Defending Tucson’s Mexican American Studies Program
- Teachers and high school students in St. Paul, Minn., organized a daylong protest that included dramatic readings of “words that have been silenced.”
- Students in D.C. wrote letters to the Washington Post.
- Civil rights activists and educators in Atlanta held a live-streamed “Teach-In on Tucson.”
These are just a few of the responses nationally to the decision by the Tucson school board to kill the district’s Mexican American Studies (MAS) program, and box up and cart away hundreds of banned books (see “Outlawing Solidarity in Arizona” ).
In direct response to the attack on the program, the national Network of Teacher Activist Groups (TAG)—of which Rethinking Schools is a member—organized No History Is Illegal, a month of solidarity with Tucson’s MAS program. TAG asked teachers to sign a pledge to “strike back against this attack on our history by teaching lessons from and about the banned MAS program.” They created a website with lessons from the MAS curriculum as well as ideas and resources for exploring the issue with students.
The campaign began Feb. 1, the day MAS teachers were forced to abandon their curriculum and teaching approaches. By the end of the month, almost 1,500 people across five continents had pledged their support, and there were close to 12,000 visits to the website.
From the beginning, current and former MAS students have been active in the campaign to save the program. UNIDOS (United Nondiscriminatory Individuals Demanding Our Studies), along with teachers, parents, and other members of the community, have demonstrated, protested, and occupied board of education meetings. When the school board voted to close the program and ban its books,hundreds of students walked out of their Tucson schools. They have been protesting ever since. On Jan. 24, UNIDOS held a daylong freedom school, a teach-in on the silenced history.
There is currently a lawsuit in federal court, with three student plaintiffs and three parents, charging that HB 2281 (the Arizona law on which the TUSD actions are based) violates First Amendment rights.
United Opt Out Occupies DOE
United Opt Out, a grassroots organization of education activists, is planning a national Occupy the DOE (U.S. Department of Education) event in Washington, D.C., March 30–April 2. The program includes a march to Capitol Hill, teach-ins, social events, and other actions in protest against test-based and corporate-driven education “reforms.” Opt Out calls on parents, students, teachers, and administrators to refuse to cooperate with high-stakes testing. Workshops will include sessions on ALEC (the American Legislative Exchange Council), high-stakes testing, the Occupy movement and the struggle for public education, parent organizing, and many others. For more information: unitedoptout.com.
Occupy the DOE follows major Occupy Education demonstrations March 1–5 in New York, California, and other states.
Appointed Chicago Board Slams 17 Schools
The Chicago Board of Education, which is appointed by the mayor, voted unanimously Feb. 22 to close, phase out, or “turn around” 17 schools. According to Chicago Teachers for Social Justice (TSJ): “Despite protests ranging from the sleepover on the sidewalk and mic-check takeover of the board meeting in December; the four-day sit-in at the mayor’s office; the occupation of Piccolo School; the candlelight vigil to the mayor’s house; and the dozens of hearings, speak-outs, and organizing meetings around the city where parents, students, teachers, and community members poured out their hearts, developed plans, and were deeply involved in our children’s education—this board callously ignored the wisdom and love of Chicago’s people.”
“We are not surprised that an unelected, unaccountable school board would vote unanimously to continue the same failed policies that have shortchanged Chicago Public School students for years,” said Chicago Teachers Union President Karen Lewis in the Chicago Sun-Times. “We are, however, disappointed that these board members lack the moral courage to do the right thing.” According to WBBM political editor Craig Dellimore, both Lewis and the Rev. Jesse Jackson said that CPS is engaged in “educational apartheid” for starving failing schools, with largely African American and Latina/o student populations, of resources and support.
“We need an elected and representative school board, elections with spending limits, and bottom-up, community-driven plans for real school transformation and community control of schools,” concludes TSJ. “This is a business plan, hatched by the 1 percent, for the 1 percent—not an education plan . . . . This fight is far from over, and we will continue to fight it in the streets, courts, legislature, boardrooms, classrooms, schools, media, and everywhere else. ”