State Journal

April 26, 2000 1 min read

Touching Chávez

The spirit of Cesar Chávez, a stalwart of workers’ rights, is being evoked to tell California schools what to teach.

Students would be asked to work and learn in honor of the late organizer of the United Farm Workers, rather than get a day off from school, under a bill pending in the California legislature that would create a March 31 state holiday recognizing his birthday.

UFW leader
Cesar Chávez.

The education portion of the proposal would require that schools observe the holiday by devoting an hour of instructional time to the life and works of Mr. Chávez, who toiled as a migrant worker in fields and vineyards throughout California before becoming a nationally celebrated champion of farm workers. He died in 1993. Schools would also be asked to give students time off in the afternoon to perform community service.

Keeping schools in session would keep down the costs of creating a state holiday while sending a positive message to students, said William A. Mabie, a spokesman for Sen. Richard G. Polanco, a Democrat and the bill’s sponsor.

“There’s no better way to honor Cesar Chávez’s legacy than to have young people emulate it,” Mr. Mabie said. “If they have a day off, they may not even know what the day off is about.”

But Maureen Davidson, a spokeswoman for the 33,000-student San Jose schools, said that while the district supports the creation of a holiday commemorating Mr. Chávez, mandating specific instructional requirements is not the best way to honor his memory.

“School districts should be asked to observe the new holiday in a way that each deems appropriate, rather than mandating an hour of this, and an afternoon of that,” she said. “Make the holiday a call for individual action, and it would be more in the spirit of Cesar Chávez.”

—Jessica L. Sandham

A version of this article appeared in the April 26, 2000 edition of Education Week