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  February 10, 2012

Tucson Students Stage Walkouts, Teach-Ins Over Suspended Mexican American Studies Program


Students organize school of ethnic studies to teach "forbidden" curriculum
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VOICEOVER: When students in Tucson, Arizona were told that their Mexican American Studies courses were suspended from public schools and that a list of books were banned from class curriculums, they staged a walk out and began exploring alternative forms of education in order to continue their studies. Juan Quevedo is a current student at Tucson High who had previously been enrolled in Mexican American Studies courses, which are also referred to as Chicano or La Raza studies. After his class was suspended and a list of books were removed from the classrooms by administrators, Juan joined hundreds of other Tucson middle and high school students and marched out of the school and onto the Tucson Unified School District headquarters, where less than a year before students had occupied a school board meeting by chaining themselves to the board member’s chairs and demanding Mexican American Studies.

JUAN QUEVEDO, STUDENT, TUCSON HIGH: It kind of hurts because they’re taking this education that teaches us who we are and where we come from…(cut)…We walked out to let them know, let the TUSD board know, that we want our classes and those classes were really important to us and we want to know why they were taken, we want each and everyone’s opinion in there, everyone behind it has their own line of thought but we want to understand.

VOICEOVER: Juan and his fellow students and community members didn’t just rally at the school district headquarters, they also found ways to continue with their ethnic studies program outside of traditional school structures. Some students who had been suspended for participating in the walkouts attended a Mexican American Studies course lecture at the University of Arizona. Student groups also organized their own teach ins, with a number of invited guests staging workshops and classes on issues surrounding educational advocacy and Mexican American Studies. Local university professor and community activist Dr. Nolan Cabrera attended a student-led teach-in called the school of ethnic studies.

NOLAN CABRERA, PH. D., COMMUNITY ACTIVIST: When students do walk out its frequently framed in the media as these students just don’t want to be in school, they’re cutting class it’s like senior skip day, and so really what the students did was they went and they created their own school, the school of ethnic studies, the teaching of the forbidden curriculum, and so it was on Jan 24 it was their big act of both educational activism and civil disobedience they had well over 100 students from across the district show up at that event and having personally attended it it was absolutely beautiful seeing students who were so engaged and willing to fight for their own education because educational apathy is something endemic in this country, these students were fighting for it.

VOICEOVER: Denise Bernadett Rebeil is a recent graduate of Tucson Unified School District’s now suspended Mexican American Studies program. She is a member of the Tucson-based student group UNIDOS which helped to organize the January 24th school of ethnic studies teach-in that she says is helping to give students a sense of hope through engagement.

DENISE BERNADETT REBEIL, UNIDOS: I feel like we’re constantly being attacked through all these bills and through basically all the politicians, like the things they’ve been saying in the board meetings it feels like a constant attack, we constantly feel like we have to put the shield up to defend ourselves…(cut)…It was a very powerful day it kind of made everybody, even though it’s a hard time there’s a light at the end of the tunnel kind of thing, we’re going to fight to keep these classes and everything, even if we don’t go back to TUSD we will keep them alive in our community through teach-ins as we are going to be planning in the future and everything.

VOICEOVER: Elisa Meza of UNIDOS explains how students in Tucson are collaborating to create new autonomous spaces for learning that draw from a number of other movements around the world where students grapple with similar forms of state repression within existing educational systems.

ELISA MEZA, UNIDOS: Learning happens through collaboration and engaged education means being able to stick up for issues, being able to understand our own political reality of being in this country and in this state, and so UNIDOS wanted to send out that message that autonomous education and creating spaces of learning is up to everyone it’s not just by us here in Tucson but there have been models in other parts of the world that have created freedom schools and ways for students that are oppressed by educational power structures like ours that they’re still able to obtain education in other ways and that means transforming what education is.

VOICEOVER: Arizona and the Tucson Unified School District have come under increasing national scrutiny over the past month for their cessation of the Mexican American Studies program and de-facto book ban, with a multitude of educational advocacy and civil rights groups decrying what they see as a thinly veiled racist attempt at targeted ethnic censorship. The students of Tucson are planning further teach-ins and vow to continue their fight to save the studies that they say are a critical learning resource for communities in the TUSD. SIGNOUT.



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