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Ethnic Studies Equals Politically Conscious Latino Students -- Which is Exactly Why Its Enemies Want to Kill It

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So what's all the hubbub about? Right-wing blatherers, such as Tucson radio hate­monger Jon Justice of 104.1 FM, tell the nativist faithful that these Latino children learn to resent Anglos in the classes. That "American" history is not being taught, in favor of Chicano history.

To which, I would point out that Chicano history is American history. Chicanos are, by definition, Americans of Mexican descent. How can their history not be part of American history?

Up through high school, TUSD children are taught general American history. In high school, they can choose a MAS class to fulfill core requirements in history, government, and literature.

Do MAS students resent or hate white folk? Not according to the students I've interviewed, who've all been very open and intelligent beyond their years.

When I was in Tucson for a TUSD board meeting, where hundreds of pro-ethnic studies demonstrators and at least 100 cops squared off in what turned out to be a PR disaster for Superintendent Pedicone and anti-MAS board members ("TUSD's Tuesday Night Debacle," May 4), I talked with Julianna, a 16-year-old ethnic-studies student who doesn't want the classes to go away.

"People think it's a negative class," Julianna said. "Yeah, there were things that happened to our people, but we need to turn it into something positive and learn from that history and learn to love each other."

Regarding the MacEachern-Horne depictions that cast her and her friends as Mau-Maus in the making, she told me how every class begins with the recitation of a poem based on a traditional Mayan greeting called In Lak'ech.

"Basically, it means that you're my other self," she told me. "I love you because I love myself. If I hurt you, I hurt myself."

Other students and teachers I spoke with confirmed that In Lak'ech is commonly recited in ethnic-studies classes. To my ears, the sentiment pretty much parallels Christian teachings.

How does this jibe with the quote Horne plucks from the seminal Chicano studies textbook Occupied America, now in its seventh edition? In it, author Rodolfo Acuña quotes a speech from Mexican-American leader Jose Angel Gutierrez in which Gutierrez encouraged Chicanos to "kill the gringo."

Outside that contentious TUSD meeting, where seven people were arrested for speaking out of turn, I asked a young Anglo woman named Erin about the quote. Now a freshman at the University of Arizona, she took MAS in high school and said she didn't recall Gutierrez's speech ever being taught.

But she explained that a phrase such as that would be presented in the context of who said it and when, not as some sort of commandment.

"It's inaccurate to pick out one sentence in probably the 50 different texts you read each semester," she said. "[Horne's] just looking in the text from his perspective."

In fact, both Horne and MacEachern skillfully utilize McCarthyism as a tactic to bash ethnic studies.

In his finding against TUSD's ethnic studies, signed a day before the law actually went into effect, Horne slams acclaimed academic Paulo Freire, author of Pedagogy of the Oppressed, from which seniors in ethnic studies classes read excerpts.

Horne calls Freire a "Brazilian Marxist," which he was. He also was jailed by Brazil's military junta in the 1960s, forced to flee the country, and ended up a professor at Harvard and, later, moving on to Geneva, Switzerland.

If Horne had bothered to read and understand Freire's work regarding the philosophy of education, he would have realized that more than anything else, Freire was a humanist, and he was influenced by an intensely repressive political system, one that might well have killed him if he'd stayed in his native land.

Moreover, if you start excluding works of those influenced by Karl Marx, you'd have to rid your library of a truckload of modern authors: John Reed, Jean-Paul Sartre, and John Steinbeck, to name a few.

Ultimately, both Horne and MacEachern have taken an anti-intellectual stance, one described, ironically, in Freire's book.

Freire writes: "Education either functions as an instrument which is used to facilitate integration of the younger generation into the logic of the present system and bring about conformity or it becomes the practice of freedom, the means by which men and women deal critically and creatively with reality and discover how to participate in the transformation of their world."

Do ethnic-studies teachers want their kids to transform the world for the better? Well, what good teacher doesn't?

Horne, MacEachern, Justice, and other angry white men are clearly threatened by young Latinos — actually, kids of all races — thinking critically and becoming active and involved politically.

By downgrading or destroying ethnic studies, they would rid TUSD of the gains it has made, making it quite likely that many of those at-risk kids will not achieve at high levels.

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Stephen is a former staff writer and columnist at Phoenix New Times.
Contact: Stephen Lemons