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Original source: Ethnic-studies books challenge preconceptions – USATODAY.com.
Across the nation, schools, libraries and community organizations recently celebrated Love of Reading Week.
For years, the books were taught by teachers in TUSD’s Mexican American Studies Department. No more. While a handful of copies remain available in the district’s school libraries, teaching Mexican-American studies at TUSD was outlawed in January — resulting in a de facto ban of these texts — all because the books’ authors dared to challenge readers’ assumptions about what they think they know when it comes to our country’s history and culture.
In the same spirit, the Arizona Ethnic Studies Network has designated Feb. 29 a National Read-In Day to protest the Tucson Unified School District’s decision to ban particular books from being taught in the classroom, even as we celebrate the knowledge and historical experiences contained in these books.
For example, three of the books purged from the TUSD curriculum question the conventional view that European, colonial-era exploration and conquest were inherently positive developments.
“Rethinking Columbus” challenges the myth of the “vanishing Indian” who rarely appears beyond accounts of Christopher Columbus, Thanksgiving and Indian wars. Instead, the book explores how indigenous people resisted and survived attempts to devalue and destroy their cultures. This history is important for Arizonans to learn because 25percent of the state’s land is American Indian reservation and nearly 30percent of our population is Latino.
“Occupied America” recounts the history of how U.S. borders literally crossed over existing Mexican communities as a result of unprovoked wars, unfair treaties and land “purchases” often made under duress.
Knowing this history leads us to better interpret today’s immigration debate by allowing us to ask: “Who are the real immigrants?”
“A Different Mirror” reflects upon the rich histories of Mexican, African, Asian, European and Native American communities in the U.S. and their invaluable contributions to the development of this nation. The book allows us to consider the complex relationships between power and inequality, and the conflicts between and within groups based on ethnicity, gender and class. These stories illustrate how the struggles against racial and ethnic inequality helped our nation achieve many of the great gains in civil and human rights we appreciate today.
The books used in Mexican-American studies also included novels, plays and poetry that demonstrate how social assumptions based on race, class and gender affect our aspirations and everyday lives. By reading about experiences similar to their own, students better recognize the social assumptions that shape their lives.
All of the books removed from TUSD classrooms are taught regularly in Arizona colleges and universities because they challenge students to re-evaluate what they think they know — not to indoctrinate them to a specific point of view, as critics falsely claim.
This kind of critical thinking is not a threat to democracy but the embodiment of it, and essential to achieving our democratic ideals regarding civic participation. Teachings based on these principles make good on the promises of democracy.
Banning teachers from using these books censors an entire body of knowledge and sends a message to Mexican-American children and other people of color that knowledge about their community is neither useful nor relevant.
As educators and people who believe in freedom, we must affirm otherwise.
Karen Leong teaches women and gender studies and Asian Pacific American studies in the School of Social Transformation at ASU and is a member of the Arizona Ethnic Studies Network.