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I can't remember any students in my high school who wanted to learn something so bad that they hijacked a school board meeting. But as reported today, that's exactly what happened last night at a Tucson Unified School District board meeting. The Board members never got to take their seats or hold the meeting, because high school students arrived first and took over.

The TUSD board meeting was to start at 6pm. About 5:40 the doors were opened. Around 5:50 is when the students took over the board seats. The rest of the crowd immediately filled the board room. The students chained themselves to the chairs and to each other immediately.

Last year some of the same students chained themselves inside the Border Patrol offices at Tucson's Davis-Monthan Air Force Base to protest SB 1070. Their civil disobedience last night was in response to several things: Arizona's ethnic studies ban in general; also, a bill to repeal the ban, sponsored by Representative Sally Gonzales, never got out of committee this session; and finally, last night the Board was meeting to vote on a proposal by Board member Mark Stegeman to make ethnic studies an elective -- what many interpret as the first step to the program's demise.  

Here's a YouTube from the meeting. At about 1 minute a group of students rush the dais, fight off an elderly security guard who doesn't know what to do, then chain themselves to the chairs. After that all hell breaks loose as they unfurl a banner: "The Youth School Board." Then speeches, cheering, and music ensue -- followed by the appearance of Board members who have nowhere to sit. So no vote occurs and the students declare victory, followed by more music of course.

The original ethnic studies bill, HB 2281, was passed last year right after the "papers please" law. For the most part, the bill was meant to counter the Hispanic studies program at TUSD, which nativists like Senator Russell Pearce and former State Superintendent Tom Horne say is training Mexicans to take over America. It doesn't matter that the District is 56% Hispanic, or that the region was Mexico until 1854. No, Pearce can't open his mouth without "invasion" or "overthrow" spewing out; nor could Horne, in the middle of last year's AG race (he won) fail to point out that Tucson is breeding brown kids to hate whites:

State schools chief Tom Horne, who has pushed the measure for years, said a Tucson school district program promotes "ethnic chauvinism" and racial resentment toward whites while segregating students by race.... Horne said he believes the Mexican-American studies program teaches Latino students that they are oppressed by white people. Public schools should not be encouraging students to resent a particular race, he said. Huffington

Look close, Tom; you'll see white kids among the protesters and in the audience. And it's not just Mexican American studies the haters are after: the law is written so broadly that lawmakers or superintendents could use it to ban any multicultural course they don't like, such as Native American programs that criticize the dominant white culture's treatment of indigenous people. How can you tell an accurate history of Native-European encounters in the Southwest and not talk about the genocide that took place? How can you teach a great deal of Native American literature, such as the classic Ceremony by Tucson's Leslie Silko, and not discuss prejudice? Truth telling doesn't mean you have to "promote resentment toward a race or class of people," which the bill outlaws. But the fact a teacher raises murders, broken treaties, bigotry, and thefts of land in a discussion of Ceremony, for example, might be interpreted as doing just that in the eyes of those who only want to teach the Great White Story.  

And the slope just got slipperier now that Arizona has a new Superintendent:

Superintendent of Public Instruction John Huppenthal has previously stated his belief that the ethnic studies ban should be extended to universities as well, though the bill only applies to elementary and secondary public schools.

Stephen Lemons at New Times notes that the event last night would have been handled differently in Phoenix. No doubt Sheriff Joe Arpaio's goons would've brought their bolt cutters, dislodged the students, and carted them off to jail -- then gone to their homes to check their parents' citizenship status. In Tucson, however, the police stood by and watched the protests, as did TUSD Superintendent John Pedicone and the other Board members willing to show their faces (Stegeman never did). The only two women on the Board support the students, and they stayed till the end to celebrate, along with firebrand Ward Churchill.

One wonders why Superintendent Pedicone, who is new to the job, would align himself with Horne, Huppenthal, Pearce and other fear-mongering nitwits at the Capitol who want to eviscerate the program when...

Pedicone himself has cited higher AIMS scores and higher graduation rates among those taking Mexican-American studies courses. Such students are three times more likely to go on to college, Pedicone has said. New Times

To Pedicone's credit, he has re-scheduled the meeting for May 5 in a larger space to accommodate more of the public and students. Should be a lively Cinco de Mayo.

UPDATE: Not only would the event have been handled differently in Phoenix, as I mentioned above, but the news coverage is certainly of a different stripe too. Here's part of the Arizona Republic's take on the event (h/t arizonablue):

But the greatest problem posed by the courses, as constituted, is that they subtract from the material all American students have a right to learn about the history of their country and the complex, unique way its government functions.

A genuine academic survey of Mexican-American history and culture would be of extraordinary value to all students living in the American Southwest, but not as a replacement to core curriculum. And certainly not as presented by the self-acknowledged Marxist activists running TUSD's ethnic studies.

Obviously that is not the view of the radicalized students. But it should be the view of the adults running the district. The million-dollar question, though, is: Who might that be? Who is using these young people as political pawns, as Alinski-ite stage props?

Memo to the Republic: The courses don't replace anything, they supplement. They add another perspective to the Plymouth Rock thing. Wouldn't it be a shame if schools gave Arizona students an understanding of and sense of pride in their heritage?

Originally posted to Maggie's Farm on Wed Apr 27, 2011 at 05:30 PM PDT.

Also republished by oo, LatinoKos, Baja Arizona Kossacks, and Youth Kos 2.0.

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