6 Books Banned Thanks To Arizona’s Ban of Ethnic Studies

NOTE:  This “recycled” post from earlier this year reminds us that we need to think about banned books every week – not just this one.

Just over a year ago, a controversial ban (HR 2281) on ethnic studies classes in Arizona public schools went into effect. The law bans classes that “promote the overthrow of the United States government and resentment toward a race or class of people” and also prohibits courses that are designed “primarily for students of a particular ethnic group and those that advocate ethnic solidarity rather than treat students as individuals.” Critics, such as Care2′s Amelia Thomson-Deveaux, contended that the “law openly discriminates against minorities”; certainly the political climate in Arizona has been “unspeakably hostile to immigrants and minorities.”

The ban was proposed in response to the 13-year-old Mexican American history program in the Tucson Unified School District, in which more than 60 percent of the students are from Mexican American backgrounds. Noting that their courses are open to all students, the Tucson school district was initially not worried about the ban. But after being told that it would face a multimillion dollar penalty in the form of the loss of state funds, the district’s governing board has ended the Mexican-American history program.

In addition to the ethnic studies ban, the Tucson school district released a list of books that will be banned from its schools. A number of books from Mexican American studies classrooms have reportedly been boxed up and removed from classrooms.

Debbie Reese at American Indians in Children’s Literature (ACLC) has posted a list of the books from an audit of Tucson’s Mexican American Studies program; the findings were published in May of 2011. She writes that “At this point is is not known if all the books listed below were boxed and removed. They were placed in storage.”

Jeff Biggers at Salon has reviewed the list and found that it contains

Here are six more books that have been sent to the Tucson school district’s Textbook Repository because “race, ethnicity and oppression” are among their “central themes.”

I suppose you could say that it is a bit ironic that the state of Arizona, in the name of banning books about such “themes,” is conducting its own campaign of suppression of knowledge and learning in an effort resembling the tactics of repressive regimes.

Top photo of The Tempest by William Shakespeare via Wikimedia Commons


Landing of Columbus (2)

Rethinking Columbus: The Next 500 Years by B. Bigelow and B. Peterson

Maria Garza Lubeck of the Children’s Defense Fund has praised this book, which has changed the way the “discovery of America” is taught. Says Lubeck:

Until we realize that history is comprised of the good, the bad, and the ugly, we will never be truly free. This book is an important step in unifying our common destiny.

Rethinking Columbus includes an essay by Tucson author Leslie Marmon Silko, a recipient of a MacArthur Foundation genius grant recipient and  of a Native Writers’ Circle of the Americas Lifetime Achievement Award.

Painting by John Vanderlyn via Wikimedia Commons

The Tempest by William Hogarth

The Tempest (1610-11), by William Shakespeare Shakespeare

Shakepeare’s classic play is about the magician and exiled Duke of Milan Prospero, his daughter Miranda and a storm he conjures that shipwrecks the ship of his brother, who had deposed him from his rightful position. Prospero has enslaved Caliban, the son of the rival witch Sycorax, and the airy sprite Ariel. Caliban is portrayed as a savage and a slave; his name is an anagram of “cannibal” and may also be inspired by kaliban or cauliban, which mean “black” or “blackness” in the Romani language.

I am surprised that Shakespeare’s Othello, a tragedy about the title character, a Moor, and his Venetian wife, Desdemona, is not on the Tucson school district’s list, as this play even more overtly considers issues of race.

John Graham A bedchamber Desdemona in Bed asleep - Othello Act V scene 2


Drawing of Caliban by William Hogarth (18th century) via Wikimedia Commons

Illustration of Act V of Othello by John Graham via Wikimedia Commons

Ellis island 1902

A Different Mirror: A History of Multicultural America (1993), by Ronald Takaki

Manuel N. Gómez, Vice Chancellor, Student Services, University of California at Irvine, describes the late UC Berkeley Professor Takaki’s book as “ fulfill[ing] the ideal of scholarship” and “particularly valuable as a revision of earlier works on immigration and culture, like Thomas Sowell’s Ethnic America, which tends to strengthen rather than diminish prevalent racial stereotypes.”

Chinasmuggle lg


Photo of English immigrants on Ellis Island via Wikimedia Commons

Photo of container used to smuggle 22 undocumented Chinese nationals arrested at the Seattle seaport via Wikimedia Commons

We Hold These Truths to be Self-Evident

A People’s History of the United States: 1492 to Present (2003), by H. Zinn

This textbook is widely used in high schools and colleges throughout the US and was the runner-up for the National Book Award in 1980; it has sold over 1 million copies. Bob Herbert of the New York Times called Zinn a “radical treasure” after his death in 2010. Herbert quoted Zinn on Andrew Jackson and then described how Zinn’s own experiences and work for social justice had influenced his writing:

“If you look through high school textbooks and elementary school textbooks in American history, you will find Jackson the frontiersman, soldier, democrat, man of the people — not Jackson the slaveholder, land speculator, executioner of dissident soldiers, exterminator of Indians.”

Radical? Hardly.

Mr. Zinn would protest peacefully for important issues he believed in — against racial segregation, for example, or against the war in Vietnam — and at times he was beaten and arrested for doing so. He was a man of exceptionally strong character who worked hard as a boy growing up in Brooklyn during the Depression. He was a bomber pilot in World War II, and his experience of the unmitigated horror of warfare served as the foundation for his lifelong quest for peaceful solutions to conflict.


Photo by Caveman Chuck Coker

Sandra Cisneros at Norcross High

House on Mango Street (1991) by Sandra Cisneros

Cisneros has won numerous awards for her writing including the National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship.  Her book, Woman Hollering Creek and Other Stories, received the Quality Paperback Book Club New Voices Award, the Anisfield-Wolf Book Award, the PEN Center West Award for best fiction and the Lannan Foundation Literary Award, and was selected as a noteworthy book of the year by both the New York Times and the American Library Journal.

Photo of Cisneros reading from her work by Gwinnett County Public Library


Civil Disobedience (1849) by Henry David Thoreau

Thoreau’s essay has inspired, among many others, Gandhi and the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr.. According to a website about the American philosopher,

In the 1940′s [Civil Disobedience] was read by the Danish resistance [against the Nazis], in the 1950′s it was cherished by those who opposed McCarthyism, in the 1960′s it was influential in the struggle against South African apartheid, and in the 1970′s it was discovered by a new generation of anti-war activists.


Photo by mike_benedetti


Related Care2 Coverage

Memo to Arizona Schools: Videotape Ethnic Studies Classes Or Lose Funding

Ethnic Studies Classes Banned in Arizona

Immigrants Founded Half Of The Top U.S. Start-Up Ventures


Love This? Never Miss Another Story.


Kathy Perez
Kathy Johnson3 years ago

this is disheartening. and sad. all of these are educational, thought provoking and good. thats the issue I guess. they don't want us to think. they want us to obey. sigh

Nikki N.
Nikki Hexum3 years ago

can't believe that in 2012 we are still banning books... Crazy

Evelyn W.
Evelyn W.3 years ago

@ Linda E. The people that you are talking about who colonized this country came from Europe in the greatest numbers.Why is it ok to have Great Britians history taught but not Mexicos?The people who came here were coming for the same reasons then, as people who come now.Your arguments do not stand up to any logical thinking.Makes you sound racist.

Evelyn W.
Evelyn W.3 years ago

A closed book means a closed mind !!!

james hill
james hill3 years ago

A friend of mine years ago visited a university in America (I don't recall which). To get a flavour of what was going on, he went to a film night organised by the students - some zombie film in which he had no interest. He then discovered that a film had been banned by the student oraganisation for its communist tendencies. The film?: "Gandhi".

Liliana G.
Liliana Garcia3 years ago

This is hard to believe. Next thing showing films will be banned as a complementary activity since the list would turn out extremely long. Imagine, Amistad, Hunger Games, Titanic, etc etc since most good films show some kind of oppression or underclass. Even such classics as One flew over the cuckoo's nest would fly straight out the window. This is sad and devastating.

Adrian M.
Adrian McTiernan3 years ago

Personally, it sounds as if a list of the banned books would be a good way to get an education,well rounded and full, of the whole of the matter of 'ethnicity' in the culture you mention. The Roman Catholic Church had a list of 'Banned Books', which I found fascinating, and imagined they would all be critical of the church per se, but when I got to reading them, I found that many targeted the writings of authors, including some very inspiring poets, whose poems gave a far more open and positive view of God's mercy and relations with us mortals, and which the church wanted to suppress as they would tend to make the average person dissatisfied with what the church taught as their beliefs. Fascinating that they should have taught that the earth was the centre of the universe, and everything revolved around us, and when Galileo found by aid of his newly invented telescope that we revolved around the sun, as did the other planets, and then sought to force him to retract that information, and deny that he believed that understanding. The world is not flat, and burning or banning books is an indiot's way of dealing with unpleasant history. Rather face the facts, improve the situation, and work towards better relations and practices, surely. It is a fool who tries otherwise. Reality cannot be denied forever - it will find a way of being rediscovered, and people who will not learn by histories lessons are doomed to make the same mistakes again.

Lucille P.
Lucille P.3 years ago

it's ridiculous to ban books! What is the world coming to?

Annmari Lundin
Annmari Lundin3 years ago

Linda E. Will you please stop shouting your ignorance?
Apologizing to all my friends in Arizona and to all progressives living there. But I do suggest Arizona strongly consider forming their own country because it becomes more and more un-American.
USA is a mixture of cultures from all over the world: Native, European, African, Asian, etc and wouldn't be America if that wasn't the case. It's essential to everyone living in any country to have knowledge of their origin and and to understand the present by reading about history. The US is not America, the continent, but a country in that continent.
Not only does these banning of books scare me, but they are connected to demands that everyone living in the US must become citizens. This is something that no other (democratic) country in the world demands!

Tammy K.
Tammy K.3 years ago

Argh! WHY is this still happening?