Mexican American/Raza Studies uses controversy for change
Wednesday, 25 February 2009 00:00
At Mansfeld Middle School, an elective course in indigenous Mexican culture is teaching students a different way to look at history and society.
"A People's Culture," taught by Norma Gonzalez, a TUSD Mexican American/Raza Studies Project Specialist, focuses on educating students about on-going conflict between Mexico and the United States, the impact on Mexican-Americans and the hope of creating change.
"We look at the anti-Latino sentiment, here in Arizona specifically, and look at why it exists," Gonzalez said.
Curriculum for the course involves analyzing certain laws, regulations and advertisements that are viewed as discriminatory towards Mexican Americans. This includes the Official English law that requires all official government actions and documents in Arizona to be conducted in English.
Lessons also educate students about Mexican American viewpoints on historical events, such as the wipeout of the Wampanoag Indians by European contact - a variation of the Thanksgiving story - and involvement in world wars.
"From the perspective of a Chicano elder, World War I started in 1492 and hasn't ended," said Gonzalez. "We see how it has transpired over the years. Initially when Columbus came, people were killed in mass genocide, what it looks like today is the anti-Latino sentiment."
Gonzalez said the course appears very radical to people in the mainstream. On a superficial layer, society defines culture as language, dress, communities and customs, but Mexican Americans define culture as the resources they use to describe their life experiences, she said.
While the course utilizes controversial lesson plans, Gonzalez said the main goal of "A People's Culture" is to promote a positive change throughout society, and construct a more prosperous future through the respect and love of other people.
"For the first few weeks, all we talk about is being able to humanize ourselves," she said. "I want them to be able to learn to humanize other people, even though as students of color they have been dehumanized."
Passing the course with a critical conscious, or the capability to recognize anti-latino sentiment, is also an important lesson, Gonzalez said.
TUSD is the nation's only school district with a Raza Studies department, causing a variety of reactions across the country, including from Arizona state school Superintendent Tom Horne. Although the program is scrutinized by conservative groups, it has received positive support from former Arizona Gov. Janet Napolitano, now the United States Homeland Security Secretary.
The class is aligned with the Arizona state standards and TUSD's core curriculum. "The program is research sound, and effective," Gonzalez said.
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