Our VoiceCulture

Tucson School Board Upholding Ban on Books Discussing Race and Oppression


Chris Griffin • Feb 21, 2012

Photo: Photo from cernIO's Flickr page

The ethnic studies program (MAS) within the Tucson Unified School District (TUSD) has been a very successful program with a proven record. Students that participated in the program received higher grades and test scores on average and were more likely to graduate high school than their counterparts. This, however, did not stop Arizona from passing a draconian law that would target the MAS program, would seek to eliminate that program, and would prevent others from developing such programs in Arizona.

Recently TUSD not only failed to stand up for this successful program and the students and families they are supposed to represent, the board went one disgusting step further.

The Board went into the schools and removed all the books that were being used in the MAS courses and placed them in storage, effectively banning those books in TUSD schools. The seized books are as follows:

  • 500 Years of Chicano History in Pictures edited by Elizabeth Martinez
  • Message to AZTLAN by Rodolfo Corky Gonzales
  • Chicano! The History of the Mexican Civil Rights Movement by Arturo Rosales
  • Occupied America: A History of Chicanos by Rodolfo Acuna
  • Pedagogy of the Oppressed by Paulo Freire
  • Rethinking Columbus: The Next 500 Years by Bill Bigelow
  • Critical Race Theory by Richard Delgado

While the libraries can still carry these books, most do not actually have them available. In addition, the MAS teachers are not even allowed to use other sources to teach students about race and oppression. According to an article in the Tucson Citizen, an online newspaper, the Interim Deputy Superintendent Maria Menconi was asked if the MAS teachers would be allowed to use, for example, “‘The Tempest’ by Shakespeare to talk about race and oppression as it relates to European taking slaves in the West Indies.”

Apparently the ban would include texts like Shakespeare’s, as well.

Following this decision, TUSD tried to launch a PR mission arguing that it is not a ban, and that they are only doing what they have to, to remain in line with the law, HB 2281. While you could argue that the book ban does seem to be in line with the intent of the original law, it is definitely a ban, and the move just illustrates how flawed the law is in the first place.

Regardless, there is no excuse for banning these books and TUSD’s actions are equally repulsive.

In another article in the Tucson Citizen, the Student Press Law Center, an advocate for student first Amendment rights, along with dozens of other free expression organizations, have since filed a joint-letter condemning TUSD’s actions. The article explains that “Frank D LoMonte, executive director of Student Press Law Center argued that, ‘Banning books is a radical step, and “protecting” students from controversial ideas in never a legally or educationally sound justification for such drastic action’.”

Knowledge is power, but in Arizona they are using power fueled by ignorance to restrain knowledge and consciousness. Who knew that allowing students to learn and read books about racism, oppression, and civil rights was such a dangerous thing? Makes you wonder what exactly they are trying to protect.

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