Ethnic Studies Teachers Sue to Reinstate La Raza Programs

Ashley Thorne

In May of this year, Arizona Governor Jan Brewer signed HB 2281, a bill that, effective January 2011, “prohibits a school district or charter school from including courses or classes that either promote the overthrow of the United States government or promote resentment toward a race or class of people.” But on October 18, eleven teachers who have formed a group called Save Ethnic Studies filed a lawsuit claiming that this ban is a suppression of free speech.

The overthrow-resentment courses in question were known as “La Raza studies” (the name was changed last year to “Mexican-American studies”). I first looked into these programs, housed in the Tucson Unified School District (TUSD), two years ago in “Protecting the Prickly: La Raza Studies.” An Argus volunteer, a grandfather, had directed my attention to these classes for elementary school students. The more I researched, the more troubling material I found.

La Raza, I noted, means “The Race.” Members of MEChA (which stands for “Movimiento Estudiantil Chicano de Aztlan” and means “Chicano Student Movement of Aztlan”) identify themselves as “La Raza.” MEChA is a Chicano organization dedicated to overthrowing the white man and regaining control of “Aztlan”—the Southwest region of the United States. MEChA’s slogan is “Por La Raza, todo. Fuera de La Raza, nada” (“For the race, everything. Outside the race, nothing”).

Tucson’s schools embraced these racial mantras and took up as their guiding document Paulo Freire’s Pedagogy of the Oppressed­, with its thesis that students must learn to rise up, in anger and power, against “the man” who’s holding them down.

One La Raza textbook, Occupied America, includes this sentence:

Gutiérrez attacked the gringo establishment angrily at a press conference and called upon Chicanos to ‘kill the gringo,’ which meant to end white control over Mexicans.

Actually, “kill the gringo” means “kill the gringo,” I wrote.

Jim Kouri, a law enforcement examiner, reports:

The curriculum engendered racial irresponsibly, demeaned America’s civil institutions, undermined public servants, discounted any virtues in western civilization and taught disdain for American sovereignty, according the teacher who blew the whistle on the La Raza program. He also revealed that many of the instructors who taught the courses were not certified to teach.

Ultimately La Raza studies was a program used to indoctrinate children into a mindset of racial bitterness and hatred of white America. Many Arizona citizens—especially Tom Horne, State Superintendent of Schools—expressed their deep concern, and when Gov. Brewer signed HB 2281 earlier this year, it was hailed as the rightful end to a sinister propaganda-machine.

But some in Arizona were outraged when La Raza was shut down, and now they’re fighting back:

Monday night, the group Save Ethnic Studies held a news conference about the lawsuit they've filed against HB 2281.

TUSD educators say the basis of the lawsuit is discrimination and free speech.

The 11 plaintiffs in the lawsuit are all ethnic studies teachers.

Sean Arce says, "I am defending the teaching of Mexican American Chicano history, culture and the contributions. So that my own children Mya and Ameliano know the importance of where they came from and where they are going."

The (blurry) full text of the lawsuit can be read here.

According to Kouri, the teachers “claim that students who take the La Raza courses score higher on standardized tests, graduate from high school at higher rates, improve their overall grades and have better school attendance records, but have offered no evidence of those claims.”

This is a case to pay attention to. We will be watching to learn whether the court will uphold HB 2281 and resist La Raza’s cup of resentment—or whether it will concede to this group and its radical classroom agenda.

La Raza studies programs and courses can also be found in colleges and universities such as San Francisco State UniversitySacramento State UniversityContra Costa College, and the College of San Mateo.

They are at least voluntary, unlike the TUSD curriculum, but they remain antithetical to the spirit of American higher education. La Raza studies is anti-America; appeals to baser, not higher instincts, and treats the classroom as a place of activism, not education. For those reasons, it belongs neither in the college nor the elementary classroom.

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