Raza Studies builds students’ confidence
I am writing to express my dismay at the constant criticism and condemnation of Tucson Unified School District’s Mexican-American/Raza Studies department and its curriculum.
I am a white American of primarily Norwegian (but a mixture of other European) ancestry. I was born and raised in Tucson – soon to complete my 40th year in this beautiful “Old Pueblo.”
Both of my parents were born and raised in small towns in Wyoming. I am fortunate to have had the opportunity to grow up in a family in which we were taught to honor the values expressed in the DePeche Mode song, “People are People.”
I also am a product of TUSD schools – a proud member of the 1986 Cholla High School graduating class.
Getting more to the point of my correspondence:
It is important that you know my background because I am about a month away from completing my 18th year as a bilingual teacher in Tucson Unified School District. I have taught primarily Latino students in West and currently South Side elementary schools.
Eight years ago, I began working with our district’s Mexican-American/Raza Studies department. Incidentally, our program is recognized nationally by university scholars and is touted as one of few of its kind, unequaled anywhere.
I first invited educators from Raza Studies to come and teach with me for a couple of reasons. I say “invited” because that is the way the program works – teachers who see a need for Raza Studies team staff support may contact them to request lessons, or, as in my case, request that one of the teachers come and co-teach a lesson or lessons in the context of the regular school day.
After having taught 10 years, I was realizing all that I didn’t know about the history and culture of my students. I also began to sense a lack of interest in learning on the part of many of these kids.
I noticed that some of my students seemed to resist schooling, rarely seeing themselves or hearing their voices represented in the classrooms in which they sat day after day, year after year.
Being Anglo, I decided that I would need support if I were going to be effective in making connections with and helping to guide these students toward finding their voices in becoming some of this great country’s future leaders.
I have learned so much over these eight years about Mexican and Mexican-American history, culture and philosophy – much of which began thousands of years ago with the ancient Aztecs.
For example, the Tlatecutli – the central image in the ancient Sun Stone, Tonalmachoitl – represents all that the indigenous ancestors of the students in my classes believed – that every human being (“La Raza” actually means “The People” – not any particular group of people but all humans) has the right to be permanently just and happy.
Another theme central to Aztec teachings is that, as humans, we are obligated to respect everything and everyone.
So what could possibly be offensive about that? From what I hear coming from some of our state legislators, I would say that there are adults who would benefit from learning how to transform themselves into more kind, loving human beings.
I have lived nearly 40 years enjoying all of the benefits of white privilege in this country – power, wealth, status – “born into belonging” as activist Tim Wise says.
For this reason, I am so disheartened and utterly amazed that any time people from non-majority groups – in this example, people of Mexican and indigenous heritage – create a program geared toward leveling the playing field, the white people in power respond with criticism and scrutiny, while they simultaneously proceed to dismantle those supports.
I have often wondered whether it is our ignorance or our fear as white folks that makes us say things such as, “All United States citizens should subscribe to the idea of one common culture with values shared by all.”
Each time I hear some form of this reasoning for condemning Mexican-American or other ethnic courses of study, I ask myself, “Who are those we actually mean to include and how have people of the dominant culture tacitly (or in some cases explicitly) excluded certain groups from being a part of ‘The American Dream’?”
The staff and curriculum of our Mexican-American/Raza Studies department works in a loving, respectful way to repair the damage caused by years of internalized oppression and to replace a lack of self/cultural identity with a sense of pride and confidence.
At the high school level in TUSD, AIMS and other assessment results show a strong correlation between knowing one’s own culture and perspective on American history and high levels of academic achievement.
Working alongside these knowledgeable and caring educators, I continue to learn with and about the students I teach. Our shared understanding has enhanced the exchange of knowledge that takes place within the space of our classroom.
Together we explore issues of social justice – not only among people of color but all marginalized groups of people.
The work we do provides opportunity for young minds and hearts to participate meaningfully in civic engagement.
These “kids” have a broader perspective on education and its purpose. Raza Studies is making a positive difference for them and for me.
If one of the goals of Mexican-American/Raza Studies is to help students see through the oppression and silencing they and their families have suffered in the United States since the first European Conquistadores ventured across the ocean, guiding them toward seeking their truth and their identities, will that not make a more confident, informed and prepared group of citizens to lead us into the world of tomorrow?
I say “ABSOLUTELY!” ¡Panche be!
Ochoa Elementary School
Tucson Unified School District
Editor’s note: The following letters are in response to the Tucson Citizen’s May 20 editorial “Ruling casts a cloud over private school tax credits.”
Private schools need government subsidies
You want citizens to pay taxes so that the state and feds can educate our kids the way they see fit. Get real! The USSR went out with the ’80s. If state law does not allow it, then state law needs to be changed.
Private schools need to be subsidized by the government because the parents of the private schools pay the taxes and they should have a say in how their children are educated, not the liberal left, National Education Association-influenced bureaucrats.
Cost of tuition higher than small credit given
Your article implies that I, as a person who takes advantage of the school tax credit, do not pay taxes to the state, which is then used by our public schools.
Consider for a moment that my property and income taxes are used to pay for a public school system that I do not use. That my child is not using the school buses, the cafeterias, the administrators, nurses, custodians and teachers’ time.
Consider that in addition to the taxes that I pay the state for use in the public school system, I pay another $5,000 per year in tuition for my child and for that, the state offsets about 20 percent of the costs.
Now, that we have the fairness of the issue established, let’s debate your claims that the state constitution is clear in favor of your opinion. “No tax shall be laid or appropriation of public money made in aid of any church, or private or sectarian school, or any public service corporation.”
While it is clear what your opinion is of what constitutes an appropriation of public money, Webster’s definition of appropriation is “money set aside by formal action for a specific use.”
Since the funds in question have never been in the possession of the state coffers, my opinion is that they could not have been set aside. That, apparently, was the opinion of the state legislators as well.
There is, also, the difference between the school voucher program that was ruled on by the Arizona Court of Appeals. The voucher program (your words here) “provided $2.5 million in public money as vouchers to the parents of former foster children who had been adopted. The money could be used only to pay tuition and fees at private schools.”
As to your comments that the law is “unambiguous,” I agree. It clearly allows the Legislature to grant credits to taxpayers. There are credits allowed for any number of other expenditures as well.
The cost of the education of my child is much higher than the small credit that I get from the state in lieu of sending my child to a private school. In fact, I suggest that the cost to the state would be much higher if all of the parents who take advantage of the tax credit were to send their children to the public schools instead.
Your inflammatory remarks about “shams,” “money . . . laundered through parents” and the like are not helpful and you have obviously not thought this thing through.
GARRY D. KLINE
These letters to the editor appear online and not in the Tucson Citizen’s print edition.