Embattled Mexican American Studies Program Finds Another Way

Despite a federal court ruling that upheld the law that led to the dissolution of Tucson’s acclaimed Mexican American Studies program, reports continue to indicate some version of the program may be reinstated in Tucson classrooms. Two former instructors for the embattled program have taken matters into their own hands: They recently announced an after-school course at Prescott College that will offer the MAS curriculum and provide college credit.

Curtis Acosta and Sean Arce — both veterans of the now defunct MAS program — are teaching the course. Huffington Post Latino spoke to Acosta about how he has kept the MAS cirriculum available:

When the Tucson school board shut down the classes last year, Acosta volunteered on Sundays to teach Mexican American studies off school grounds at the John Valenzuela Youth Center in South Tucson.

“I started it because I couldn’t imagine the idea of the classes being erased,” Acosta told HuffPost. “As long as I’m still breathing, I’ll be teaching this.”

The Tucson school board voted to end the program in early 2012, claiming that it violates a state law that outlaws instructional material that fosters racial hatred. The decision contradicted an independent audit of the program had indicated it should be expanded and another study indicated that students who participated in the program had higher graduation rates. Popular textbooks, novels, and collections by revered Mexican American and Native American authors were among the titles removed from classrooms. CBLDF joined a coalition of dozens of organizations — including the ACLU of Arizona, ABFFE, ALA’s Freedom to Read Coalition, and many more — in a joint statement decrying this censorship.

Acosta and Arce helped found the MAS program, and they worked with Prescott College to offer the new college course:

[Acosta’s] Sunday classes evolved into a pilot program to offer college credit through Prescott College in Prescott, Ariz., where education professor Anita Fernandez had taken a long-standing interest in the Tucson Mexican American studies program, or MAS.

“I was so impressed that every semester I would travel from Prescott to Tucson so my students could get to know what was going on with MAS,” Fernandez said in an interview with HuffPost. “They center the curriculum around the lives of the students. They teach about a history, a culture and a literature that is generally pushed to the margins of a general class.”

Acosta and Arce’s college class doesn’t ultimately solve the censorship problem represented by Tucson’s dissolution of the MAS program, but it does provide access to the acclaimed curriculum. Unfortunately, the inaugural course will reach only 15 students, instead of an entire district. It remains to be seen whether Tucson reinstates the program (so far, attempts to do so have failed), but the Prescott College course represents a shining victory in an otherwise gloomy battle over the right to read in Arizona.

To view CBLDF’s prior coverage of the ban, click on the links below:

Court Upholds Law that Led to Tucson Book Ban

Move by Tucson School Board May Mean Overturn of Book Ban

Effort to Return MAS Books to Classrooms Fails in Tucson

Tucson School District Blocks Renowned Chicana Author’s Visit

Protestors Take Over Tucson School Board Meeting

Tucson School Board Tightens Security

Latino and Native Authors Keep Tucson Book Ban in the News

Why Tucson Matters

CBLDF Joins National Organizations in Condemning Arizona School Censorship

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Betsy Gomez is the Web Editor for CBLDF.