Thus far this week we’ve been talking about the challenges and bans on works of fiction. But as the Tucson Unified School District (TUSD) reminded us this year, censorship isn’t just restricted to allegories and metaphors and fictional lessons; sometimes people really do want to erase your actual experiences.
Or at the very least, not allow you to learn about them in an academic context. The district banned the Mexican American Studies program — and still denies is even it is a ban, even though the district now demands instructors not “apply Mexican American Studies perspectives.” The whole situation rightfully set up the TUSD for ridicule, but that doesn’t mean students have access to the books and perspectives that they once did.
“I chose not to go to any of their classes,” pro-banning board member Michael Hicks famously told The Daily Show. “Why even go? Why even go? I based my thoughts on hearsay from others so I based it off of those.”
It didn’t help the district’s case that the program’s director, Sean Arce was recognized by the Zinn Education Project specifically for the work he was doing.
“Tucson’s Mexican American Studies program gets it absolutely right: Ground the curriculum in students’ lives, teach about what matters in the world, respect students as intellectuals, and help students imagine themselves as promoters of justice,” said the project’s co-executive director, Bill Bigelow. “I’m thrilled that the Zinn Education Project is able to honor the work of Sean Arce by selecting him for the first Myles Horton Award for Teaching People’s History. Mr. Arce has begun work that we hope will be emulated by school districts throughout the United States.”
Yeah, we wouldn’t want that kind of influence set loose among our children, would we?
The district sure didn’t. It fired Arce less than a week after he got the award, named after Myles Horton, who fought for civil rights and education in the segregated South. Which, in a way, reinforces why both men’s work is necessary. And makes me root for movements like the Librotraficantes that much more.
Because it was a Chicano Studies course I took at San Diego State University years after I emigrated to the U.S. that gave me more insight into not only the Mexican-American experience, but about the experiences I’d had as a native Mexican. Eliminating that lived history — be it preserved in works of fiction or historical texts — is about taking away challenges to the preferred narrative of the powerful. That doesn’t work unless you can keep people ignorant. Horton once said, “A school is an idea, and you can’t padlock an idea.” But powerful people will always keep trying to do just that — which says a lot more about them than any book or academic course ever could.