Published on
Common Dreams

Arizona School District Wipes Latino American History Off the Map

Common Dreams staff

A catastrophe in slow motion has played out in Arizona schools over the last several years as anti-immigrant sentiment crept into state legislation guiding how and what kind of Mexican American and indigenous history could be taught in classrooms across the southwestern border state.  What may have seemed absurd until recently is now a reality as boxes of banned books will now be gathered up and locked away.

UPDATED on 1/18/12: Jeff Biggers updates his previous reporting after the Tuscon Unified School District responded to various reports of books being banned in Arizona schools:

In a clarification of last Friday’s announcement of a list of Mexican American Studies books to “be cleared from all classrooms” in order to comply with a state ban on ethnic studies, the Tucson Unified School District (TUSD) declared Tuesday that it ”has not banned any books as has been widely and incorrectly reported.”

But, Biggers continues, opponents were not satisfied with TUSD's explanation:

The TUSD statement “lacks accuracy and represents a thinly veiled attempt to cover up with distortions what is happening,” said Richard Martinez, the lead attorney on behalf of teachers and students challenging the ban in federal court.  “Pandora’s box has been opened and the ugly face of the bigoted right wing has been exposed for what it is: an attempt to keep Latinos, poor, dumb and abused.”

Whether the removal of the books from all classrooms should be considered an outright ban or a possibly temporary prohibition brought little comfort to supporters of Tucson’s Mexican American Studies program, who sponsored an emotional community forum last Saturday with students and teachers who had witnessed the forced removal of the books from their classrooms.

UPDATE: Amy Goodman hosted a spirited debate between Huppenthal and Martinez on Wednesday's Democracy Now!:

Jeff Biggers, who has covered the ethnic studies ban in Arizona extensively, reported at Salon:

As part of the state-mandated termination of its ethnic studies  program, the Tucson Unified School District released an initial list of books to be banned from its schools today.  According to district spokeperson Cara Rene, the books “will be cleared from all classrooms, boxed up and sent to the Textbook Depository for storage.”

Facing a multimillion-dollar penalty in state funds, the governing board of Tucson’s largest school district officially ended the 13-year-old program on Tuesday in an attempt to come into compliance with the controversial state ban on the teaching of ethnic studies.

This is the list of textbooks cleared from the classrooms, according to KGUN 9 in Tuscon:

Critical Race Theory– Richard Delgado
500 Years of Chicano History in Pictures – edited by Elizabeth Martinez
Message to AZTLAN – Rodolfo Corky Gonzales
Chicano! The History of the Mexican Civil Rights Movement – Arturo Rosales
Occupied America:  A History of Chicanos – Rodolfo Acuna
Pedagogy of the Oppressed – Paulo Freire
Rethinking Columbus: The next 500 Years – Bill Bigelow

The list of removed books includes the 20-year-old textbook “Rethinking Columbus: The Next 500 Years,” which features an essay by Tucson author Leslie Silko.  Recipient of a Native Writers’ Circle of the Americas Lifetime Achievement Award and a MacArthur Foundation genius grant, Silko has been an outspoken supporter of the ethnic studies program.

Bill Bigelow, editor of the now banned Rethinking Columbus and of the magazine and website Rethinking Schools, had this to say about the decision:

“By ordering teachers to remove ‘Rethinking Columbus,’ the Tucson school district has shown tremendous disrespect for teachers and students. This is a book that has sold over 300,000 copies and is used in school districts from Anchorage to Atlanta, and from Portland, Oregon to Portland, Maine. It offers teaching strategies and readings that teachers can use to help students think about the perspectives that are too often silenced in the traditional curriculum.”

Indian Country News explains:

Arizona’s state ban on ethnic studies—in HB 2281—took effect January 1, and states that no classes can be taught that “promote the overthrow of the United States government; promote resentment toward a race or class of people; are designed primarily for pupils of a particular ethnic group; advocate ethnic solidarity instead of the treatment of pupils as individuals.”

The Arizona Department of Education can withhold 10 percent of a district’s state funding if it is found in violation of HB 2281. That provision put $15 million of state funding for TUSD in danger.

State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Horne pushed for the passage of HB 2281 and has been criticizing ethnic studies programs in Tucson for years.

And Rodolfo Acuña, writing at Culture Strike, remarks:

Arizona schools have abandoned its mission to educate students; they have intentionally denied Mexican American students access to knowledge. Consequently the Arizona bureaucracy has deliberately kept them in the fields, the mines and the prisons, hoping to deny them alternatives.

The purpose of critical thinking is to give students alternatives and to dispel myths and repel blind allegiance to those who deny them alternatives.

According to the late Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart, “Censorship reflects society’s lack of confidence in itself. It is a hallmark of an authoritarian regime.”

The motivation of the TUSD Trustees cannot be explained in terms of greed alone. It cannot be rationalized by culture alone. Money and personal gain play a role.

And explains his book, his teaching philosophy in the following video:

And, Biggers notes:

In a school district founded by a Mexican-American in which more than 60 percent of the students come from Mexican-American backgrounds, the administration also removed every textbook dealing with Mexican-American history, including “Chicano!: The History of the Mexican Civil Rights Movement” by Arturo Rosales, which features a biography of longtime Tucson educator Salomon Baldenegro.  Other books removed from the school include “500 Years of Chicano History in Pictures,” by Elizabeth Martinez and the textbook “Critical Race Theory” by scholars Richard Delgado and Jean Stefancic.


This is the world we live in. This is the world we cover.

Because of people like you, another world is possible. There are many battles to be won, but we will battle them together—all of us. Common Dreams is not your normal news site. We don't survive on clicks. We don't want advertising dollars. We want the world to be a better place. But we can't do it alone. It doesn't work that way. We need you. If you can help today—because every gift of every size matters—please do. Without Your Support We Simply Won't Exist.

Share This Article

More in: