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.

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