24 May 2012
A few weeks ago I published a post which included commentary on the dismantling of the Mexican American Studies (MAS) program at Tucson High School, and the banning of books which focused on Mexican American history and culture. Both actions were undertaken by Arizona Governor Jan Brewer, with support from white conservative legislators, none of whom had ever sat in on one of the program's classes to actually see and hear what is taught. The dismantling and banning were done blindly, on suspicion that ethnic studies subvert American values. In fact, the opposite is true. In dictatorial fashion, Brewer is considering extending the ban to include ethnic studies at the state's universities.
Serendipitously, last night I watched an episode of the PBS series Independent Lens, an indie film titled Precious Knowledge ~ On the Front Lines of the Ethnic Studies War. The documentary puts a human face on the teachers, the students, and the racist book banners involved in the TUSD controversy. It traces the development of classes in Mexican American Studies, the suppression of the program by Brewer and others, and the demonstrations organized by students to protest the loss of this valuable resource. Fact ~ 93 percent of students who enroll in the program's classes graduate from high school, compared to 50 percent of Latino students overall. The Mexican American Studies program has been so successful that school districts in other cities around the country have adopted it as a model for helping Latino, black, Asian, Native American, and other minority students to stay in school and graduate. At TUSD, the program was open to all students, not limited to Latino students.
As a former student and a former teacher, I was deeply impressed with the range and depth of learning taking place in the MAS classroom ~ not just learning about Latino history in the Americas, but learning about active involvement in improving one's community. When minority students grasp that they are not second-class citizens, that racial stereotypes are false, and that they have the intelligence and the right to speak out for quality education, it is inspiring to watch their minds and spirits blossom.
I highly recommend watching the program here, at your earliest opportunity. According to the website, it will only be available for viewing until June 9. I do not know whether it may be available elsewhere after that date, but I'll provide updates as I find out. Here is a brief summary of the making of the documentary. And here is Wikipedia's summary of the film's story line.