Arizona Schools Forced to Ban Ethnic-Studies Books


If history is any guide, banned books usually become more popular among those who were told not to read them, De La Torre says.
Are my books banned in Arizona?

Arizona school districts that are largely comprised of Mexican-Americans have been forced to eliminate ethnic-studies programs because they are allegedly un-American, apparently teaching hatred and ethnic unrest.

To facilitate the process, the Tucson Unified School District released the titles of its banned books to avoid "biased, political and emotionally charged" teaching. Teachers are being encouraged to stay away from any works where race, ethnicity and oppression are central themes.

So are my books banned? All of them have, as their central theme, race, ethnicity and oppression.

Among the banned books: "Critical Race Theory" by Richard Delgado and Jean Stefancic; "500 Years of Chicano History in Pictures" edited by Elizabeth Martinez; "Message to Aztlán" by Rodolfo Corky Gonzales; "Chicano! The History of the Mexican Civil Rights Movement" by F. Arturo Rosales; "Occupied America: A History of Chicanos" by Rodolfo Acuña; "Pedagogy of the Oppressed" by Paulo Freire (required reading in my classes); and "Rethinking Columbus: The Next 500 Years" by Bill Bigelow.

While the Tucson Unified School District is back-pedaling, insisting they really haven't banned any books, the fact remains that, according to the law, these books cannot be taught in Arizona schools because they violate Arizona House Bill 2281, which specifically states:

"A school district or charter school in this state shall not include in its program of instruction any courses or classes that include any of the following:

  1. Promote the overthrow of the United States government.
  2. Promote resentment toward a race or class of people.
  3. Are designed primarily for pupils of a particular ethnic group.
  4. Advocate ethnic solidarity instead of the treatment of pupils as individuals."

It really doesn't matter if the Tucson Unified School District actually banned these books or simply used an unfortunate word like "ban." 

The fact remains: It is illegal to use any of these books, and many like them, in an Arizona classroom.

I ask again: Can a teacher in Arizona use my book "Trails of Hope and Terror: Testimonies on Immigration"?

According to the law, this book cannot be required reading. It does not promote the overthrow of the United States, but it does question the illegal creation of its southern border with Mexico, which can be interpreted as advocating a disregard for those borders. 

It does not promote resentment of any race or class, but it does hold Euro-Americans, specifically those who possess class privilege, accountable for invading Mexico in the early 1800s, stealing the land and pillaging Central America for a century to steal its resources and cheap labor (generally known as "gunboat diplomacy").

I guess some might feel resentment because these U.S. acts are the major cause of today's Latin American immigration problem.

While the book is not designed for pupils of a particular ethnic group, I find that Americans prefer to remain ignorant concerning their history (to wit, House Bill 2281).

Not surprisingly, marginalized groups (i.e., Hispanics) usually gravitate to my writings. 

Finally, I am definitely guilty of promoting solidarity, mainly because I reject the Euro-American salient characteristic of hyper-individuality. 

Of course, the solidarity I call for is not exclusive. I always advocate that Euro-Americans stand in solidarity with the disenfranchised and dispossessed as the path to discovering, in fear and trembling, their own salvation.

I know many who read my books may feel as if I am resentful or some "angry Latino man." 

Frankly, they have a right to feel, think and write anything they want – just as I have a right to feel, think and write anything I want. 

One of the virtues I admire most about the United States is freedom of thought, no matter how repulsive that thought might be. 

Yes, I find it abhorrent that some deny the holocaust, call blacks and Latinos and Latinas inferior, or say that protesting an immoral distribution of resources amounts to class warfare.

And yet, as much as I detest these views, I will advocate for their rights to express them. 

I have no problem with placing the Bible, Quran, "Mein Kampf" or "Turner's Diary" (all of which I read) on some school reading list. 

In fact, if I were a high school teacher, I would want my students to read these books so that we could learn how to critically interrogate these texts. 

All works, especially those with contrary views, must be included if we truly seek enlightenment.

Humanity flourishes when no book is banned, for to ban any book – no matter how detestable it may be – is to usher in a new Dark Age.

Arizona is playing a dangerous game. Yes, the law is appealing to xenophobic and nativist sentiments and will help certain neoconservatives win elections. 

But in the long run, that which they fear the most – what Paulo Freire (one of the banned authors) calls conscientização, the raising of consciousness – will still occur. 

It just won't happen in an Arizona classroom. Hispanic reality cannot be ignored just because the state legislature passes a law. 

If history is any guide, banned books usually become more popular among those who were told not to read them. 

Catholic publication of the Index Librorum Prohibitorum (List of Prohibited Books), the Nazis burning books on May 10, 1933, and the Soviet Union's censorship by the Goskomizdat agency failed to curb the human mind's quest for free thought. 

It doesn't take a prophet to predict that House Bill 2281 will ultimately fail as future generations will look back on this age and shake their heads in disbelief at the depth of these lawmakers' ignorance – and their desire to impose that ignorance on others.

Miguel A. De La Torre is professor of social ethics at Iliff School of Theology.

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Tags: Arizona, Censorship, Hispanics, Miguel De La Torre


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