Arizona's Next Scandal? Tea Party State Official Says Ethnic Studies Violates Ban

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CommonDreams.org

Arizona's Next Scandal? Tea Party State Official Says Ethnic Studies Violates Ban

Arizona could have a new Ethnic Studies scandal on its hands, though not with the students or teachers.

Nearly one year ago, extremist Tea Party state senator John Huppenthal ran for Arizona's superintendent of education post with an inflammatory campaign to "stop la raza" and terminate Tucson's acclaimed Ethnic Studies/Mexican American Studies (MAS) Program.

At one of the most Orwellian press conferences in recent memory, Huppenthal kept his political campaign promise on Wednesday, June 15, at the Arizona Department of Education in Phoenix, declaring the Ethnic Studies/MAS Program to be out of compliance with the state's controversial ban. Huppenthal introduced a long-awaited and costly audit as proof that the MAS Program promoted resentment towards a race, was designed primarily for a particular ethnic race, and advocated ethnic solidarity. Within a few minutes, Huppenthal and his associate superintendent hastily exited the press conference for other engagements.

Just one glitch: On closer review, the audit -- which admittedly visited only 37% of the classes in the affected Tucson schools for a single 30-minute inspection -- contradicts most of Huppenthal's illusive claims and ultimately finds the MAS Program to be in compliance.

Not that the facts appear to bother the Tea Party politician, a featured speaker at Tea Party rallies that have catcalled President Obama as a "Communist" and "Nazi," or echoed Huppenthal's rants on the Senate floor that undocumented immigrants "nuclear-bombed" parts of Arizona's neighborhoods.

"This decision is not about politics, it is about education," Huppenthal read nervously from a printed statement. He proclaimed his "responsibility to uphold the law and a professional imperative to ensure every student has access to an excellent education."

In truth, the audit questions Huppenthal's own judgment: According to the audit, students in the MAS high school program "graduate in the very least at a rate of 5 percent more than their counterparts in 2005, and at the most, a rate of 11 percent more in 2010." The audit added:

MASD programs are designed to improve student achievement based on the audit team's finding of valuable course descriptions aligned with state standards, commendable curricular unit and lesson plan design, engaging instruction practices, and collective inquiry strategies through Approved State Standards. -- pg. 31


In terms of Huppenthal's points of violation, here's a brief review of the audit results that flat out reject Huppenthal's justification for terminating the Ethnic Studies Program:

Designed for Particular Ethnic Group

A majority of evidence demonstrates that the Mexican American Studies Department's instruction is NOT designed primarily for pupils of a particular ethnic group. As previously indicated, every current course syllabus states: "At the core of this course is the idea that ALL people should not be required to give up their ethnic and cultural traditions in order to become part of mainstream society. -- pg. 59

Ethnic Solidarity

No evidence as seen by the auditors exists to indicate that instruction within Mexican American Studies Department program classes advocates ethnic solidarity; rather it has been proven to treat student as individuals. -- pg. 63

Ethnic Resentment

No observable evidence exists that instruction within Mexican American Studies Department promotes resentment toward a race or class of people. The auditors observed the opposite, as students are taught to be accepting of multiple ethnicities of people. -- pg. 55


So, what is in violation? Even Huppenthal dropped the state's earlier claims that the courses promoted the overthrow of the government. Outside of a patronizing dismissal of the program's curriculum development, Huppenthal's team excerpted a handful of very short quotations out of context from various books that somehow override the audit's hugely complimentary assessment. The auditors mainly question whether some of the curriculum material -- such as beloved American historian Howard Zinn's People's History of the United States -- should be taught on a high school academic level.

The audit's summary on page 53: "During the curriculum audit period, no observable evidence was present to suggest that any classroom within Tucson Unified School District is in direct violation of the law A.R.S. 15-112."

Far from being a controversial program, the auditors additionally noted MAS has the required backing of a majority of Tucson Unified School District's board members-- "three board members interviewed by the audit team are clearly supporters of this program."

The auditors conclude:

"No evidence exists in any format that Arizona Revised Statue 15-112 (A) is being violated in any of the six American History from Mexican American Perspective courses visited." -- pg. 69

It echoed the same judgment for the five Latino Literature courses, the four American Government/Social Justice courses, and the Chicano art courses.

What do Huppenthal's auditors recommend?

Maintain Mexican American Studies courses as part of core curriculum for high school course: US History, American Government and Literature. (pg. 66)

The question now is: Should Huppenthal be required to publicly explain his distortions of the audit and be held accountable for any false representations?

Jeff Biggers

Jeff Biggers is the author of The United States of Appalachia, and more recently, Reckoning at Eagle Creek: The Secret Legacy of Coal in the Heartland (The Nation/Basic Books). Follow him on twitter: @JeffRBiggers

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