Ethnic studies battle: a key program architect suggests changes
In doing so, the educator makes a surprising admission
A key program architect for part of TUSD's ethnic studies program admits that protesting students are doing what they were taught, thereby contradicting a long-held TUSD defense. Video by kgun9.comvideo
The march by Cholla High School students reaches TUSD headquarters
Ethnic studies program director Dr. Lupita Garcia attempts to address students for the first time
After being out-shouted by demonstrators, Dr. Garcia gave up trying to have a dialogue and went back insidel
Former state education boss Tom Horne led the ethnic studies crackdown after students turned their backs on his deputy, and raised their fists
TUCSON (KGUN9-TV) - One of the major points of controversy in the ongoing battle over the Tucson Unified School District's embattled ethnic studies program revolves around this question: does the program "radicalize" students? That is one of the key accusations lobbed by opponents. It's also one of the central issues in deciding whether the program violates the new Arizona law that makes it illegal for ethnic studies programs to teach "ethnic chauvinism" or to promote resentment toward a race or class of people.
TUSD has long denied it. But now one of the program's founding architects admits that one of the key components of the program all along has been to teach the art of protest to students.
University of Arizona associate professor Julio Cammarota is the brain behind the Social Justice Education Project, which TUSD adopted as part of its ethnic studies program. He is on sabbatical but spoke to KGUN9's Valerie Cavazos on Thursday by phone. Cammarota admitted there is a connection between what the students are learning, and what they are doing now. "This is a great way for them to understand what our country is about by them mobilizing, by them protesting in the streets. It fits into the lessons that exist."
But those lessons originally were intended for college-level students. Cammarota said the TUSD curriculum may need to be adjusted in order to be appropriate for high school students. "We may need to change our approach, change our language a little bit so it doesn't make people think that somehow we are trying to make students become unAmerican or antagonistic towards Americans. We're not doing that at all."
It was the sight of students demonstrating with their fists in the air that led to the entire controversy. When Arizona attorney general Tom Horne was state Superintendent of Public Instruction, he became outraged when TUSD students turned their backs on his deputy, Margaret Dugan, and raised their fists in protest. Horne considered the behavior disrespectful, and concluded that the students learned to do that in ethnic studies class. He then went onto author HB 2281, designed to crack down on those classes.
TUSD has staunchly denied that its classes teach any such behavior.
In May of 2010, a 9 On Your Side investigation documented the striking similarity between what the students were being taught and what they were doing. Mexican-American/La Raza studies manager Sean Arce vehemently denied that there was any connection. "Is it right, or safe to say this book is teaching or telling these kids to do that?" KGUN9 News asked at the time.
"No," Arce replied. "These are historical episodes. We look at all historic episodes in their totality. So I don't believe that we are either promoting. We are presenting a full view of history."
But some of the students themselves see it differently. During Thursday's student walkout and march, KGUN9's Cavazos asked one student whether his coursework had inspired his behavior.
"Is this protest part of the Social justice education you're getting?" she asked.
"Yeah it is," Ramirez replied.
"And what exactly do they tell you to do?" Cavazos asked.
"They told us to -- I know to get my word out. That's the first commandment. We have freedom of speech and the right to come out and protest."
Ramirez is perfectly correct when he says he has a Constitutional right to protest. But the decision by Superintendent John Huppenthal, the ruling by an administrative judge upholding that decision, and this week's vote by the TUSD board do not address whether HB 2281 violates that right of protest or his right to free speech. Those decisions and rulings only address whether the coursework violates the new law.
Cammarota suggests that the district may avoid future demonstrations by reaching out to students. "This is the conversation that needs to happen. And by not having the conversation, the young people are going to step up and express their voices and try to have their voices be heard."
But during the months of controversy, "conversation" has been hard to come by. Shouting, chanting and podium-pounding have been the order of the day.
Thursday's march contained a brief but noteworthy exception that general rule. When the students arrived at TUSD, ethnic studies program director Dr. Lupita Garcia came out to face them for the first time. Her comments were personal. "I want you to have all the opportunities that I didn't have. Or that I could have had. And you have a great opportunity to get a great education. And that is how you fight city hall."
There was a brief exchange between Dr. Garcia and some of the students. But then the chanting and shouting resumed. Eventually, Dr. Garcia gave up and went back inside in frustration.
Most students KGUN9 News talked with after the demonstration say they didn't come away believing that they'd been heard. They vowed to keep trying.
TUSD administrators are not giving up, either, telling KGUN9 News that they'll continue efforts to talk with the students and to learn their perspectives.