Tucson Students Defend Value of Ethnic-Studies Courses

By Mary Ann Zehr — September 21, 2010 2 min read
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Arizona’s legislature and top education official are bent on shutting down ethnic-studies courses taught at Tucson Unified School District, but students in those courses say they hope their school district prevails in continuing to offer them. A video with Tucson students’ viewpoints was just published at along with an article I wrote about the controversy over the courses.

Tom Horne, Arizona’s superintendent of public instruction, contends the courses teach Mexican-American students they are victims and foster hostility toward U.S. society. He’s voiced that opinion as part of his campaign in running for state attorney general. He’s landed the Republican nomination for that post.

Whether Tucson Unified is pressed to get rid of its ethnic-studies courses or not could depend on the outcome in Arizona of the Nov. 2 elections. John Huppenthal, who won the Republican nomination to take Horne’s place as chief state school officer, has run radio ads promising to close down ethnic studies at Tucson Unified, according to local media. Penny Kotterman, who is the Democratic nominee for chief state school officer, has publicly spoken against the law passed by the Arizona legislature than aims to restrict ethnic-studies courses offered in Arizona (via Blog for

When I asked Krysta Diaz, 17, a senior taking American government from a Mexican-American perspective at Tucson High Magnet School and one of the students I captured on video, if Mexican-American students were taught in the courses that they are victims, she said that isn’t true at all. “When we learn about how our ancestors have been marginalized, we don’t have pity on ourselves. We want to find a way to better ourselves,” she said.

One student, Faith Lazette Lopez, 17, a senior who is taking Social Justice and Latino Literature at Tucson High, was more reserved than the rest of the students in expressing her support for ethnic-studies at Tucson High, though she said she has enjoyed the courses. (I didn’t, by the way, videotape my interview with her because when I talked with her the charge had run out for my camera.)

Lopez explained that her parents never emphasized the family’s Mexican-American heritage, so she doesn’t know much about it. She signed up for the Latino lit class this year because she’d had a good experience taking a Native American literature class under the district’s ethnic-studies department the previous year. She wanted to learn more about her own culture as well.

Lopez said twice during our conversation that she had to adjust to the class. For example, she said, the class has a different “energy” than other classes she has. About her Latino lit teacher, Curtis Acosta, she said, “He’s very enthusiastic about his Mexican-American culture. I’m still getting used to it.”

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A version of this news article first appeared in the Learning the Language blog.