The Whitewashing of Arizona

The state’s ban on “ethnic studies” in high schools reveals a deep fear of racial diversity

By Eric Liu | @ericpliu | May 1, 2012

Ideas Time Magazine

There is a community of Arizonans who live in constant anxiety. They worry that their neighbors want to persecute them. They feel surrounded by hostile strangers. They believe that public opinion and public institutions have been mobilized to undermine their place in society.

These anxious, beleaguered Arizonans aren’t undocumented Mexican immigrants…
Read more:

No History Is Illegal – The Fight for Ethnic Studies from AZ to da Bay

From Teachers 4 Social Justice (T4SJ)

Wednesday, May 9th, 2012 • 6-8pm at Mission High School Library

3750 18th Street
San Fransisco, CA


  • Roger Alvarado, Spokesperson of Third World Liberation Front
  • Representative Teachers from the Tucson Unified School District’s Mexican-American Studies Program
  • Flor Burruel, Student Activist, Pima Community College, Arizona
  • Marcela Itzél Ortega, 11th Grade Student, ARISE High School

Moderator:  Jason Ferreira, SFSU College of Ethnic Studies

In January, 2011, Arizona state attorney general Tom Horne declared the Tucson Unified School District Mexican American Studies program illegal. Over the past year, teachers, students, and administrators have come together to challenge Horne’s ruling, but on January 10, 2012, the TUSD school board voted 4-1 to cease all MAS classes immediately for fear of losing state funding.

In response, the Network of Teacher Activist Groups (TAG), a national coalition of grassroots teacher organizing groups, coordinated No History is Illegal in February, a month of solidarity work in support of Tucson’s Mexican American Studies (MAS) Program and those in struggle on the ground in Arizona.

The current battle over Ethnic Studies is part of a longer history of struggle that emerged out of the civil rights and national liberation movements in the 1960s. San Francisco State University’s Third World Liberation Front led the longest student strike in US history in 1968 and succeeded in establishing the College of Ethnic Studies.

What were the core politics reflected in the origin of “Ethnic Studies” at SFSU?  How is the battle for Ethnic Studies being waged in Tucson today?

In this mulch-generational panel discussion with teacher and student activists, we will view the battle over TUSD’s MAS program through a longer historical lens by hearing from a veteran of SFSU’s Third World Liberation Front as well as representatives from Tucson’s Mexican-American Studies Program and local student organizers.  We will look at ways to support the struggle in Tucson while building our own capacity in the Bay Area to support the movement for a transformative and liberatory education.

There will be 3 local screenings of the movie, Precious Knowledge in the weeks before this event.  For more information and to see Precious Knowledge, the film, click here

Books without Borders: NYT Editorial

Books Without Borders
NYT Editorial 3.16.12 page A26

Published: March 15, 2012

When we reached Tony Diaz, novelist and novice smuggler, by phone this week, he was in West Texas, 500 miles from his home in Houston and about a third of the way through a journey with three dozen comrades and serious contraband. That is, a busload of books.

“The Aztec muse is manifesting right now!” Mr. Diaz said, which was a gleeful way of saying: Watch out, Tucson. Dangerous literature on the way.

Mr. Diaz is the impresario behind an inspiring act of indignation and cultural pride. His bus-and-car caravan is “smuggling” books by Latino authors into Arizona. It’s a response to an educational mugging by right-wing politicians, who enacted a state law in 2010 outlawing curriculums that “advocate ethnic solidarity,” among other imagined evils. That led to the banning of Mexican-American studies in Tucson’s public schools last year.

School officials say the books are not technically banned, just redistributed to the library. But what good is having works from the reading list — like “Los Tucsonenses: The Mexican Community in Tucson, 1854-1941” and “The House on Mango Street,” by Sandra Cisneros — on the shelves if they can’t be taught? Indeed, the point of dismantling the curriculum was to end classroom discussions about these books.

That’s where Mr. Diaz’s “librotraficantes,” or book traffickers, come in. “Arizona tried to erase our history,” he says. “So we’re making more.” They left Houston on Monday. On the way, they’ve held readings with “banned” authors at galleries, bookshops and youth centers. After leaving El Paso on Wednesday, they followed the Rio Grande to Albuquerque, to meet with Rudolfo Anaya, a godfather of Chicano literature. They also planned to wrap some volumes in plastic and carry the “wetbooks” across the river. At the Arizona border, there will be a crossing ceremony. They expect to be in Tucson, singing, dancing and handing out books, by the weekend.

A version of this editorial appeared in print on March 16, 2012, on page A26 of the New York edition with the headline: Books Without Borders.

Emulate, Don’t Eliminate, Tucson’s Mexican American Studies Program by Keith Catone

From the Annenberg Institute for School Reform

AISR Speaks Out: Commentary on Urban Education

Emulate, Don’t Eliminate, Tucson’s Mexican American Studies Program

Author: Keith Catone

For the original posting at AISR click here


An ethnic studies program that was banned by a controversial Arizona state law should be reinstated and championed as a national model of best practice.

The documentary film Precious Knowledge compellingly captures the ways in which Tucson Unified School District’s (TUSD) Mexican American Studies (MAS) program has transformed the educational experiences of many of its students. The program, a series of core academic classes taken by Tucson high school students, concentrates on Mexican American history and perspectives. The students featured in the film discuss the ways in which they were newly energized by what they experienced in MAS classrooms. They described how learning about their own history and in ways relevant to their own culture led them to be more engaged in school as a whole.

At the Annenberg Institute for School Reform, we currently support efforts to increase and deepen student-centered learning in classrooms across New England. Ensuring that learning is relevant and responsive to students’ identities and their communities is at the heart of student-centered learning. This is exactly what Tucson’s MAS program strives to do.

The data tell us that this approach appears to be working. Students in the MAS program far outperformed their peers on Arizona’s state standardized tests in reading (by 45 percentage points), writing (by 59 percentage points), and math (by 33 percentage points), and they enroll in post-secondary institutions at a rate of 67 percent, well above the national average (Ginwright & Cammarota 2011). Also, pedagogies used in Tucson’s MAS classes encourage and support students to be actively involved in their communities, a strategy that has been shown to correlate with increased classroom engagement (Cammarota & Romero 2009).

Despite these successes, in January 2011 State Attorney General Tom Horne declared that the MAS program was in violation of Arizona state law HB2281. As outlined by Shawn Ginwright and Julio Cammarota (2011) in AISR’s journal Voices in Urban Education, HB2281 – promoted by Mr. Horne and passed into law when he was state superintendent of schools in 2010 – was specifically crafted to target TUSD’s MAS program. The law makes illegal any courses that “(1) promote the overthrow of the U.S. government, (2) promote resentment toward a race or class of people, (3) are designed primarily for pupils of a particular ethnic group, and (4) advocate ethnic solidarity instead of treating pupils as individuals.” Teachers and students from the program have spent the past year challenging in federal court the constitutionality of HB2281 and the state’s ruling. But prior to any final court decision, on January 10, 2012, the TUSD school board voted to immediately cease MAS classes for fear of losing state education aid.

Critics of the MAS program have pointed to the use of texts like Paulo Freire’s Pedagogy of the Oppressed and Rodolfo Acuña’s Occupied America: A History of Chicanos as evidence that TUSD’s MAS program promoted radical ideas prohibited by HB2281. But these decontextualized critiques miss the fact that the classes aimed to fully embrace the historical realities and everyday experiences behind being Mexican American and utilized these qualities to develop a rich, rigorous, and engaging course of study that taught students to think critically about issues of politics, race, and identity. Rather than banning what appears to be a highly effective program, education officials and policymakers should instead concentrate their efforts on learning more about whether and how MAS might have contributed to such impressive student outcomes.

Ironically, though, the banning of Tucson’s MAS program has actually led to its widespread recognition and celebration. The controversy has generated interest from bloggers, organizations, and news outlets across the country. The American Educational Research Association passed resolutions condemning both HB2281 and the suspension of MAS classes, calling for the law’s repeal and the program’s reinstatement. Community and education activists have organized screenings of Precious Knowledge in cities across the country that have also served as fundraisers for the legal battle. Other activists have organized a four-day awareness-raising caravan carrying books that were part of the Tucson MAS curriculum and have since been banned. This week, they have traveled from Houston to Tucson, making stops along the way in San Antonio, Texas, and Albuquerque, New Mexico.

This effort, coined “Librotraficante” (or book-trafficker), has gained endorsements from iconic authors whose books have been removed from MAS classrooms in Tucson like Sandra Cisneros (House On Mango Street) and Rudolfo Anaya (Bless Me, Ultima), who will both speak at caravan stops. Finally, in an effort to ensure that the curriculum and pedagogy practiced by the program does not disappear, the national Network of Teacher Activist Groups (TAG) has developed a curriculum guide, No History is Illegal, for teaching about what’s happening in Arizona. Nearly 1,500 educators from across the globe have pledged to teach from the curriculum guide, which includes sample lessons and materials borrowed directly from some of Tucson’s MAS teachers, plus more teaching ideas and resources developed by teachers from across the country.

What these responses make clear is that the teaching and learning practiced through Tucson’s MAS not only has the support of many, but also has the power to engage learners from all walks of life. The curriculum offers the kind of student-centered approach that we need more of in classrooms throughout the United States. If the injustices in Arizona are not rectified, then hopefully the current attention being given to Tucson’s MAS program will, at the very least, help others consider how similar programs might benefit students in their own schools and communities.

Keith Catone
Senior Research Associate, Community Organizing and Engagement
Annenberg Institute for School Reform envelope


Cammarota, J., and A. F. Romero. 2009. “The Social Justice Education Project: A Critically Compassionate Intellectualism for Chicana/o Students.” In Handbook of Social Justice in Education, edited by W. Ayers, T. Quinn, and D. Stovall, pp. 465–476. New York: Routledge.

Ginwright, S., and J. Cammarota. 2011. “Youth Organizing in the Wild West: Mobilizing for Educational Justice in Arizona!” Voices in Urban Education 30, pp. 13–21.

For the original posting click here

A Letter of Thanks

Teacher Activist Groups would like to thank you for your support of the No History Is Illegal campaign. We had an amazing month! With your help we have brought the story of the banned Mexican American Studies program in Arizona to classrooms and community centers across the nation.

The numbers tell part of the story of the impact of this campaign. In the month of February we had 1,477 people pledge to teach about MAS, more than 11,600 unique visitors to our website and 20 organizational endorsements. The curriculum was downloaded 1,550 times. We helped raise $2,200 for the Save Ethnic Studies legal defense fund. We collected 43 powerful testimonies from educators across the country. Please check them out when you have a moment.

But you can also see the campaign’s impact through the experiences of people who are deeply connected to this issue.

Eren McGinnis, Producer, Precious Knowledge

I am traveling all over the country with the Precious Knowledge film. I wanted to let you know that educators across the country are using this innovative website, and I am hearing about it at all of my screenings…I wanted to say THANK YOU and also you and all of your teammates should be proud of doing such a great job on this website. The educators are finding creative ways to use it and it is very important that this information is available. People are very hungry for it and that includes the students and educators. Just wanted to let you know you and your team have some fans out there!

Curtis Acosta, MAS teacher

It is difficult to fully express how important your words, actions, and hard work have been to us. As I sit in my classroom each day I am faced with an overwhelming feeling of loss. Regardless of the resiliency of our students and my own resolve not to let the dismantling of our curriculum, classes and pedagogy alter my own commitment to serving the youth of my community, it is impossible not to be affected. That is why all your testimonies and actions have been so important. Each time we have a fleeting moment of defeat, we are able to be embraced by your words and stories from the No History Is Illegal campaign. Stories from Rhode Island, Colorado, Minnesota, California, and Oregon amongst many others have brought smiles, pride, and even tears of joy to my students and fellow colleagues.

Nicolas Dominguez, MAS student

The feelings that  I get when I remember all of these people who have in some way involved us into their lives is overwhelming and just a true sign of the humanity that exists. As these experiences continue, I am reminded of the vastness of the world that I live in and that I must learn to live in harmony with it.

You helped make all this possible.

Thank you.

In Solidarity,
Teacher Activist Groups
(Association of Raza Educators, Education for Liberation Network, Educators’ Network for Social Justice, Metro Atlantans for Public Schools, New York Collective of Radical Educators, Rethinking Schools, Teacher Action Group Philadelphia, Teacher Activist Group Boston, Teachers 4 Social Justice San Francisco, Teachers for Social Justice Chicago)