's Rethinking Columbus: The Next 500 Years
I will end this section of the post with a quotation directly from an audit of the program undertaken in May 2011.  After reading this, I seriously have to wonder what sort of society wants to take away programs that actually improve the critical thinking skills of students, programs that actually help students understand social issues and problems.  It makes my head hurt.  But as I said, here is a quotation from the audit:
[A] Tucson Unified School District audit found its Mexican American Studies program gives students a measurable advantage over their peers. The audit was conducted by David Scott, the district’s director of accountability and research. In it, he wrote, quote, "Juniors taking a Mexican American Studies course are more likely than their peers to pass the [state’s standardized] reading and writing ... test if they had previously failed those tests in their sophomore year," and that "Seniors taking a Mexican American Studies course are more likely to persist to graduation than their peers."

On another note, in the Dysart Unified School District (also in Arizona), Representative Jack Harper has decided that he doesn't like some of the books on a list that has been prepared for purposes of acquiring new materials for classrooms and libraries.  I will say first that I understand there has been no move as of yet to remove the books, but it is still important to bring to your attention the sort of ridiculous reasons that are being used to remove books from school systems.  Mr. Harper has declared his list of 11 objectionable titles may be considered inappropriate because some are anti-Christian, gay, transsexual, or promote drug-abuse.  Some of the books of concern were: "Should Marijuana Be Legalized?," "The Genius of Islam," "You Don't Know About Me," "OyMG," "We All Fall Down," "Rich and Mad," "Pink," "Jumpstart the World," "In Trouble," "I Am J" and "Transparent: Transgender."

It turns out, of course, that Mr. Harper viewed the wrong list of books, many of which weren't actually on the list created by the District administration.  And I realize that since nothing was actually removed and because he made a stupid mistake and started shooting his mouth off, but the fact remains that a politician is barging in a deciding what books he thinks are appropriate based on his own personal ideology, rather that looking at the good of the entire School District and the incredibly diverse student body.  For a much more descriptive and official article, see Amy Wang's write-up in The Arizona Republic.

Your comments, concerns, and disagreements are always encouraged.  And, as always, thanks for listening (or reading, I suppose, would be the more appropriate verb here.)