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In Tucson, People of Faith, Students & Parents Defend Embattled Ethnic Studies Program

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May 05, 2011

“As a white parent of a white student, this is of the greatest concern to me. I want my daughter to learn about the values and history of culture outside of that in which she was raised.”
– Kat Sinclair


Kat Sinclair, who is active with the UU Congregation of Tuscon and a volunteer with No Mas Muertes, was among seven people arrested Tuesday evening at a Tuscon Unified School District (TUSD) meeting that appeared close to dismantling the ethnic studies program as a required part of the Tucson school curriculum. Sinclair, a mother of a ninth-grader, was first to be arrested after she tried to address the board in support of the program.

TUSD is trying to compromise with a state law that targets ethnic studies programs by changing Mexican American social studies courses to electives that do not fulfill core requirements. The law in question, HB2281, passed last year within days of SB1070.

Mother Jones reported, “Hispanic students fill nearly half the seats in Arizona’s public school classrooms, but a new law signed by Governor Jan Brewer…makes it illegal for these students to learn about their heritage in school. HB 2281 prohibits schools from offering courses at any grade level that advocate ethnic solidarity, promote overthrow of the US government, or cater to specific ethnic groups—regulations which will dismantle the state’s popular Mexican-American studies programs.”

A teachers’ lawsuit against HB 2281 is ongoing, as is an external audit of the program.

According to the group Save Ethnic Studies, “programs such as Mexican American Studies in Tucson have been instrumental in improving the lives and dreams for thousands of students – classes and services that are now in danger of being eliminated due to partisan Arizona legislation. Arizona legislators have been adding one layer after another to criminalize immigrants and eliminating programs that teach students to think critically and become stakeholders in their communities is part of their larger plan.”

Last week, students stopped the TUSD vote on the proposal by chaining themselves to the board members’ chairs. This week, concerned parents, educators, and community members were arrested by police as they attempted to speak to the school board about the proposal.

This video details the scene and its build-up in full:

Pedicone’s police posse takes over TUSD from Abie Morales on Vimeo.

“This is a demonstration of the ridiculousness of what is happening in Arizona,” Sinclair told Standing on the Side of Love. “There were at least 150 cops at this public meeting – one cop for every two people — and there were helicopters in the air. The woman who attempted to speak right after me is 69 years old and was an educator for 30 years, and I watched them haul her out walking with her cane as they arrested her.”

You can take action! Sign this petition to save ethnic studies in Tuscon and demand the TUSD governing board vote ‘No’ on reducing Ethnic Studies to electives.

Kat Sinclair Attempts to Address the Board

Kat Sinclair Attempts to Address the Board

The note below was sent out by Kat Sinclair, who was unable to deliver her remarks to the Board:

Last night I stood up as a concerned parent at the TUSD School Board meeting and was arrested on a charge of criminal trespass. I was concerned that the Board had not voiced their agreement with Superintendent Pedicone’s recommendation to postpone their vote on Dr. Stegeman’s proposal until a town hall meeting could be held and all voices heard. I was concerned that members of the audience had asked the Board if they would hold a town hall meeting before they voted and were met with silence. Instead, the Board voted (3-2) to cancel the public meeting scheduled for this Thursday that would have been held in a high school auditorium to accommodate our community and include two hours of discussion. They refused the community’s request to extend the call to the audience to ensure that people’s opinions were heard. Instead, Dr. Stegeman announced that they would move on to the next item on the agenda—the vote.

As I was not allowed to speak beyond the first two sentences, I submit the following as an open letter to the TUSD school board:

My name is Dr. Katerina Sinclair and I am the mother of a TUSD high school freshman. Additionally, I hold a PhD in Human Development and Family Studies and a Masters in Applied Statistics from Penn State, along with three other university degrees. I have earned numerous teaching awards, recognitions, and certificates, and I research the effect of inclusive school policies and curricula on in-school victimization, academic outcomes, mental health and suicide risk for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender youth. Given the recent media coverage of these issues, I trust that I do not have to draw the parallel for this board between the risks faced by LGBT youth and those faced by Mexican American youth, and so this issue is of both personal and professional importance to me.

I stand before you as a concerned parent, but bring my academic background with me. Dr. Stegeman, I will address you directly as this is your proposal. As a fellow college educator, I am sure you are aware of the qualities that universities want in their students. We want students who own their own educations, who take initiative, who go beyond the lecture. We want critical thinkers who can draw parallels, question the status quo, and move themselves up Bloom’s taxonomy of educational objectives from simple recitation of facts to analysis and synthesis. If our graduates are to compete in this global economy, we need innovative, creative thinkers in the next generation of college students. Finally, and this is most relevant to this discussion, we need students who are able to think outside the box and challenge the assumptions of majority culture. We need students who have the background and ability to understand cultures that are not their own. For this reason, most universities require students to take courses that emphasize intercultural competence, including my alma mater and the University of Arizona.

As a white parent of a white student, this is of the greatest concern to me. I want my daughter to learn about the values and history of culture outside of that in which she was raised. Dr. Stegeman, I have read the articles and position statements that you have written regarding this proposal; you seem to believe that intercultural competence can be gained through incorporating materials on Mexican American history into general social studies classes. Although I appreciate your intention to broaden the coverage of Mexican American history, this is simply not how people learn. Consider if a colleague asked you to give a guest lecture on game theory, your area of expertise, in their freshman economics course. Would you then consider these students to be competent to discuss game theory? I think not. Similarly, we would not teach students the Cyrillic alphabet and then say they learned Russian. Intercultural competence is developed through immersion in another culture and a deep understanding of value systems in the same way that languages are learned through continuous contact.

As I raise my daughter in our racially and culturally mixed city, I want her to have the opportunity for this immersion; I want her to be competitive in an increasingly global context. The answer also does not lie in making these courses electives. Due to her advanced mathematical background, last year my daughter, who was then in middle school, took math courses at Tucson High. Due to the differences in schedules, she was unable to take any elective courses the entire year. As she should be finished with Calculus II by the end of her junior year and she will have to commute to a college to continue her mathematical coursework, we are anticipating similar problems with scheduling in the coming years. My daughter, who is brilliant in both humanities and mathematics, is the type of student we want in our college courses. She is well-rounded and enthusiastic. Please encourage her enthusiasm for learning about other cultures. Do not stifle it. Do not make these courses electives. Expand the course offerings instead to allow for more students to develop critical thinking skills and intercultural competence. Ensure the competitiveness of our graduates for college and job opportunities.

As a parent, as a fellow educator, and as a Tucson community member, I am asking that you remove your proposal from consideration, Dr. Stegeman. Thank you for your time.

5 Responses to “In Tucson, People of Faith, Students & Parents Defend Embattled Ethnic Studies Program”

  1. Rev. Jean Rowe says:

    Arizona needs to understand the human family. We are all human and we are all interconnected. We need intercultural education. Badly.

  2. Larry and Joan Klose says:

    We still live in a democracy, one in which we are allowed choose our belief systems. Living as close as we do to the U.S. border with Mexico, all Southern Arizonans of any race, color, creed or gender category should be able to access courses that will instruct multi-cultural, multi-philosophical competence and acceptance. To live in a peaceful, diverse society–which we already are doing–is the highest path to a fulfilling life. I believe some of our AZ State and TUSD leaders have lost sight of their ultimate goals and purposes, one of which has got to be to improve the human condition. We can do this by peacefully accepting people in all their diversity. The white, Anglo-Saxon way of life, with its inherent greedy, materialistic and conflict-loving values, is just one of the accepted ways of life in this area. Let’s keep the other options alive, too!

  3. Ruben Jimenez says:

    Ethnic Studies is a joke. I’ve taken the class and all they teach is a hatred towads the US Gov. Ethnic studies probably wouldnt be an issue if you would stop trying to push your communist agenda. As a student that disagreed with some of the teaching of my teacher i was singled out mistreated just because I didn’t agree with the philosophy.

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  5. Ann Leach says:

    As a lifelong UU in Massachusetts, I saw the film “Precious Knowledge” and was thunderstruck by the response by opponents of Mexican-American/Raza program. All of the arguments were based on preconceived notions, out-and-out fiction, and racial hate. I’ve seen faces like these during the McCarthy era — in fact, the arguments were identical: Commie teachers are brainwashing our kids. Protesters all hate American, etc. etc.
    Thank you for standing up to this awful group on behalf of UUs far away and those terrific kids and their teacher. Is there any chance you can offer the classes at the Tucson church?

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