Feathered Bastard

Ethnic Studies Revolt: Students Take Over TUSD Governing Board Meeting

Courtesy of the Three Sonorans, the revolution is YouTube-ized

How often have you seen students protest and commit acts of civil disobedience because they want to study something?

While their peers in the rest of the country may be looking to cut class, Tucson's students are battling to maintain ethnic studies in the Tucson Unified School District

Last night they took over TUSD's governing board meeting before it even began, with a brave few chaining themselves to board members' chairs, preventing those members from taking their seats.

On the agenda was a proposal to modify TUSD's curricula, and make Mexican-American studies an elective that would not fulfill a core history requirement.

Students were having none of it. As you can see in the video above from the Three Sonorans blog, they were backed by a massive crowd of supporters that included state Senator Steve Gallardo and pro-immigrant icon Isabel Garcia.

Demonstrators included the brilliant Leilani Clark, one of the nine protesters who chained themselves to the state Capitol building last year in defiance of Senate Bill 1070.

The Capitol Nine were arrested, the charges later dropped. But the activists Tuesday night were not taken into custody by local gendarmes. In the video, you can see one security guard trying to keep the students from taking the seats to no avail. 

This is the difference between Pima County and Maricopa County. You can pretty much bet that here in Sheriff Joe Arpaio country, the cops would have carted off folks in paddy wagons.

Ultimately, the meeting was canceled and rescheduled for May 5. The Arizona Daily Star quotes TUSD Superintendent John Pedicone as stating that the next meeting may be held at one of the local high schools to accommodate even more students, so their voices can be heard.

If this occurs, here's another difference between Pima and Maricopa Counties. In Maricopa, the reaction likely would have been shrill and dictatorial. There have been incidents here recently where politicians have even moved to smaller rooms to keep large, defiant groups out of their meetings.

It's a different world down there in Gadsden Purchase country. Pima-ites have often referred to the region as "Baja Arizona," though the "People's Republic of Pima" might be more accurate. (You may note a little envy on my part.)

Just before taking office as Arizona Attorney General in January, then State Schools Superintendent Tom Horne declared TUSD's Mexican-American studies classes to be in violation of a new state law he had pushed, a law seeking to crush the program.

Potentially, TUSD could lose millions in state funding if it can't work out a compromise with current Arizona Schools Superintendent John Huppenthal.

The ethnic studies program was created in response to a federal court order in the 1970s. African-American studies came first. Mexican-American studies followed in the 1990s.

Anglos can and do attend the classes. Personally, I think the courses should be mandatory for whites, though open to everyone else. Caucasian kids need to learn about the oppression  of other peoples on this continent. That sad history should drilled into their pasty noggins.

Latino students have benefited immensely from ethnic studies. Pedicone himself has cited higher AIMS scores and higher graduation rates among those taking Mexican-American studies courses. Such students are three times more likely to go on to college, Pedicone has said.

So whatever Horne may think of it, the courses work. The ethnic studies students I've met were reading college-level history books and were far more well spoken than the average high school grad.

Their passion and thirst for justice is refreshing. The cards may appear stacked against them, but a determined movement such as theirs will not be easily thwarted. 

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