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Tucson Reacts to TUSD Mexican-American Studies Elimination

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  In a city with a Hispanic population of 41 percent, many believe Mexican-American studies are an integral part of education.

That’s why when the Tucson Unified School District Governing Board eliminated MAS courses from their district high schools’ curriculum for legal issues, criticism sparked like wildfire.

“The people attacking this program are behaving in a manner that is un-American,” said Oscar De La Torre, board member of the Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District in California. “Fear is driving all of this. We must see the truth.”

After hearing of TUSD’s removal of MAS, De La Torre and a few students flew south to participate in Tuesday's “School of Ethnic Studies” and attend the TUSD board meeting that night.

De La Torre called the trip a “learning experience.” As a researcher, he is studying the positive impact of MAS programs on student graduation rates.

“The graduation rate is much higher for students participating in the program,” he said. “We should strive to educate people in a multicultured society. All of Arizona, the Southern United States, from California to Texas… the culture is one where Mexican-American and Latino social conditions are paramount to political leaders, businessmen, and even journalists.”

He hopes to implement a MAS curriculum in his own community. Introduced as a “Best Practice Program,” his ideas will be voted on at his next board meeting.

The MAS programs are not only culturally-relevant by engaging students in more than the “norm,” but they celebrate the diversity that makes up society, he said. MAS offers a look into the reality of Mexican students’ social conditions.

Several TUSD students agree with De La Torre.

“I have things to say to each board member,” said Nicolas Dominguez, senior at Tucson High Magnet School, in response to the 4-1 vote two weeks ago. “I want to thank Grijalva for her support. To Cuevas, I want to tell him it’s interesting that his vote was influenced by politicians and not his students. And Sugiyama? He voted just because of Arizona law. He must also support the intentions of Executive Order 9066 and Jim Crow laws.”

In the MAS program, Dominguez said he learned about different histories, diverse perspectives, political and social events, and how to apply critical thinking to various situations. Although the students in the classes are primarily Hispanic, other ethnicities are present as well.

Since the MAS elimination, the classes have remained the same in terms of teachers, students, and class times.

The difference?

MAS English is now standard English, MAS Government is now U.S. Government, and so on.

“They expect the teachers to come up with a full year of curriculum over night,” Dominguez said. “Now, a lot of class time is dedicated to talking about what’s happened versus us actually learning the material.”

But, according to TUSD Assistant Superintendent Lupita Cavazos-Garcia, the elimination was necessary for various reasons. Among these include the necessity to revamp the program, complying with state law, and avoiding a $15 million loss.

She said the program will eventually come back as an improved set of multicultural courses under the ordinance of John Huppenthal, Arizona Superintendent of Public Instruction.

Originally, the MAS courses were strictly elective courses that were introduced to TUSD high schools in 2003. In the end, they became a substitute for standard classes such as U.S. History and U.S. Government.

“It became a problem because colleges were calling us asking why students didn’t have the prerequisites of U.S. History on their transcripts,” Cavazos-Garcia said. “It became hard to explain, very convoluted, and raised a ton of questions.”

Like many of the board members, Cavazos-Garcia has received numerous complaints from students and teachers who believe she stripped them of the classes.

“There are people who don’t know me,” she said. “I was born in Mexico and I have dual-citizenship. I love my country. My parents taught [my brother and me] to have a love for our history and our culture.”

“Everything’s been really negative, but I understand both perspectives,” said Lupita Sadatmousavi, teacher at TUSD’s Brichta Elementary School. “People against it have a reason to be because other cultures aren’t offered the same opportunities. And the students were taught to be against America when they should have been taught to be in line with our nation’s values.”

Matters are made worse when people resort to name-calling and fighting, said Sadatmousavi. She dubbed it the “mess TUSD didn’t need” on top of everything else.

“Being Hispanic, I understand the students wanting to learn about their culture, but it has to be in the right way,” she said. “At a board meeting, some students went in and locked themselves to their seats and began chanting. It was a big disruption and it enraged a lot of people.”

Sadatmousavi believes that MAS material could be saved for an after-school program or college-level courses.

Cavazos-Garcia agrees.

“Our libraries are given the opportunity to check out the class books to students,” she said. “However, our textbooks are college-level, and we need to make sure they’re all age appropriate.”

The novels were definitely an important part of class, according to students.

“We read one about a lady in Iraq who lost her life trying to gain these same types of classes,” Dominguez said. “She died in a planned car bombing. It’s interesting to compare Iraq and Tucson.”

Various Tucson High Magnet School alumni, including Armando Sotelo and Jacob Robles, classes of 2007 and 2008, came back to TUSD to protest the elimination.

Both students were in the MAS program their junior and senior years of high school and attended the “School of Ethnic Studies” at the El Casino Ballroom. The event was organized to allow students to choose how they receive their education.

“We brought in presenters and had workshops and speeches,” said Robles.

Sotelo said the MAS program pushed him to go to college after graduation, which was something he never intended to do. It also helped him pass the AIMS tests after two years of failing them.

“I understood school better and I became closer to my family,” he said. “I finally understood my Nana.”

Robles praised the classes’ diversity and intellect.

“You learn different life concepts,” he said. “Like ‘In Lak’ech.’ It means ‘You are my Other Me.’ It’s like the 'Golden Rule,' but it means so much more than that.”

Written by Lauren Inouye You are reading Tucson Reacts to TUSD Mexican-American Studies Elimination articles

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