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Republican Arizona schools chief says Hip-Hop class violates state ban on ethnic studies

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On his last day in office, Arizona state superintendent John Huppenthal (R) threatened to pursue sanctions against a school district for offering classes featuring artists like rapper KRS-One and hard rock group Rage Against the Machine, the Arizona Daily Star reported.

Huppenthal said in a letter released on Friday that the Tucson Unified School District has until March 4 to remove the courses, along with other “culturally relevant” classes, or risk losing 10 percent of its funding.

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In the letter, Huppenthal criticizes Cholla Magnet High School for including a history class, “Culturally Relevant Mexican American Perspective,” which includes lyrics from the Rage Against The Machine song “Take The Power Back.” An English class at the same school, “Culturally Relevant African American Perspective,” allegedly includes an essay by KRS-One, “An Introduction to Hip-Hop.

“According to the Hip Hoptionary: The Dictionary Of Hip Hop Terminology by Alonso Westbrook, Hip Hop is defined as the artistic response to oppression,” the essay reads in part. “A way of expression in dance, music, word/song. A culture that thrives on creativity and nostalgia. As a musical art form it is the stories of inner-city life, often with a message, spoken over beats of music. The culture includes Rap and any other venture spawned from the Hip Hop style and culture.”

“Culturally relevant” courses like the district’s Mexican-American Studies program were scuttled in 2010 after Gov. Jan Brewer (R) signed a state law into effect banning classes that were found to “promote resentment toward any race or class” and “advocate ethnic solidarity instead of being individuals.”

According to the Associated Press, the district’s governing board agreed to do away with Mexican-American Studies courses two years later amid a similar risk of losing funding.

“I am deeply concerned by the fact that the noncompliance appears to extend beyond classes taught from the Mexican American perspective and now also includes classes taught from the African American perspective,” Huppenthal wrote on Friday.

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Supporters of the Mexican-American Studies program have argued that it boosted both graduation rates and standardized-test scores for students who took part. A lawsuit calling for the Arizona law to be overturned will go before the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals on Jan. 12.

“While this case, on a day-to-day basis, has been a tremendous stress on our familia, we know that many who have come before us have struggled so we can be in the position to carry this lucha forward,” the program’s co-founder, Sean Arce, told the Huffington Post. “We do this in the spirit of social justice, and, more importantly, we do this in the spirit of asserting the humanity of El Pueblo Chicana/o.”

Huppenthal, who was elected in 2010 after promising to “stop La Raza,” lost his bid for re-election ended this past August. He was defeated in the GOP primary by Diane Douglas.

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