A number of national organizations have come together to protest the banning of certain books in the Mexican American Studies program in the Tucson Unified School District. The books in question were pulled from the Tucson curriculum by school officials. In a statement, John Huppenthal, Arizona superintendent of public instruction, said the books were pulled from schools because the "materials repeatedly reference white people as being 'oppressors.' " Under Huppenthal's interpretation, the books violate an Arizona law that bans material that promotes "resentment toward a race or class of people." Huppenthal sponsored the law when he was a state legislator.
As a result of Huppenthal's ruling, the books have been boxed up and put in storage, although the law cited by Huppenthal is currently being challenged in the courts. Originally, the plaintiffs were teachers and students but, said Chris Finan, president of the American Booksellers Foundation for Free Expression (ABFFE), "the teachers were dismissed from the lawsuit. The case is going forward with the students."
Since the ruling, teachers around the country have launched a teach-in protest incorporating lesson plans from the banished books into their own classrooms. The teach-in was organized by the Teacher Activist Groups and Rethinking Schools and other educational networks. Additionally, a petition started by Mexican American Studies teacher Norma Gonzalez has collected nearly 15,000 signatures, including those from representatives of the Association of American Publishers, American Association of University Professors, American Booksellers Foundation for Free Expression, National Coalition Against Censorship, National Council for the Social Studies, national Council of Teachers of English, and the PEN American Center, among other national groups.
On January 12, Mexican American Studies teachers were sent a memo from the district saying the following books are to be removed from the classroom: Critical Race Theory by Richard Delgado; 500 Years of Chicano History in Pictures, edited by Elizabeth Martinez; Message to Aztlan by Rodolfo Corky Gonzales; Chicano! The History of the Mexican Civil Rights Movement by Arturo Rosales; Pedagogy of the Oppressed by Paulo Fiere; Rethinking Columbus: The Next 500 Years edited by Bill Bigelow and Bob Peterson; Occupied America: A History of Chicanos by Rodolfo Acuña.
“This is censorship at its most brazen,” said Joan Bertin, executive director at the National Coalition Against Censorship (NCAC). “Officials at the state and local level are responsible for this unacceptable restriction on the educational opportunities of students and their ability to have discussion in school about historical and contemporary events touching on race and ethnicity. We call on them to restore the books and the topics for discussion in the district’s classrooms.”
“We do not think the students of Tucson should have to wait for a federal court order to get the education they deserve,” said Finan. “Regardless of the outcome of legal proceedings, this is harming students, whose education should be the primary concern of elected officials. Instead they are putting politics and ideology ahead of the well-being of young people.”
NCAC and ABFFE have jointly created the Kids’ Right to Read Project (KRRP), which offers support, education, and advocacy to promote the right of young people to read widely and to receive a high quality education that is challenging and relevant. KRRP, which was founded in 1996 in an effort to ensure that national free speech groups would be heard in local censorship fights in schools and libraries, provides direct assistance to students, teachers, librarians and others opposing book-banning in schools and communities nationwide, while engaging local activists to promote the freedom to read.