To the Editor:
The Chronicle of Higher Education has not fully covered what is happening in Arizona, where state legislators passed a measure, HB 2281, that prohibits schools from offering classes that promote ethnic solidarity or advocate the overthrow of the government. Arizona's state superintendent of public instruction, John Huppenthal, ran on a promise to eliminate the Tucson Unified School District's Mexican American Studies program. He charged that the program was subversive and promoted racism. Despite an investigation of the Arizona office of the Anti-Defamation League that cleared the program, Mr. Huppenthal commissioned Cambium Learning Group Inc. to conduct a $170,000 study to support his allegations. After months of harassment, a report came back this month invalidating the allegations, saying that the program was not racist or unpatriotic and praising the program.
The Mexican American Studies program at the middle- and high-school levels offer 45 sections per semester. The Tucson Unified School District is 70 percent Latino; the Mexican American Studies classes are attended by students of all races. The dropout rate in the district has been above 50 percent, but students in the Mexican American Studies program have done much better, with a graduation rate in the 90th percentile.
The program legally is protected, because only two years ago the Tucson Unified School District was released from federal oversight imposed as a result of a desegregation order in the 1970s. A condition set by the court was that the school district file, and comply with, a unitary plan. The district filed a plan that assured the status of Mexican American Studies. But Mr. Huppenthal hopes has conspired—along with John Pedicone, the Tucson superintendent of schools, and two school-board members, Mark Stegeman and Michael Hicks,—to break the district's agreement with the federal courts.
The community is fighting back. It has filed a suit challenging HB 2281 and attempts to eliminate Mexican American Studies. But students, teachers, and community members have been attacked, arrested, and threatened with job loss. In over 50 years as an educator, I have rarely seen this type of repression. Arizona is a state without laws. It comes down on those expressing their free-speech rights while allowing and condoning Tea Partyers and so-called Minutemen to run around with holstered guns.
I urge educators to go to http://saveethnicstudies.org/ and learn what is happening.
Rodolfo F. Acuñ
Chicana/o Studies Department
California State University at Northridge