The culture wars in our country have many “fronts.” One of those concerns immigration, ethnic and cultural diversity, English vs. Spanish and related issues. It’s boiling over in Arizona, the home of “Sheriff Joe,” and the site of a long running battle over a curriculum offering in Tucson. A federal court recently weighed in with a stinging rebuke of state leadership.
Tucson Unified School District had a Mexican-American Studies (MAS) program. In 2010-11, the program offered 21 classes at the middle and high school levels. There were 1300 students enrolled in those classes, all voluntary. Ninety percent of the students in the MAS classes were Latino. Sixty percent of all students in TUSD were Latino.
A professor from the University of Arizona confirmed that the program was beneficial, particularly raising academic achievement of Mexican-American students. But the program got sucked into the political vortex in 2006 when a Latina labor leader gave a speech at the high school in which she said that “Republicans hate Latinos.”
The state’s Superintendent of Public Instruction sent his deputy to the high school to offer a rebuttal in which she explained why she was proud to be both a Latina and a Republican. The court tells us that a group of students attending the speech “protested by taping their mouths, turning their backs, raising their fists, and walking out of the auditorium.”
The state Superintendent was there, and he did not like it. He later wrote an open letter to the citizens of Tucson encouraging them to drop the MAS program. Tucson did not do that.
This ultimately led to a bill passed by the state legislature that prohibits any public school from offering courses that: (1) Promote the overthrow of the United States government; (2) Promote resentment toward a race or class of people; (3) Are designed primarily for pupils of a particular ethnic group; or (4) Advocate ethnic solidarity instead of the treatment of pupils as individuals. Districts that offered such a course could lose up to 10% of their state funding.
The Arizona Department of Education ultimately concluded that the MAS program in Tucson violated this law and threatened to cut funding. TUSD dropped the program.
But a group of students and parents challenged the law, claiming that it violated their rights under the First and Fourteenth Amendments. They faced a heavy burden of proof. They had to show that this law was passed, at least in part, with a discriminatory intent. They succeeded.
The court’s opinion is long and includes a detailed description of the development of the law that ultimately passed. The most colorful and convincing evidence of discriminatory intent came from blog posts that were made anonymously by John Huppenthal. At the beginning of this story, Mr. Huppenthal was chair of the Senate Education Accountability and Reform Committee. Later, he successfully ran for the elected position of State Superintendent of Public Instruction, using the issue of the MAS as a key part of his campaign. Some of the entries that he posted using a false name:
I don’t mind them selling Mexican food as long as the menus are mostly in English.
The rejection of American values and embracement of the values of Mexico in La Raza classrooms is the rejection of success and embracement of failure.
The Mexican-American Studies classes use the exact same technique that Hitler used in his rise to power.
Senator/Superintendent Huppenthal saw this clash of values as apocalyptic:
And so when we encountered this situation, we did what Hannibal did to the Romans, and when Hannibal encountered the Romans he stretched them out…So we elaborately built our case…stretched them out for a while year…[until MAS] lost an enormous number of their MAS students. [MAS] had to continue to defend themselves in the press.
The war with MAS is eternal…it goes back to the plains of the Serengeti…when we were evolving as a human race, the battle between the forces of collectivism and individualism. It defines us as a human race.
The court noted that the Arizona Department of Education (ADE) ignored the independent audit which found that the program complied with state law. Despite that, ADE decided that the program violated state law without further investigation, and ordered it shut down. Moreover, the court noted how unusual it is for a state legislature to take aim at a single part of the curriculum in a single school district. Moreover, no one looked into the African American or Asian American studies programs that were offered. It all seemed to be focused on Hispanics. And then there were all those blog posts and other statements revealing a racial bias. The court concluded:
Finally, Huppenthal’s comments describing his “eternal” “war” against the MAS program expose his lack of interest in the welfare of TUSD students, who would be the focus of legitimate pedagogical concern if one existed. Those comments reveal instead a fixation on winning a political battle against a school district. Having thus ruled out any pedagogical motivation, the Court is convinced that decisions regarding the MAS program were motivated by a desire to advance a political agenda by capitalizing on race-based fears.
The case of Gonzalez v. Douglas was decided by the U.S. District Court for the State of Arizona on August 22, 2017. We found it at 2017 WL 3611658.
DAWG BONE: YOU WOULD THINK THAT THE IMPROVEMENT IN STUDENT PERFORMANCE WOULD COUNT FOR SOMETHING.
Tomorrow: Principal questions a kid after a bomb threat. Gets sued.