As a former teacher in Tucson Unified School District’s hotly debated ethnic studies department, I submit my perspective for the public’s consideration.
During the 2002-2003 school year, I taught a U.S. history course with a Mexican-American perspective. The course was part of the Raza/Chicano studies department.
Within one week of the course beginning, I was told that I was a “teacher of record,” meaning that I was expected only to assign grades. The Raza studies department staff would teach the class.
I was assigned to be a “teacher of record” because some members of the Raza studies staff lacked teaching certificates. It was a convenient way of circumventing the rules.
I stated that I expected to do more than assign grades. I expected to be involved in teaching the class. The department was less than enthusiastic but agreed.
Immediately it was clear that the class was not a U.S. history course, which the state of Arizona requires for graduation. The class was similar to a sociology course one expects to see at a university.
Where history was missing from the course, it was filled by controversial and biased curriculum.
The basic theme of the curriculum was that Mexican-Americans were and continue to be victims of a racist American society driven by the interests of middle and upper-class whites.
In this narrative, whites are able to maintain their influence only if minorities are held down. Thus, social, political and economic events in America must be understood through this lens.
This biased and sole paradigm justified teaching that our community police officers are an extension of the white power structure and that they are the strongmen used “to keep minorities in their ghettos.”
It justified telling the class that there are fewer Mexican-Americans in Tucson Magnet High School’s advanced placement courses because their “white teachers” do not believe they are capable and do not want them to get ahead.
It justified teaching that the Southwestern United States was taken from Mexicans because of the insatiable greed of the Yankee who acquired his values from the corrupted ethos of Western civilization.
It was taught that the Southwest is “Atzlan,” the ancient homeland of the Aztecs, and still rightfully belongs to their descendants – to all people of indigenous Mexican heritage.
As an educator, I refused to be complicit in a curriculum that engendered racial hostility, irresponsibly demeaned America’s civil institutions, undermined our public servants, discounted any virtues in Western civilization and taught disdain for American sovereignty.
When I raised these concerns, I was told that I was a “racist,” despite being Hispanic. Acknowledging my heritage, the Raza studies staff also informed me that I was a vendido, the Spanish term for “sellout.”
The culmination of my challenge to the department’s curriculum was my removal from that particular class. The Raza studies department and its district-level allies pressured the Tucson High administration to silence my concerns through reassignment to another class during that one period.
The Raza studies department used the “racist” card, which is probably the most worn-out and desperate maneuver used to silence competing perspectives.
It is fundamentally anti-intellectual because it immediately stops debate by threatening to destroy the reputation of those who would provide counter arguments.
Unfortunately, I am not the only one to have been intimidated by the Raza studies department in this way.
The diplomatic and flattering language that the department and its proponents use to describe the Raza studies program is an attempt to avoid public scrutiny. When necessary, the department invokes terms such as “witch hunt” and “McCarthyism” to diminish the validity of whatever public scrutiny it does get.
The proponents of this program may conceal its reality to the public. But as a former teacher in the program, I am witness to its ugly underbelly.
Arizona taxpayers should ask themselves whether they should pay for the messages engendered in these classrooms with their hard-earned tax dollars.
The Raza studies department has powerful allies in TUSD, on its governing board and in the U.S. House of Representatives and thus operates with much impunity.
Occasionally there are minor irritations from the state superintendent of public instruction and the Legislature.
Ultimately, Arizona taxpayers own TUSD and have the right to change it. The change will have to come from replacing the board if its members refuse to make the Raza studies department respect the public trust.
John A. Ward is a former teacher at Tucson High Magnet School.