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
- Pedagogy of the Oppressed by Brazilian educator Paolo Freire (about the author’s “search for a way to fashion education into a transformative tool for individuals and society“)
- Occupied America: A History of Chicanos by Rodolfo Acuña (described as “one of the few books that offers a comprehensive, in-depth analysis of the major historical experiences of Chicanos that invokes critical thinking and intellectual discussion”)
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
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 (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.
Drawing of Caliban by William Hogarth (18th century) via Wikimedia Commons
Illustration of Act V of Othello by John Graham via Wikimedia Commons
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.”
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
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.”
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
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
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