The Mexican American Studies Department Programs provided courses to students at various elementary, middle, and high schools within the Tucson Unified School District (TUSD). The program sought to provide students with culturally relevant material taught in schools as well as a community in which they could thrive while readying the students to be leaders.
The Mexican American Studies Department Programs in the Tucson Unified School District came into existence in 1998. The department began offering just a few classes, but in more recent years was able to offer about 43 classes. Students were able to take these courses at elementary, middle, and high schools throughout the district. The program was shown to raise graduation rates. Students achieved highly, with a dropout rate of only 2.5% for Latino students enrolled in MAS compared to 56% nationally. The program was banned by a state law passed in 2010, but has been revived to a certain extent by various court rulings.
About 1500 students were enrolled in the program. According to an audit conducted by Cambium Learning, the racial breakdown of the students was 90% Hispanic, 5% White/Anglo, 2% Native American, 1.5% African American, and about 0.5% Asian American and Multi-Racial.
The purpose of the classes was to enable students to have a community centered around learning, specifically learning that helps students to be leaders and understand and appreciate Mexican American history, both past and present. The goals were to have culturally relevant curriculum that can be related to social justice work. Another goal was that students would be able to be socially conscious and think critically.
In the English Journal article “Developing Critical Consciousness: Resistance literature in a Chicano Literature class” Curtis Acosta, the teacher and creator of the Mexican American Studies curriculum, outlines the class curriculum he used. The classes in Chicano Studies/Literature could be taken instead of American History and Junior high school English. The curriculum used in the junior class of the program is based on indigenous philosophy using the Xicano paradigm. This paradigm has four key concepts Tezkatlipoka, Quetzalkoatl, Huitzilopochtli, and Xipe Totek. Tezkatlipoka is a concept about self reflection and finding one’s inner self. Quetzalkoatl is learning one's history and how that shapes who someone is. Huitzilopochtli is based on the will to act and be “positive, progressive, and creative”. Xipe Totek is the concept of being able to reshape one's self and be renew. Acosta states that the senior year high school classes follow the same paradigm and expand on it to incorporate more of a social justice aspect that relate specifically to “challenging mainstream assumptions and stereotypes”. Acosta states that the most important part of the curriculum is the “ability to loop with the same students in successive years”. The use of this curriculum Acosta expresses “is crucial for students to...discover their humanity and academic identity”. Also as part of the curriculum, students were required to go to community events. Additionally, the teachers tried to engage and collaborate with parents.
The classes offered for High School students through the Mexican American Studies Department were American Government/Social Justice Education Project, American History/Mexican American Perspectives, Art Beginning and Art Advanced- Chicana/o Art, and Latino Literature. These classes involved analyzing government, researching problems that students face in school and coming up with solutions that were then presented to policy makers. Additionally, students engaged with history that included a variety of experiences, perspectives, and contributions, specifically those of Mexican Americans, that often were left out of other United States history courses. Art skills were developed while using content for artwork based around social justice issues. Students were encouraged to be active learners by engaging with literature through discussion, projects, writings, and readings.
On May 11, 2010, the governor of Arizona, Jan Brewer, signed into law Arizona House Bill 2281. This law, written by Tom Horne who at the time was Arizona’s superintendent of public instruction, made it illegal for schools to teach classes that are intended for any given ethnic group, go against another ethnic group, or advocate for overthrowing the government of the United States. Additionally, ethnic solidarity, as opposed to individuality, could not be taught in accordance with the bill. The bill was originally written with the intention to end the Mexican American Studies Department programs. The consequence for school districts of not following this law was that they could lose 10% of their funding. The bill came into effect on January 1, 2011. Tom Horne, who at the time was the attorney general of Arizona, said that the program was not in accordance with the law. However, the Tucson Unified School District decided against ending the program. On December 27, 2011, the court found that the Mexican American Studies Department Programs were not in accordance with the law. Then, on January 10, 2012, the school board voted to end the Mexican American Studies courses. Additionally, seven books were taken out of the schools, as they were deemed during the case on December 27, 2011 to be in conflict with the law.
In 2012, the school district decided to bring about the Mexican American Student Services. These services do not involve classes, but rather help address the achievement gap for Latino students. Students and teachers who had been a part of the Mexican American Studies Department Programs appealed the ruling that the program should be eliminated. In July 2013, a federal court decided that culturally relevant courses should be in place in the TUSD, specifically Mexican American Studies and African American Studies, in order to comply with desegregation. On October 22, 2013, the school board voted to allow the seven books to be taught in the schools again. As of May 2013, TUSD students can study Mexican American Studies through a class called CLASS (Chicano Literature, Art and Social Studies) offered at a college in Tucson. The students can earn college credit and can take the class for free.
Students who had participated in the Mexican American Studies Department classes brought a lawsuit against the officials who had gotten rid of the program. This lawsuit has a court date of January 12, 2015. Following the court case brought up by students in 2014 the Huffington Post’s Roque Planas, a national reporter, states that after the hearing oral arguments in January 12, 2015 a ruling on the case by the United States Court of Appeal for the Ninth Circuit came out in July 7, 2015. This ruling stated that the law banning ethnic studies classes in Arizona is not broad and vague as plaintiffs argued. However, the ongoing case was also sent to the lower Arizona district court in Tucson, where it will be further heard then have a ruling on it. This move to the lower court was due to enough evidence present that the law was “motivated at least in part by a discriminatory intent”. This means that if the law is found to have been motivated by discriminatory intent in its creation or execution it could be found unconstitutional. The discovery period, a last step where each party can obtain evidence from the other party before trial has already taken place. However, the lower Tucson court has not set the date yet for when it will hear the case but it will be sometime in 2017.
The following books were not allowed to be taught in classes due to HB2281:500 Years of Chicano History in Pictures by Elizabeth Martinez
Critical Race Theory by Richard Delgado
Message to Aztlán: Selected Writings of Rodolfo “Corky” Gonzalez by Rodolfo Gonzales
Chicano! The History of the Mexican American Civil Rights Movement by Arturo Rosales
Rethinking Columbus by Bill Bigelow and Bob Peterson
Pedagogy of the Oppressed by Paulo Freire
The History of the Mexican American Civil Rights Movement by Arturo Rosales
These books were banned because of their alleged radically anti-American worldviews and their generally racist sentiment against Americans of White European heritage. HB 2281 did not ban these books from the school library system nor did it ban students and teachers from discussing topics such as White Privilege or Latino succession from the United States. HB 2281 does ban any organized curriculum that specifically promotes any racial ideology.