Since the cameras stopped rolling on the documentary Precious Knowledge (premiering May 17 on Independent Lens), the Tucson Unified School District has been all over the news. Precious Knowledge follows the student backlash from a school board decision to dismantle the Mexican American Studies program.
Catch up on the whole story with our handy guide to the ethnic studies kerfuffle in Tucson:
- In May 2010, Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer banned classes designed for students of a particular ethnic group. Read the full law: House Bill 2281.
- Based on that law, Tucson shut down its Mexican American Studies program and banned a truckload of books in January.
- Even Shakespeare was banned. Among the extensive list of forbidden books, The Tempest by William Shakespeare and Ten Little Indians by PEN/Faulkner Award-winner Sherman Alexie were nixed from Tucson classrooms.
- Detractors of MAS took particular issue with Pedagogy of the Oppressed by Paulo Freire, a text often used in college classes to look at history through the lens of the oppressed. Arizona schools chief John Huppenthal said the book promoted racial hatred, according to The Arizona Republic.
- As chronicled in Precious Knowledge, Tucson students protested passionately, including organized walkouts, and their protests led to student arrests.
- True to form, The Daily Show found viral humor in a politically charged issue. School board member Michael Hicks made several gaffes on The Daily Show, and the video clip has received more than a quarter million views. Hicks admitted that he never attended any MAS classes: “Why even go? Why even go? I base my thoughts on hearsay from others, so I based it off of those.” He also indicated that the ban on ethnic studies would not be enforced against any other program except Mexican American Studies.
- Meanwhile, Arizona Attorney General Tom Horne, one of the leaders of the book ban, came under FBI investigation in January.
- In response to the ban, authors and activists have brought an “underground library” to Tucson. Tony Diaz, a literature professor at Houston Community College, has coined the term librotraficante, or “book smuggling,” to describe what he has done with three dozen comrades as they haul banned books to Arizona.
- An interesting backstory: For decades, TUSD has operated under a federal desegregation order. In 2009, the school board committed to expanding its MAS program because MAS was shown to be narrowing the achievement gap between white and Latino students.
- In April, the closures continued. The Tucson Citizen broke its ties with the popular blogger and Latino activist The Three Sonorans.
- The school board sacked the Mexican American Studies program director, Sean Arce, just days after he won the national Myles Horton Education Award from the Zinn Education Project.
- John Huppenthal, the superintendent of public instruction in the state and a member of the Arizona Board of Regents, is now apparently looking to extend the ban on ethnic studies to public universities in the state.
- Now, a federal court is challenging the constitutionality of the Arizona law banning ethnic studies, and two students are serving as plaintiffs.