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Federal Judge Overturns Arizona's Ban on Ethnic Studies

A long-dormant Mexican-American Studies (MAS) program may soon be returning to the Tucson Unified School District in Arizona. A federal judge recently overturned an Arizona ban on the program, citing that it violated the constitutional rights of the students.

“The Court is convinced that decisions regarding the MAS program were motivated by a desire to advance a political agenda by capitalizing on race-based fears,” said the written ruling by federal judge A. Wallace Tashima.

The effort to remove the program began in 2006 when a labor activist speaking to MAS students said that Republicans were racist. Then-Arizona schools superintendent and former attorney general, Thomas Horne, launched a probe into the program and concluded that it created racial tensions and was "radicalizing students." The state threatened to withhold funds until the program ceased.

Curtis Acosta, a teacher in the MAS program and 18-year veteran of the Tucson Unified School District, argued against this accusation saying the classes were “exactly the antithesis” of any sort of hateful rhetoric they were accused of stoking.

The Arizona classes, designed for students of Hispanic ethnicity, have grown in popularity over the last decade and been cited in a 2011 study for helping to improve graduation rates. The MAS program focuses on Mexican-American history, literature, and art.

Similar programs, often called multicultural education or culturally responsive teaching, have begun expanding in many parts of the Western United States over the last decade.

Culturally responsive teaching is student-centered and typically divided among three dimensions: the institutional dimension, the personal dimension, and the instructional dimension.

The institutional dimension of culturally responsive pedagogy emphasizes the need for reform of the cultural factors affecting the organization of schools, school policies and procedures (including allocation of funds and resources), and community involvement. The personal dimension refers to the process by which teachers learn to become culturally responsive. The instructional dimension refers to practices and challenges associated with implementing cultural responsiveness in the classroom. - Matthew Lynch, Ed.D. for Huffington Post

Many educational advocates for the programs argue that such teaching methods and classes appeal to students who may not see much representation of their background in traditional textbooks. An issue that has been a popular topic of discussion with the country’s growing diversity among its student population.

"We have an obligation to ensure their heritage is aptly reflected in how we talk about America," Ravi Perry, President of the National Association for Ethnic Studies, told NPR. "This is not about promoting an individual agenda. It's about understanding the importance of community solidarity."

 

Article by Joel Stice, Education World Contributor

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