JP students question ethnic studies ban

April 13, 2012
By

FOREST HILLS—Boston Teachers Union School (BTUS) students sent letters to President Barack Obama, the Arizona Attorney General, Arizona Superintendent and Arizona students, to express their outrage at Arizona’s suspension of Mexican American studies in public schools.

When Latino students in Riana Good’s Spanish class at BTUS learned about the Arizona law—HB 2281—that prohibits teaching students curricula that caters to ethnic groups, they voted to write letters to share their anger.

“After talking about banned books, reading some excerpts of the banned books, seeing a film clip of one of the banned classes, we voted on how we wanted to take action. Writing letters got the most votes,” Good said.

The heritage speaker Spanish class is aimed at Latino students who already speak Spanish. In the class, the students examine how “Latino” is an identity.

“As part of our discussion…we looked at the way that different labels factored into politics, the census, and others’ views of Latinos,” Good said, explaining how the topic came up in class. “I had framed action as part of our study of the ban, though students’ outrage likely would have moved us in that direction, anyway.”

“It’s important. People should know about [the law],” said Crystal Garcia, 13, one of Good’s students. She sent her letter to Obama. Her brother, Justin, sent his to the Jamaica Plain Gazette.

“It’s a good experience for them to say what they have to say,” their mother, Elisa Algarin, told the Gazette.

Arizona HB 2281 prohibits schools from offering courses at any grade level that advocate ethnic solidarity, promote overthrow of the US government, or cater to specific ethnic groups—regulations which dismantled the state’s Mexican-American studies programs along with Native American and African American studies.

Students addressed letters to Arizona’s current superintendent of schools, John Huppenthal; its former superintendent and current Attorney General Tom Horne; Tucson students; and Obama.

Excerpts from some of the letters have been posted to the class’s wiki:

“To the students of Tucson: I am in solidarity with you all because I strongly believe that Bill 2281 is full-on nonsense. All students no matter what color of skin or no matter what race should be able to learn all types of history.”

“Dear Superintendent Huppenthal, I would argue for my right to learn about things that I’m interested in. Your job is to have students learn things, not take it away from them.”

“Dear Superintendent Huppenthal, You are denying the right for students to understand and learn their history. We find that very unfair and we feel offended. We hop[e] you change your mind because you may not care but we do because we are also Hispanic.”

A wiki is a collaborative way to produce and manage online content. The Wikipedia website is its most notable application.