Our view: Apart from the value students get from cultural focus, these classes are the purview of the district, not the superintendent
Tucson, Arizona | Published: http://www.azstarnet.com/allheadlines/212050
Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Horne has overstepped by asking for information about the Tucson Unified School District's ethnic studies programs. He wants to know details of funding and about materials used in Mexican-American and African-American studies classes.
Horne is asking for classroom materials, according to a story by the Star's George Sánchez, plus syllabi, videos, films, reading materials, teachers' guides and more.
This fishing expedition isn't, Horne admits, based on concerns about the quality of the academics in these classes. He's concerned about the "values" of the programs and wants to check for what he calls "ethnic chauvinism," which he described to the Star as "teaching people to make their primary personal identity the ethnic group they were born into rather than identifying as an individual in terms of character and ability."
The request for information was filed under the guise of "maintaining adequate knowledge in the state Department of Education of what is occurring in the schools."
Horne appears to be trying to micromanage what is happening in a local school district, which operates under its own elected governing board.
If parents or community members have questions about the content of ethnic studies classes in TUSD, they belong with the TUSD Governing Board. The board created the ethnic studies department three years ago to encompass what had been separate programs for its black, American Indian, Pan-Asian and raza, which was also known as Mexican-American, studies.
The classes are electives and can count as social studies credit. Raza studies are offered at four TUSD high schools and are open to all students.
Horne said he has long opposed ethnic and gender studies. While we believe such a position is educationally limiting, Horne is, like anyone else, entitled to his opinion. He is not, however, entitled to use the power of his office to try to shape particular classes with which he disagrees.
Unfortunately, instead of focusing on the value that cultural education can bring to all students, some see classes that encourage young people to delve into cultures and histories and make connections to their own lives as threatening.
Students enroll in these classes because they cover information that is not offered in other classes. While U.S. history classes and textbooks do a better job than those of the past of including more about our shared history, much is left out. If all classes were offering in-depth, inclusive education, as they should, the individual programs would be obsolete.
TUSD says AIMS test scores show that students involved with the ethnic studies programs do better in academics overall. Being involved with such a program shrinks a giant campus like Tucson High Magnet School, home to 2,600 students, and gives students a sense of belonging and purpose, which keeps them in school.
"For kids like me, who had trouble staying motivated, it was something I looked forward to and it gave me a space to talk and have a relationship with my teacher," Jesus Romero, an 18-year-old graduate of Tucson Magnet High who now attends Pima Community College, told the Star.
We hope that Horne, after he views the materials he requested, understands the educational and motivational value in these programs. We also believe that he must respect that TUSD students attend classes governed by a school board whose members are elected by TUSD parents and community members.
Horne has not expressed concern about the academic content of these classes, which are taught to state academic standards. He's questioning whether students are developing "values" with which he doesn't agree.
Regardless of personal views, the content of ethnic studies classes remains the domain of TUSD.