Last year, the Tucson, Arizona school district put a ban on Mexican American Studies courses. In fact, the Arizona state legislature went so far as to make these classes illegal and threatened to withhold $14 million in funding from school districts if these classes weren’t discontinued. However, on Tuesday, the city’s school board voted 3 to 2 to lift its objection to these courses, which may mean that Tucson schools will see a return of their wildly successful and popular Mexican American Studies courses in the very near future. Aside from being an obviously racist move to ban these courses, there are many reasons why Arizona needs Mexican American Studies. Here are four of them:
Students need to feel like they are reflected in the curriculum.
Many teachers have spoken out about the importance of incorporating Mexican American Studies in the curriculum of the Tucson, Arizona schools. The incorporation of such a curriculum has worked to instill pride in students’ Latino heritage, says Lorenzo Lopez, a teacher in the district. He himself felt that he first wanted to become a teacher because he took a Chicano/a literature course in college and finally felt that he saw himself reflected in the curriculum. Unfortunately, many students who do not see themselves reflected in curricula become disinterested and disengaged, making college seem like a waste of time. If these courses can be introduced at a younger age, retention in school will be much easier. In fact, the Mexican American Studies curriculum was a huge success when it was still in schools — it graduated 100 percent of students from high school and 82 percent went on to college.
In the United States, white people are now the minority.
After last year’s census what many had suspected for quite some time became official — white births account for under half of the total births in the United States. This means that teaching about only white historical figures, authors, playwrights and musicians does not reflect the cultural diversity that this generation sees in its schools; this is aside from the fact that teaching only about white figures presents a lie to students that only white people did anything of import throughout our nation’s history.
To reflect the growing diversity in our schools, we must offer diverse curricula for students. Students should be presented with a full picture of this great nation’s history, and they should also be provided with options for classes that interest them. Doing so will help to retain students in schools and prepare them for life outside of high school.
Ethnic studies is important for white students, too.
It is not only vital for students of color to see themselves reflected in the curriculum of their school, but it is equally vital for white students to see a variety of historical figures and many authors’ perspectives. Doing so can help teach white students about the privilege they experience, as well as get them ready for what they will see once they graduate high school. Introducing students to their privilege by educating them about other cultures will help combat racism and race-related violence.
Banning the course extends far beyond the curriculum.
When the Mexican American Studies course was banned, it wasn’t just the course that was removed from schools. There was also a list of books that were related to the curriculum that were banned from schools. The list is huge, and includes works by many famous and wonderful authors of color that students should have access to whether the curriculum is in place or not. Banned books are not only often the best that literature has to offer, but also historically pique students’ interest in reading and history. Reinstating the curriculum would reinstate these books and the reading lists to the school.
Photo Credit: Michael Fleshman