The Tucson Unified School District Governing Board will hear a proposal on Tuesday to change the ethnic-studies program by making the social-studies classes that all high school students take more diverse and accurate.
It's a common-sense proposal that preserves the excellent qualities of the ethnic-studies program and sets out as its main mission the academic support of individual students. This should be the point.
We realize that to some, even the contemplation of changing the ethnic-studies program, specifically the Mexican American Studies program, is heresy.
We also realize that to others, anything short of complete eradication of the ethnic-studies program is heresy.
Proponents on each side are more alike than they would like to see. Each side is certain of its righteousness and any divergence from the script is flagged as racist or radical.
We support the ethnic-studies program and are convinced that it has been effective for some students. We have opposed at every turn the efforts of former state schools superintendent Tom Horne (now attorney general) and lawmakers to demonize and tell falsehoods about the students, teachers and others who support the program.
New state superintendent John Huppenthal, who ran on a platform of eliminating the program, is now evaluating Mexican American Studies and has the power to financially punish the entire district if he concludes the classes or program violate a new state law - a law that is unnecessary and inflammatory.
Students should learn the comprehensive history of our country and culture - the inspiring, the ugly, the groundbreaking and the oppressive beliefs and actions that have shaped the United States. All students should be exposed to the broadest and deepest perspectives possible.
But the TUSD ethnic-studies program - and by that most people are referring to Mexican American Studies - has become a cause unto itself. Fewer than 5 percent of TUSD's high school students take one of its classes each year, yet it is a flashpoint of national significance.
All of this skews what should be the focus of educators: ensuring that every student is availed of a comprehensive and high-quality education.
The proposal before the TUSD Governing Board on Tuesday is reasonable. It would keep Mexican American Studies courses as high-school-level electives, but they could not be used to meet core state graduation requirements for social studies.
Instead, the material would be included in the broader history classes that all students must take. As the plan before the board puts it, "The traditional core sequences in social sciences and English should be strengthened by adding a significant component which focuses on the contributions and viewpoints of Mexican-Americans and other ethnic minorities, especially in this region, to create a multicultural perspective."
The proposal to revise ethnic studies to broaden its reach to more students is not a capitulation to the program's enemies. The "if you're not with us you're against us" tenor of the discussion helps no one, least of all students.
A lot of wrong information about the proposal has been circulating. Read the plan for yourself. (The box above tells you where to find a copy on our website.)
Supporters of Mexican American Studies cite data that shows students who have taken these classes fare better overall than students who don't. The proposal by board member Mark Stegeman says that causal effect may be small, but he goes on to say that the program's teachers and curriculum "have increased many students' motivation to succeed, by the students' own convincing testimony."
The impact of ethnic-studies classes is encouraging but shouldn't keep TUSD from making changes that can create a better and richer education for thousands more students of all races, ethnicities and cultures.
Arizona Daily Star
To view the proposed resolution, go to azstarnet.com/pdf
The TUSD Governing Board meets at district headquarters, 1010 E. 10th St. See its agenda at www.tusd.k12.az.us