Friday, December 14, 2007

The Star's Portillo argues in favor of Ethnic Studies in Tucson high schools

The Arizona Daily Star's Ernesto Portillo has continued to provided excellent arguments in favor of TUSD's Ethnic Studies program. The program has been under attack by state Superintendent of Education Tom Horne, who no doubt is bowing to the political forces which represent bigotry and xenophobia in Arizona.

The Ethnic Studies program, which is available to all Tucson high school students, focuses on literature and humanities from the point of view of those who are not white males. In other words, the program values diversity and presents the contributions of all members of society. The program is very strong on academic excellence, and has consistently demonstrated success in this area- its students have gone on to major success in college and found good jobs, which may be part of what threatens Horne and other Arizona "conservatives."

In this editorial in the 12/14/07 Star Portillo cites several excellent arguments which clearly show the weakness and backwardness of Horne's position. Sorry the Star's links only last a couple weeks, btw.
Horne last month asked Tucson Unified School District's Ethnic Studies Department to give him copies of course materials and the program's cost. He told the Arizona Daily Star, "This is not about education or academics; it is about values."

Really. Whose values?

Would those be of TUSD, parents and students who have asked for and benefited from ethnic studies? Or are they the values of someone who, by his own admission, is opposed to ethnic and gender studies?
Mr. Portillo here echoes what I feel is the strongest and most obvious argument against Superintendent Horne's attack on the program. Horne and his backers don't like it because it focuses on work that is not from their own culture. I can't help but see a really glaring intolerance of cultures not their own. As if the program teaches kids to be rabble-rousers or something!

Portillo on high school in the 70s:
One of my teachers, Geta LeSeur, who taught English and whom I've written about previously, introduced to her ethnically diverse classes literature from women and men of color, along with the accepted works of white males.

Native American. Black. Chicano. Poetry. Essays. Novels.

Prior to this period, it was unheard of — in nearly all of Tucson, I dare say — to read literature outside the foisted norm. I didn't know African-Americans, Asian-Americans, Native-Americans and Mexican-Americans wrote prose and poetry.

This powerful, eye-opening literature spoke truth to me as a young Chicano trying to make sense of the confusion around us.

There were the Vietnam War, civil-rights marches, Nixon and Watergate, Wounded Knee, César Chávez and grape boycotts, and more.

The rich literature gave me a realistic view of my changing world, and LeSeur and other forward-thinking Cholla teachers helped me develop critical-thinking skills and instilled a lifelong love of learning.
Critical thinking skills? Exposure the reality of, and value of diversity? Curriculum that gets students interested and causes them to actually study, and think? What in the world is wrong with that? Horne and his ilk would say that's fine, but it's the wrong kind of curriculum. But it seems some in Arizona feel it's more like the wrong kind of cultures being represented, the wrong kind of people, and the wrong kind of critical thinking skills.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

No Country for Old Men followup

No one's posted the Oprah interview with Cormac McCarthy to uTube. I went to Oprah's site, the interview's sound and vid were distorted, and did not load in a cohesive or orderly fashion. Oh yeah, then there's the annoying "registration." Why the hell should I have to give them my email address just because I want to watch an interview with my favorite author or access any of Oprah's other fascinating topics? Tell us why, marketing luminaries. Is it because you went to a seminar where someone in an expensive suit told you you might be able to indirectly squeeze a few more dollars out of your target audience by insidiously gathering personal data? ...Go to when they tell you need to "register" or "sign in."

Ahem. Anyways here is a McCarthy-esque thread that came up when a friend asked what Cormac McCarthy book to get for an inlaw for Xxxmasss. My bud was like "hey what is the best Cormac McCarthy book?"
It's so strange how dark this stuff is, and how gripping somehow.

No Country for Old Men, btw takes place in 1980, yes, 1980. The Cohen brothers did a good job with it, but it was more like a filmic exercise- they got everything down and it worked pretty good- especially the complexity of the plot.

I think as far as handling the odd zen questions of McCarthy they depended on the photography to handle it more than the conflict of the central character. That worked, but still, other characters were developed more thoroughly in the book, and in the book their conflicts meshed with the odd, lifelike, roaming central questions of the book.

What the Cohen bros. faced in the movie is what you face when you turn a book into a movie, typically. You try to have a film that says what the author said but works as a film too, and can be gripping the same way most films are gripping. Nice effort, you should go see this, just go get Claire and just go see it. hmmmmm....

The border trilogy is probably considered his most important work- it's really just 3 books written several years apart that have an interlocking storyline and message. I'd say of all the tough questions McCarthy asks, they are all encapsulated in their most stunning, thought-provoking, disturbing form in the Border Trilogy, especially in All the Pretty Horses.

Blood Meridian would have to run a close second, even compared to the trilogy.

I think the strangest and most puzzling thing about this guy is that his books describe a world that is so beautiful, but there are these dark and random doings going on at the hands of people. You read one of his books and you feel like you've been through one of the most beautiful landscapes you've ever seen- the Earth in its cruel, wonderful, merciful, blooming ways. Then the humans come around, and you never know what you're going to witness, the ugly part, or the inspiring part. Dig?

Saturday, December 08, 2007


R.I.P. Stockhausen. We've lost a real giant, a real innovator, a big inspiration to us noise-lovers & classical music freaks.

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Ethnic Studies under attack in Arizona high schools

Tom Horne, Arizona's Superintendent of Public Instruction, citing concerns about "values" and "ethnic chauvinism," is apparently seeking to dismantle a very successful Tucson Unified School District ethnic studies program.

TO HIS CREDIT, Mr. Horne does play a mean classical piano, is taking Spanish classes, and is also entirely pissed at voter-driven tax cuts that harm Arizona school funding.

HOWEVER. The ethnic studies program under attack has resulted in statistically proven success among high school students. The program is designed for Latino, Black, Native American and Asian students. Other students who are interested also take part. Quoting from this article in AZ Daily Star by George B. Sánchez:
TUSD's ethnic studies department was created in 2004 as an umbrella for its black, American Indian, Pan-Asian and raza studies programs.

The ethnic studies programs heighten students' understandings of different cultures, offer a critical perspective of U.S. and world history and bolster cultural identity for some, [Augustin] Romero [coordinator of TUSD's ethnic studies department] said.

Celebrating its 10th anniversary this year, raza studies has significantly expanded during the past five years.

About 900 students are officially enrolled in raza studies classes at four high schools. Teachers who have taken part in raza studies workshops are able to incorporate the department's lesson plans into various classes. Romero estimated that about 1,400 students are served daily by the program.
(Sorry the Star's links only last a couple weeks.) Our man Horne, however, who also opposes bilingual education and women's studies, is concerned about "ethnic chauvinism."
...concerned about what he calls "ethnic chauvinism," which he described as "teaching people to make their primary personal identity the ethnic group they were born into rather than identifying as an individual in terms of character and ability."
Mr. Horne has a problem with an academically excellent high school program that's not based on his own culture, in other words! Apparently, to him it's "cultural chauvinism" if something the school district is teaching is not based on a certain culture.

The Star's Ernesto Portillo Jr. also rails against Horne and the xenophobic attack on education in this op ed piece. See also this Star editorial against Horne and his attempt to suck-up to Arizona bigots. The Tucson Citizen spanks Horne's ass in this timely editorial. The local Fox station has of course linked the ethnic studies program with protests against local law enforcement's handling of the case of a student who was not only "an illegal," but also (gasp) smoking pot. Link to Fox-twist here.