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Michael Esser Special To The Arizona Daily Star | Posted: Friday, April 6, 2012
I don’t watch “The Daily Show With Jon Stewart,” but my sister called me from Illinois the other night telling me she laughed all the way through the report on TUSD canceling Mexican American Studies classes.
It’s not quite as funny to our students, of course, but it is important to be called out for caring more about perception than what interests and motivates our students to be involved in education.
A disconnect with what’s important and valuable to our students and their families is the No. 1 problem keeping the Tucson Unified School District from better serving our community, and being better regarded within it (and beyond).
Instead, there seems to be a far-too-common mentality in TUSD to limit our liability, cover our behind, collect our paycheck and just get from one day to the next. That mentality isn’t universal, and from my experience it’s pretty rare in the teachers (people don’t generally go into teaching for the paycheck).
But it’s far too common in administration, and when leaders model that mentality, it can and sadly does trickle down.
We need to always remember what we’re here to do, and let that be our daily driving force. We are here to serve our students, their families and our community.
We are not here to placate the smallest minority in Arizona: the relatively small number of members in our state government who apparently feel such paranoid fear about different cultural groups that they will even pressure a school district to shut down learning about a culture’s history here.
Let’s face it – this is not just an issue of Mexican American Studies classes. The rest of the nation has been poking fun at Arizona for years now over the work of a small but powerful number of people in our government who seem to be truly paranoid that people who look different than they do are out to ruin the society we all live in.
And when our wise leaders let TUSD know they didn’t like what they were hearing about the Mexican American Studies program, what did TUSD do? Well, rather than considering what students, their parents or the Tucson community thought about it, TUSD leadership basically complied with a very culturally educational “Yessir, we’ll get rid of it right away, sirs.”
As educators, we serve a far greater number of people than there are paranoid officials in power in our state.
If we focus on doing what’s right for the majority of our community, our leaders will quickly discover they can’t win their precious elections if they try to take away what the community values.
The simple question behind every single decision in education should be: Would doing this best serve our students in becoming happy, healthy, capable, understanding and contributing members in our community and the outside world?
Because that is exactly what will end up being most valuable and desirable for everyone.
We desperately need to better engage our youth in education in Arizona. To engage anyone in anything, you first need to show you care about the things they care about.
We need to encourage our children to intellectually pursue what they find interesting. And then we really need to help them focus their interests on obtaining specific, needed skills that are critical these days in finding work and advancement.
When we start focusing on those things in education rather than test scores – focusing on what even hormoned-out teenagers can see has clear real-world value to them – then we will have a culture engaged in education. And boy, do we need it.
An engaged, skilled citizenry is the only thing that will strengthen Arizona and this country economically.
That’s no laughing matter to anybody.
Michael Esser is a teacher in the Tucson Unified School District.